Kay Morris-Robertson thought she had everything she wanted when tragedy struck and changed her life forever. She tells Aaron Millar how she undertook an 80,000 mile journey of healing, travelling across all 50 states of America, from A to Z
Aaron Millar: Hi Kay. Your book, A to Zee Across America, has just been released. In it you talk about travelling through all 50 states of the country. Can you start by telling us how that journey came about?
Kay Morris-Robertson: Going back to 2010, I had moved to America from the UK with John. We’d been together seven years and were living the dream: I was 32, work was going well, we were living on Venice Beach in Los Angeles and we’d just got married. I felt like we’d made it. Then, out of the blue, my life changed in a heartbeat. We were sailing on the Pacific Ocean, John had passed his sailing exam that afternoon and as a surprise had suggested we take a boat out. It was our maiden voyage. All of sudden, in the middle of the ocean, his heart just stopped.
After the funeral, when I came back to America, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ended up spending 10 days in a mental institution against my will. Nobody knew where I was or what I was doing there. So at this point I had lost my husband and lost my health, I was locked up in a psych ward and it looked like I was going to lose my job, too. It was all very frightening. Long story short, when I was released I got some help from a specialist doctor and after a while, his question to me was: “Kay what are you doing in Los Angeles? Why don’t you just take off and see some of our country?”And that was the start of the journey.
But there were some parameters to the trip – how did you come up with those?
There were three rules to the trip. Rule number one: I had to follow the alphabet in order – the book’s called A to Zee across America so my route around the country was dictated by that constraint. So I started in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I then went to Bend, Oregon, and then all the way to Coney Island, New York. Eventually I finished in the Zion National Park, Utah – which was about three years and 80,000 miles later.
Rule number two was no major towns or cities. And rule number three, which is the most interesting rule, was America voted for where I went to next – wherever got the highest votes is where I would drive to, even if that was 3,000 miles in the opposite direction. So that resulted in me, for example, going across Oklahoma 27 times, and Kansas 23 times – which I can tell you is pretty dull.
So where are some of your favourite places in the States that no one’s heard about?
Probably one of the funniest ones is Xenia, Illinois. At this point in the journey my RV was covered in memorabilia; one side represented the east coast, the other side the west and the middle was the Midwest. So I arrived in this tiny town of Xenia – covered in caps and teddy bears and stickers – went for something to eat and before I knew it the whole town had congregated around my RV. Even the mayor was there; I literally met the whole town. All 150 of them.
What about the people you met along the way? I guess you met some real characters.
I met hundreds of people. For example I met a guy who had served in the Second World War in the UK and had never returned. But he’d sent a holster to the Imperial War Museum in London which had an inscription written to him on it from the ladies who used to make the bullets in the armour shops. So he asked me to find it and send him a photograph, which I did. There was another couple who wanted me to film them getting engaged. I went tailgating – basically partying from the boot of a car – for five days around American football games in Michigan. There are so many people, so many stories.
So much travelling we do is planned in advance, but you had to let go of the control. How did that feel?
Learning to let go is really what the journey was all about. One of things PTSD is that the worst thing that could happen to you has already happened, so you don’t fear anymore. That made me do things that I would never do if I didn’t have it. It gave me this inner strength.
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Did the actual physical journey mirror your road to recovery?
Absolutely. It was almost like a journey of solace in many respects. In the beginning, I couldn’t go into the bank, I couldn’t face people, I was terrible around water and boats. The journey gave me the space to work things out. It was about slowly building up myself again. Talking to complete strangers about what I was going through helped too. The impact of my story would resonate with people and I realised that although what happened was awful, what I was doing was also very strong and brave. It gave me self-confidence.
Now your journey is complete, what’s your advice for people who may be suffering PTSD or going through a similar personal trauma?
PTSD can be a very secretive disease. My piece of advice is: you’re not alone – you will get through this – even if it takes three years and 80,000 miles. It’s about working out what your own personal journey to recovery is – for some people that might be just going to the gym more regularly or spending more time with your children. Whatever that personal journey is, it needs to be yours. Sometimes when you find yourself in a dark corner, the first thing you need to do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward.
And the proceeds of this book are going to charity
Yes, that’s right. It’s going to PTSD charities as well as heart association charities. There’s Cardiac Risk in the Young (www.c-r-y.org.uk / 01737 363 222), the American Heart Association (www.heart.org), and a bereavement group in Los Angles called Our House (www.ourhouse-grief.org).
Thank you Kay. It’s wonderful to see how you’ve transformed this really difficult situation into something positive that other people can share and take inspiration from.
Thanks for listening.
Aaron Millar is travel editor of Positive News and writes a blog about adventure travel and personal development through exploring the world: www.thebluedotperspective.com