Nancy Zyburt brings groceries to the Niantic Community Church food pantry.
Photo by Patricia Ann Chaffee
by Patricia Ann Chaffee
NIANTIC (10/09/2012) -- When Niantic Community Church secretary Judy Snitkin received a call from someone interested in making a donation to the NCC food pantry, it was a typical inquiry. They wanted to know what was needed most and agreed to drop the donations off the next day. When those non-perishable donations arrived, the church became a participant in a "Give Back to America" journey.
Nancy Zyburt was born August 31st, 1956. When she celebrated her 56th birthday this year, she set out on a journey to celebrate her life, her passion for road trips, and to embrace all that she had left undone. She had lived in Michigan all her life and, with her three children successfully graduated from college, she sold her business and set out on a 56-week road trip to explore America. She plans to tour all 56 states and American territories including Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Island. Nancy counts Washington, D.C., as a territory.
With her mini-van packed with plastic tubs of supplies and plenty of snacks and peanut butter, Nancy has budgeted $1,000 a week for her trip. That might seem like a lot, but she is spending $56 dollars a day, that’s $392 a week, to make donations. Each week as she travels from state to state, she makes donations because she wants to help others in a way she hasn’t been able to, while raising three kids on her own.
“I had no time to join the Peace Corp or build houses for Habitat [for Humanity]. I don’t even know which end of a hammer is up,” says Nancy. But she sure can plan. Her road trip took 2 1/2 years of planning and depended on several factors falling into place. And they did. Neighbors are watching her home in Chelsea, Michigan, for the year she is gone. Her dance studio business was sold and her youngest child graduated college on time. This left her free to take the trip of a lifetime and she calls it her “Give Back to America” journey.
Nancy sleeps on an air mattress in her mini-van, and is warmed by a 56 square quilt made by a friend. She sometimes stays in inexpensive motels but more commonly in campgrounds, although her traveling companion presents a challenge for both in some cases. She is traveling with her chocolate Labrador retriever, Tula, and not all campgrounds and motels welcome her four-legged friend.
Nancy’s makes her donations each week in four different areas. She randomly selects community food programs, animal organizations, various things she comes across like scout activities, and sends care packages to the military. She makes a game of going into the store and seeing how close to her $56 minimum she can get on her purchases.
“If it weren’t for them (the military), I wouldn’t be free to drive from state to state,” she said. “I feel very strongly about doing something for them.”
This road warrior began her trip on September 3, heading first to Pennsylvania, and made her way to Connecticut by week four. Seeing New England in the fall was an obvious choice and she arrives in a new state every Monday. When she left the Niantic Community Church on Sept. 27th she was headed inland and planned to make her way to Maine, New Hampshire, and the rest of New England before heading south to avoid the cold.
“Each day is different and an adventure,” says Nancy. “I’m meeting interesting people, seeing beautiful parts of each state. It’s just fun to get up in the morning and not know what the day will bring.”
In addition to her traveling and making donations, she and Tula also walk eight miles each day. Yes, that’s 56 miles each week. She is journaling during this adventure and although she has brought reading material and knitting, she hasn’t yet had time to do either.
“I’m a big time road tripper,” she says. “Growing up in the 60’s we took cross country trips in our station wagon. I’ve always enjoyed exploring the country. Doing this trip was always on my mind.”
This adventure is really her dream come true. And for organizations like Niantic Community Church and the people she encounters on her travels, she just might be their dream come true. She plans to finish her trip in October of 2013. Check out her blog at expedition56.com.
Patricia Ann Chaffee is Community Minister of the Niantic Community Church UCC.