Blue (Hen) highways
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and courtesy of the Willard family January 21, 2022
Double Dels rely on UD education during full-time cross country travel
Glynn and Rose Willard dreamed for two years of selling their home, their successful business and most of their possessions, all so they could travel the United States with their two young sons on an open-ended journey to anywhere and everywhere. But, on the evening of their departure, one worry reverberated through the family’s Ford F250 pickup truck with a University of Delaware sticker on the upper windshield:
“What have we done?” Glynn said he recalled thinking. “Have we ruined our entire life?”
The family was mostly silent for the first hour of their grand adventure. Only their lizard, a four-year-old bearded dragon named Max, appeared at ease with this new Kerouac-esque lifestyle — he stared wide-eyed at the open road from a comfy spot on the center console. But then came a fortuitous event. Somewhere along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, the sky offered up a spectacular gift.
“It was a gorgeous sunset, and that really helped,” Glynn said. “I was like: ‘Okay, this is what we are after’.”
Now, in the rearview of this pickup is nearly a year’s worth of brilliant sunsets. And sunrises. And turquoise lakes. And mountain vistas. And rugged river gorges. And more breathtaking views across 31 states than the family can easily recall. That initial uncertainty of February, 2021? It was all for naught. The nomadic Willards have met their goal of “collecting experiences instead of things,” Glynn said, and the ongoing trip has so far been a great success — even in its most trying moments — largely because of one key factor.
“The resilience and discipline that we learned and practiced as students at UD translates directly to our lifestyle now,” Rose said. “When things don’t go our way — as they often don’t on the road — we push through. We attack the problem. We do not give up.”
Glynn and Rose met as undergraduate Blue Hens in the late 90s — she was a competitive figure skater balancing rigorous workouts with an exercise science degree, and he was a nutrition major who helped build the University’s personal training program. When Rose came to UD’s fitness center needing rehabilitation after a major skating injury, the two bonded over a shared passion for health and wellness. They married (thereby becoming Double Dels), launched their business — the Paradigm Fitness personal training studio in Newark, which they operated for 20 years — and eventually purchased their dream home in Landenberg, Pennsylvania.
But then: COVID-19. The pandemic became the catalyst the Willards needed to reevaluate their choices.
“I was spending so much time working on the business, which I loved, but this was all time away from my family,” Glynn said. “We decided we wanted to slow down and do things differently, because we were going at such a fast pace. My father would always ask me: ‘Are you going to die in that 2,400-square-foot box just training people all the time, or are you going to get out and do something’?”
The couple sold their 4,000 square-foot-home and purchased a 23-foot-by-eight-foot travel trailer as well as a pickup truck for towing it. They packed up their lizard and his 40-gallon terrarium, which takes up most of the space in the trailer’s dinette area, and only their most crucial belongings, including a stuffed version of YoUDee, the beloved mascot of their alma mater. Then, they convinced their boys, Gavyn and Zach — who were eight and 10, respectively, at the time of departure — that giving up their pool and large backyard would ultimately be a good thing. (The travel trailer’s bunk beds were a nice consolation prize.)
“I felt every emotion possible at the beginning,” Gavyn said. “But waking up in a new place all the time is awesome.”
In many ways, the transition from typical suburbanites to human ping pong balls bouncing from location to location, has been smooth. For income, Rose and Glynn have continued training clients via an app-based platform while on the road, and they have established the Reset Your Journey YouTube channel chronicling their adventures and providing advice to nomadic hopefuls. Because their sons have always been homeschooled, taking education on the road has proven seamless. In addition to reading and writing, gym class involves hiking up Maine’s Bald Mountain or cycling the Grand Canyon’s southern rim, while geography and history is covered via the Junior Rangers program of the National Parks Service. At one point, the whole family experienced a science lesson while witnessing what looked like a series of linked UFOs descending from the cosmos.
“We were sitting around a fire in Arizona at the time, and the boys were getting scared,” Glynn said. “But I thought to myself: ‘This is awesome — we are finally being invaded by some type of alien life form, and at least we got a taste of being on the road and doing what we want to do before getting abducted’.” (Later research confirmed: The phenomenon was merely the SpaceX Starlink satellites becoming visible for a prolonged moment in the desert sky.)
This eagerness to learn and grow and confront the unknown is owed, largely, to a mentality instilled and nurtured at UD, Glynn said: “It is intellectual curiosity, a drive to figure out what you don’t know.” He is forever grateful, he added, for professors on campus who encouraged him to “go against the grain.”
In these ways, a UD education has facilitated for the Willards countless moments of awe — hiking at dawn as hot air balloons are rising over the famous red rocks of Sedona, Arizona; wading in the pristine, crystal-blue waters of a glacial lake in Stanley, Idaho; rolling down the 40-foot gypsum dunes of New Mexico’s glistening White Sands National Park. About the latter experience, Rose said, “we loved it so much we went back three times.”
Of course, not all moments have been beautiful. A series of tornadoes narrowly spared the family’s trailer while parked in Mississippi, and a stomach bug curtailed their tour of Yellowstone National Park. In Sedona in July, their generators temporarily stopped working, meaning they had no way to power lights or air conditioning during a desert summer. But these memories are not necessarily negative.
“I was very complacent, very comfortable in my old life,” Glynn said. “And this trip has provided opportunities to show my boys what resilience is about, how you cope with hardship and difficulties. If we can show our kids that side of ourselves, we are teaching them volumes.”
While friends and acquaintances have expressed concern about the possibility of encountering unsavory characters while boondocking — aka, camping on public lands, not on designated campgrounds — the Willards say they have never felt unsafe. (Okay, there was that one encounter in the desert with a clearly anti-social guy sharpening his knives in a homemade truck-bed trailer, his robust gun arsenal on display. But, once Glynn introduced himself and offered some water, even he softened up a bit.)
“As far as people go, despite what the media might have you believe, we’ve found nothing but good in this entire country,” Glynn said, noting how many times strangers have offered to let the Willards park on their land. “The kindness is overwhelming.”
The experience has been so positive, the family has no intention of stopping any time soon. That red truck with the University of Delaware bumper sticker? It has miles of adventures left to go.
“We used to think we knew about the American dream — you have a big house, a successful business, all the things,” Rose said. “But we’ve learned that, for us, it’s more about living with less, more about the time and experiences we get to share. This is our American dream now.”