Marleigh's Summer Adventure
After her beloved grandparents passed away within months of each other, 21-year-old Marleigh Mathis grieved in an unconventional way. She took the 2009 Subaru Outback they left behind on an adventure of a lifetime far from her Florida home. Alone. Her healing, cross-country journey spanned 5,800 miles and ultimately changed her life.
We first learned about Marleigh’s story from a letter sent by her mother, Robin Shivery.
On July 28, 2012, my precious Dad passed away at the age of 76. Much too soon after his passing, my sweet Mama followed him on December 27, 2012, at the age of 75. After nearly 60 years of marriage, they couldn’t bear to be apart, I suppose. This wonderful couple left behind three pretty amazing children, several grand and great-grandchildren, an incredible legacy, and the reason for this letter – a 2009 Subaru Outback with only 13,000 miles on it.
My 21-year-old daughter, Marleigh, was privileged and proud to be the next owner. Shortly after receiving the Outback, her summer break from college arrived. Her potential summer job falling through prompted her to take a road trip that began as a trip of healing and exploration and turned out to be life-changing. Choosing to handle the grief of losing both grandparents productively, she loaded up her Outback and set out on her own to parts unknown.
Marleigh is a very pragmatic, grounded girl and had to develop a reason to incur this expense. Her rationale for the road trip became to visit the cities of college campuses she was interested in attending for grad school. Pursuing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical science at our local college at the time, she subsequently visited the University of Georgia, Oklahoma State University, and Colorado State University.
The serious business of investigating potential colleges was on her road map, of course. In between, she also stopped off in Memphis, Tennessee, and explored Beale Street; Nashville, Tennessee, and its country music attractions; Tulsa, Oklahoma, to explore family roots; Fort Collins, Colorado, to fall in love with the town and the equine science program at CSU; Cheyenne, Wyoming, to experience the “Daddy of ‘em All” National Annual Rodeo and meet a renowned horse trainer and ride his horses; Pueblo, Colorado, to work his ranch for a few days; and, lastly, Corpus Christi, Texas, to visit more family before finally taking the long ride east down I-10 through the bayous of Louisiana and arrive back home in Jacksonville, Florida, 5,800 solo miles later! Her cherished Subaru Outback carried her safely on an adventure of her lifetime.
No one was prepared for what happened next. After the deadlines for applying for admission, registering for classes, and securing housing had passed, Marleigh could not let go of the desire to return to Fort Collins to complete her education in CSU’s equine science program. Not the following year … but now. A very few weeks later, she and her amazing stepfather, Harry, had jumped through all of the necessary hoops. She was invited to attend CSU and secured the perfect housing.
When we visit, the sheer number of Subaru vehicles buzzing around the wonderful mountain roads entertains us! She has the “cool car of choice” in Fort Collins. The AWD feature certainly gives her parents a feeling of security, as well as the Subaru reputation for safety. She is 1,800 miles away, and this peace of mind means so much.
Robin Shivery, Jacksonville, FL
What inspired you to take your trip?
It was important to me to honor the memory of my grandparents. Discovering new opportunities and places in the Subaru they left behind seemed like the right thing to do. A Subaru commercial stood out in my mind – the one with the girls driving around the country and buying a t-shirt from each state. I was like, “Hey, I want to do that!” and decided I would take that trip with me, myself, and I.
How did you prepare for it?
I spent almost two months planning this trip. I started with making a route. I wanted a big circle across the country with little-to-no backtracking. I wanted to see something new with every passing mile. After I perfected my route, I did an Internet search for every big city I was passing through, looking for hot spots, the typical tourist attractions, and graduate school possibilities.
In what ways did your Subaru add to your confidence on making such a long, solo trip?
My Subaru was amazing on this 5,800-mile journey. I never had a single problem, and I was super grateful for the sports shifter once I reached the mountains in Colorado. Plus, the seats laid down for some excellent parking lot napping.
Did you feel the presence of your grandparents?
I definitely felt their presence. I think it was strongest in Colorado, partially because of the unmatched beauty, but mainly because I truly felt like I belonged here. I felt that they were the ones pushing me to get out here. It was like I could feel their pride radiating through the steering wheel. You know, “Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.”
What was your best experience?
The trip as a whole was definitely the best experience of my life. A highlight was meeting well-known Colorado team roper, J.D. Yates, at Cheyenne Frontier Days™. This gentleman invited me to stay in an apartment in his show barn and work his horses for a few days, so I jumped on that opportunity like a spider monkey. I have ridden a lot of horses in my life, but his horses were by far the most immaculate things I have ever saddled. Pure muscle, power, and agility.
Looking back, why was this trip so important?
It made me realize how comfortable I am with being alone. Being alone is a huge part of my life now that I live in Colorado and my closest family is almost 2,000 miles away. My trip brought me to CSU, where I am working on my bachelor’s degree in equine science. So, yes, I would say that my trip was life-changing. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
What would you say to someone who felt compelled to venture on a trip like this?
If someone told me that they wanted to go on a trip like mine, I would immediately encourage them to go. I would also suggest that they take the road less traveled at every available opportunity. The back roads are where all the beauty is hiding. So many of my friends and family expressed that they wished they were brave enough to take this trip alone … I say, “DO IT!”
