Notes From a Hired Pen

On the Road with Jen: Party in the USA




I’m not sure why you’re here, but if you have read my work or follow me on social media, or are a friend who I talked to in the last four months, you know that my life was kicked into a tailspin in January when my dog died. I have shared this grief already, most notably in a piece that I wrote for The New York Times.

What I haven’t shared was that things were bad long before that. I can’t say much more – my attorney has advised me not to at this time – but I can say this: it’s not about my work, and it’s not about me harming someone else. I, in fact, was harmed. I’m OK physically, and I’m safe. But the depression I wrote about after Emily died had been chasing me for months as I was latched to a situation over which I had no control.

In late December, I set out on a trip Vermont to celebrate the bulk of that issue being rectified. My clutch blew on the New Jersey Turnpike and a terrible dealership mucked up the repair. When they insisted that I send the car back to them, they held it hostage while trying to force me to pay to fix their mistake. I was at the vet with Emily when they called. Four hours later, she was dead.

I am lucky person in a lot of ways. When all this happened, and I reached out for help, so many arms reached back that I couldn’t slam into the floor, even though I wanted to be ground down into it. With all that help, I was able to stay on track with my plans to sell my home. I listed it a week after Emily died, and it was under contract days later.

Because of the vaguely-worded issue I mentioned above, I no longer felt that I could stay in Collingswood, N.J., where I had lived for a more than a decade. Before Emily died, I had been thinking about renting somewhere in the mountains for a little while to see if I liked it. Vermont was on the list (hence that trip). Western North Carolina was too. But with no little dog in tow – a little, elderly dog who didn’t travel well – a limit on where I could go or what I could do was lifted. I feel awful for thinking that, and I miss her to pieces, but without a travel-averse dog or a mortgage, and because I have a job I could take anywhere, I could go anywhere.

After closing on the sale of my house, I holed up in a condo in Cape May, N.J. for two months to form a plan. Here’s what I’m doing.

This summer I will be going to the 18 states I haven’t been to yet. I plan to leave on Memorial Day and be back in my mom’s driveway on Labor Day. Yes, I am going in my Jeep. Yes, I am going alone. All those long road trips I’ve taken since I bought the Wrangler – even when I bought the car in Texas and drove her home without really knowing how to drive stick – had been practice for something I didn’t know I would someday do. I plan to camp, Airbnb, stay with friends, and use up all my hotel rewards points along the way.

I’m sure you have questions, so I’ll answer the four that I’ve been asked most so far:

  • I have been to Alaska but not Hawaii (I will fly there when I get out west – where from TBD).
  • I am still working on this trip – so if you’re one of my editors, please don’t stop assigning! I’m plan to work for a few reasons. First, I like my job. Second, that vaguely-worded situation I referenced above was a major financial drain, and I hope to restock my savings without touching the money from the sale of my house. And third, no publisher is paying me to do this. I made a half-hearted attempt to get someone to sponsor the trip, but I’m glad it didn’t work out because now I can go and do whatever I want. I’m sure I’m going to write about it, though. It’s already worming its way into stuff I have in process, and I have an assignment for when I get to Colorado. But this trip is for me, not to create work opportunities (though editors – if you’d like something, get in touch!) So think of this as Jen’s Mobile Summer Office, with a lot of dirt, sweat (and I assume at some point) tears along the way.
  • I am not going on an overseas romp for one reason: my grandfather. After serving in the Pacific Campaign in WW II, said he’d never leave the U.S. again until he saw all 50 states. The only exception he made was Canada, which he and my grandmother drove through on their way to Alaska. He didn’t quite make it to all 50, but I hope I will. He died 10 years ago on Wednesday. I’m sure he would have been proud.
  • I have no idea where I’ll live after.

I’m writing this from my mom’s dining room table, with everything I’m considering taking with me in piles on her living room floor. I leave in 11 days and can’t quite imagine what the trip will look like because I’ve never been on the road for that long before – but really, who has?

Here are the states that I’m visiting, in alphabetical order. I have a route in mind, but I have to leave you in some kind of suspense:

  • Alabama
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming
  • Utah

If you have any questions about the trip, or suggestions, leave them in the comments below or, if you’re reading this though my newsletter, just hit reply.

I drove to Cape May in a white out. I drove out on a perfect beach day. I’m still not 100% better (if I was, I wouldn’t have cried while I wrote this), but I am oh so excited. I hope that you might want to follow along with me too.

If you don’t want to keep peeking at the blog, you can sign up for my newsletter, which will include these posts. You can also follow me at or at

See you on the road!

This entry was posted by Jen on at and is tagged

4 Responses to “On the Road with Jen: Party in the USA”

  1. Katie Dougherty says:

    Jen! So excited for you! Question: will you run along the way? If so, would love to see a visual blog/review of said places!

    Wishing you the best on your new journey – you make your fellow New Jerseyans/NJ Runners, proud!

  2. Tana says:

    Jen, this is so very similar to a trip I embarked on in March, finding my way to Colorado (planning to stay, and live). Also in a car I’d bought out of state, also alone. I’d wish you luck but you don’t need it; I’d wish you strength, but that, too, you have already in spades. So here’s to the joy of the road and the people you’ll meet along the way. Tears cried on tree-lined back roads can be the most healing. I’d love to hear about it when you get to Colorado! <3

  3. Sheila Young (Nellypup) says:

    If you haven’t read it yet I recommend you bring along a copy of Jim Harrison’s The English Major. Wooden puzzle of US is optional but also recommended. Have a glorious trip!

Leave a Reply to