Jill Hartman-Roberts and Arthur Roberts celebrate arriving at their Tucson hotel during her marathon drive across the country.
On the day after Christmas in 2011, I said goodbye to San Diego and departed on a 2,500-mile cross-country road trip to start my new life in Athens, GA. I was scared to death. After spending all 41 years of my life in Southern California, I was relocating for the first time. I didn’t know anyone in Georgia, except my husband, Arthur, who had begun his new career as an assistant professor at the UGA School of Pharmacy in August. Other than spending one week in October visiting Arthur, I had never been to the South; I had no idea what to expect.
After finals week at UGA, Arthur flew back to California to ride with our two dogs and me from San Diego to Athens. I’d never driven across the country, and it was important to me to prove to myself I could do it. The farthest I’d ever driven by myself was 300 miles. Driving all the way across the United States was a feat of endurance that I felt compelled to accomplish, and I insisted on doing all the driving.
Because Arthur had to return to work after New Year’s Day, and we needed to ensure we had dog-friendly accommodations, we researched the trip carefully. We booked all our hotels ahead, which locked us into our daily itinerary. We mapped out the most direct route possible, staying in the southern part of the U.S. to avoid harsh winter weather. Driving nine to 10 hours a day, we’d arrive just in time to spend my first full day in my new home on New Year’s Eve—the perfect day to end one chapter of life and begin the next.
The first day of the drive went smoothly. The arid desert terrain of the Imperial Valley and western Arizona was not scenic, but everything was new to me, so the view held my interest. It only took six-and-a-half hours to reach our first destination: the Hampton Inn in Tucson.
On Day Two, blazing sunshine and clear skies accompanied us through eastern Arizona and into New Mexico. We drove through cactus-filled desert lands, full of tumbleweeds, with red rock mountains in the background. By the time we stopped for gas in the early afternoon, we felt the chill of crisp December air. I wrapped my scarf tightly around my neck and pulled down my knit cap over my ears to shield myself from the cold.
“How much longer until we get to Roswell?” I asked.
“About four hours, maybe six. Lots of small towns up ahead,” Arthur answered.
I was already feeling tired, but I didn’t let him know. I was still determined to do all the driving myself.
As I drove up the windy road toward Roswell, we passed snow banks, wooden cabins and pine trees along the mountainside as far as the eye could see. We finally made it to the Best Western in Roswell late that evening. I was so exhausted that I started to nod off right at the dinner table. But I was not going to back down from my goal to drive all the way to Athens.
Because the third day of driving was going to be the longest of all, we intended to depart by 8:30 a.m. We ended up waking up at 8:30 instead. Frustrated with our late start, we scrambled to get dressed, walk the dogs, grab breakfast in the hotel restaurant and get back on the road as fast as we could.
At 9, while eating our breakfast, I looked up and saw a man I recognized walk into the restaurant. I couldn’t believe it. It was Arthur’s Uncle Bucky from Albuquerque! He walked past our table, but didn’t see us.
“Oh my God! It’s Uncle Bucky!”
“What?” Arthur asked.
“Uncle Bucky! It’s your Uncle Bucky!”
Arthur turned around and saw his favorite uncle, a corporate lawyer who lived halfway across the state, filling his plate with food at the buffet.
“Oh my God, that is Uncle Bucky!” Arthur’s whole face lit up like a Christmas tree. His eyes danced with joy. Arthur rarely got the chance to visit his uncle. The last time they’d seen each other was a year ago at our wedding.
“Uncle Bucky!” Arthur called out. “Uncle Bucky!”
The handsome, white-haired gentleman, dressed in a suit and tie, looked as surprised as we did when he saw us. He came over to our table right away. Arthur stood up and embraced his uncle, both men laughing and patting each other on the back as they hugged.
Uncle Bucky just happened to be at this hotel in Roswell because he was meeting another lawyer from Lubbock. They were on opposite sides of a legal battle, and they’d decided to consult here in Roswell, approximately halfway between them.
Because Uncle Bucky had a 9:30 a.m. meeting scheduled with the other attorney, our visit was much shorter than Arthur and his uncle would have liked, but it was the best Christmas gift Arthur could have ever hoped for. As it turned out, if we’d left on time, we would have missed running into Uncle Bucky altogether. In life, things often happen for a good reason. This was certainly one of those times.
Two days later, close to midnight on Dec. 30, we arrived safely at my new home in Georgia. It had been a long drive—2,500 miles—but I made it. I’d driven all the way across America!
The next morning, Arthur and I reminisced about our trip as we walked the dogs through our East Athens neighborhood. We both had been blessed with Christmas gifts we’d always remember: Arthur’s fortuitous reunion with his Uncle Bucky, and my accomplishment of that cross-country drive. It was New Year’s Eve, and our family was all together again under one roof, beginning our new life in Georgia. We couldn’t have been happier.