THOUGHTS FROM THE ROAD: MARLEIGH’S JOURNAL
July 7, 2013
Jacksonville, Florida Athens, Georgia
My trip of a lifetime got off to an excellent start with biscuits and gravy from Terry’s with Chris, Mom, and Harry. I was on the road by 9:00 a.m. With the plot building in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I drove through one small Georgia town after the other, taking in all the old historic buildings and tiny little antique shops. The farms were magnificent – pastures with rolling green, grass hills spotted with horses of every color. Out in the middle of one dried-up pasture was a metallic horse sculpture; it seemed out of place and alone. I couldn’t help but to stop and take a picture. I was thrilled to see the famous red dirt roads. They made it very clear to me that I was leaving the sandy terrain of Florida behind and that the red clay is only one of the many beautiful natural wonders that I will get to see on this trip.
I stopped and had lunch in Oconee National Forest overlooking the orange, murky water of the Oconee River. It was flowing with such force that medium-sized tree trunks could be seen floating on top, appearing frightfully similar to alligators.
Once I got to Athens, I started exploring the University of Georgia (UGA). I walked the overpass that looked down into the Sanford Stadium and continued my stroll through the campus bookstore and café area. I walked through the English and Arts area of campus and stumbled upon the Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden. It was full of exotic cacti and buzzed with bees moving from the blue flowers to the pink flowers and then back to blue. While hiking back up the hilly terrain of the UGA campus, it started to sprinkle. I could see dark black clouds billowing above and decided to head to the hotel. I spent the evening relaxing and planning more details of my trip before calling it a night.
July 8, 2013
Athens, Georgia Nashville, Tennessee
I started out my second day by devouring another scrumptious plate of biscuits and gravy, this time from the Holiday Inn Express® breakfast spread. After packing up all my stuff, I headed to the science and ecology wing of UGA. I perused the buildings and gawked at blonde sorority girls traveling in large, loud groups. After I got my fill of UGA, I headed to the botanical gardens of Athens only to find out they were closed. Oh well, early start to Nashville.
The drive here was beautiful. The mountains were so green and lush. I was taken off guard when my ears started popping going down an incline. That’s something I can say I haven’t experienced much living at sea level. I stopped in Chattanooga at the rest area, made some lunch, and grabbed some brochures. Only 95 miles to Nashville.
My first stop in Nashville was the Country Music Hall of Fame (link to http://countrymusichalloffame.org). I wandered the halls and marveled over the gold and platinum records. I saw Trace Adkins’ suit and got an actual idea of how enormous that man is. My favorite sighting at the Hall was definitely Luke Bryan’s peanut boots. I just wanted to stick my face in them. After the Hall, I headed to the hotel for a much-needed shower and “samich.”
Once I had my daily dose of Judge Judy, I started getting ready to explore Honky Tonk Highway. Honky Tonk Highway was amazing. It is lined with boot shops, big bars, little bars, and restaurants. I wandered through a few of the stores and listened to some live music at Big Shotz (where their shotz are bigger than yours) before heading to the Wildhorse Saloon (link to http://wildhorsesaloon.com). I had a blast there. I got a delicious “Cowboy Margarita” – okay … two – and headed to the dance floor. All their dances were different than the ones I know, but they were similar enough that I could get out there and pick it up. When the band took a break, I requested Creepin’ thinking that the Nashvillians would have a dance for it – but NO, I ended up being the only one on the dance floor. It was exhilarating. I even got a wee applause.
July 9, 2013
Ahhhhh Nashville … that’s pretty much all I can say. I started the day off yet again with biscuits and gravy; it seems to be a trend here lately. After breakfast, I headed to the Willie Nelson General Store and Museum (link to http://www.willienelsongeneralstore.com). I was the only person in the exhibit. It was amazing. I took my time walking through and taking in all the historic pieces around me. For some reason, the Willie trip exhausted me, so I took advantage of being alone and went to the room for some lunch and a nap.
After my intoxicating nap, I went to meet Bob Kinkade. He was a very nice, high-energy man. We talked about my aspirations as an Ecotoxicologist, and I explained to him that I just wanted to make contacts far and wide. You never know where life may lead you. After our brief meeting, I headed back to Honky Tonk Highway.
On my way there, my herd of guardian angels was watching over me. I had been riding behind a semi for about five miles until I finally decided to pass. I wasn’t past him five seconds when I heard a huge boom! And out my rearview mirror I saw tire chunks flying everywhere. It was crazy. I was so glad I wasn’t behind him at that moment. After safely arriving at my destination, I walked around the block and went into at least half a dozen bars, all of which had live music inside, and enjoyed the creative atmosphere. It was wonderful being among all these people who have high hopes and dreams … the energy was incredible. I couldn’t help walking into a few boot stores when the smell of leather hit me on the street. I cannot wait to go back.
July 10, 2013
Nashville, Tennessee Tunica, Mississippi
The ride from Nashville to Tunica was pretty uneventful. That is until I made my pit stop in Memphis. There, in Huey’s Hamburgers, I received my first random act of Chiver kindness and my meal was on the house.
Once I arrived at Sam’s Town Casino, I felt like a baby surrounded by people in their 70s! I intended on staying cooped up in my room and making plans for the rest of my trip. As luck would have it, there was no wireless Internet and the cable sucked, so off to the casino I went. I spent the first few minutes playing slots, for I had “worn Grandma” (my locket containing her ashes) and I knew that was what she wanted. Finally, I ended up at the roulette table where I spent the rest of my evening. My dealer’s name was Boris. At first I wasn’t sure why he looked so startled when I walked up to the table, but he went on to explain that, “People that look like you don’t come in here on Wednesday night.” It was hilarious. I was playing with a group from a bachelor party and an older lady who obviously had a few of those notorious free drinks. It wasn’t my lucky night, but I still played for four hours and had a blast!