By John M. Scanlan
Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.
For a man, the "Big 5-0" is a wake-up call. It's the one birthday where he finally realizes that maybe — just maybe — he isn't going to accomplish all of the things in life that he had hoped. Personally, I'm still holding out for that NFL draft pick.
So there I was, with August 8, 2009 — my fiftieth birthday — staring me right in the face. I asked myself, "What can I possibly do to celebrate the 'Big 5-0'?" Then it hit me. How appropriate it would be to drive across the country on U.S. Route 50!
I began planning my cross-country drive in late 2008. It involved a lot of weekday evenings and Sunday mornings spent on the Internet, searching for every tidbit of information on Route 50 that I could possibly find. Eventually, I had to buy a brown accordion file to hold all of my data.
But, alas, men make plans and God laughs. In the middle of January 2009, my body had a train wreck that resulted in an agonizing stay on the couch for an entire week. Thinking that I just had a severe case of the flu, I remember very little of those seven days — except for constantly begging God to deliver me. Finally, I threw in the towel. Maybe… just maybe… this wasn't the flu after all. I called Bill, a friend from the gym, and asked him to take me to the local emergency room. There, they discovered that my blood sugar level was 889 milligrams per deciliter! I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which normally manifests in childhood. More importantly, I had been within inches of a diabetic coma, or possibly dying from undiagnosed, untreated diabetes. I spent the next twenty-four hours in the intensive care unit, followed by four days in the hospital as they tried to rein in my runaway blood sugar.
I must admit that I was disillusioned. For all of my life, all I had ever heard concerning diabetes prevention was diet and exercise, diet and exercise, diet and exercise. That would fend off Type 2 diabetes, which occurs later in life. So I figured that I had diabetes licked because diet and exercise were my middle names! However, I never counted on Type 1 diabetes, with my body's immune system attacking my pancreas. The spring of 2009 can best be summed up in twelve words — a long, painful climb back to where I used to be. Thus, I decided upon an ulterior motive for my cross-country drive. I had to prove to myself that I was still a normal, healthy male capable of living a normal, healthy lifestyle.
On Tuesday, June 9th, I departed Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, in a rented Dodge Caliber with the following ground rules:
1. I would remain on U.S. Route 50 for the entire drive. I would not travel on an interstate highway, except for the beltways around Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City.
2. I would only deviate from Route 50 for short distances to see historical sites and unusual, off-the-beaten-path Americana.
3. To maintain my level of fitness, I would do a hike or a bike ride every day.
4. In accordance with my diabetes regimen, I would not miss any of my twice-daily insulin injections, or any of my twice-daily finger pricks to test my blood.
5. I would not take a laptop computer or a cell phone.
6. I would not stay at a chain motel.
7. I would not eat at a chain restaurant.
The late morning of June 11th found me in Ocean City, Maryland, where U.S. Route 50 officially begins. Risking life and limb, I stood in the middle of four lanes of traffic on Route 50, faced west, and snapped a picture of a green sign overhead that read "Sacramento 3073 miles." Then I hopped into my rental car, said "Let the games begin," and put her into drive.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 4th, a thunderstorm rumbled through Nevada's Great Basin National Park. My pre-trip homework had told me how beautiful the night skies are at Great Basin due to the lack of human-produced ambient light, so I had nestled into my sleeping bag atop the picnic table, anticipating a classic display of stars. I interlaced my hands behind my head, looked up to the heavens, and said, "Okay, Nevada, show me your best!"
Just then, a thunderclap sounded over my left shoulder. I shook my head and said, "No way. This can't be the one night of the year when Great Basin National Park has cloud cover." Thunder sounded again, and then a single raindrop hit me on the forehead. Minutes later, I was forced to grab my belongings and scramble back into the Caliber as a magnificent thunderstorm raged through the park.
Curled up on the reclined driver's seat, I mumbled, "Jeeesh, I guess it can be the one night of the year when Great Basin has cloud cover." But I soon realized more than that, for this thunderstorm was far more spectacular than any display of stars I would have seen. As lightning flashed and rain pummeled the car, I felt so diminutive and insignificant. I also felt guilty. In this wonderful world that God had created, Type 1 diabetes was small potatoes. Certainly, it was a cross that I could bear.
Eventually, the morning of Tuesday, July 7th found me in West Sacramento, California. Again risking life and limb, I stood on the narrow right shoulder of Interstate 80's six lanes of traffic, faced east, and snapped a picture of a green sign: "Ocean City, MD 3073 miles." Mission accomplished!
I had driven across the country on U.S. Route 50 to celebrate turning fifty. I had followed every one of my self-imposed ground rules to the letter. I had proven to myself that I was still a normal, healthy male, capable of living a normal, healthy lifestyle.