Vickroy: In search of fulfillment
Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 June 8, 2012 8:42PM
Ray Decker rests with his German shepherd, Shima, during a months-long journey across the western United States. | Supplied photo
Shima’s Great Adventure
Follow Ray Decker’s journey at blog.travelpod.com/members/rayandshima
Updated: July 11, 2012 6:04AM
For Ray Decker, the road to happiness winds through mountain ranges, pristine forests and the painful chapters of his life.
“Right now, I’m happy. I’m in the moment,” Decker said during a phone conversation from Nordman, Idaho, where he is tending bar for the summer at Elkins Resort.
On May 1, the Evergreen Park native packed up his belongings, his dog, Shima, and his hopes and dreams and headed west. His ultimate destination is Los Angeles or San Diego but before he settles in sunny California, he’ll have spent six to eight months touring the country, meeting people, working various jobs and reconnecting with both the great outdoors and his innermost sense of purpose.
“When you do what you really want, when you let loose and go with your heart, you’ll find happiness,” said Decker, 37.
He knows that for certain because he’s done the opposite. The Northern Illinois University grad who was once captain of the football team at Evergreen Park High School tried the conventional life.
He tried marriage. He worked a job that required him to wear a suit and tie. It didn’t work out for him.
“I spent much of my 20s and 30s doing what I thought I was supposed to do,” he said. So now he’s letting his heart call the shots.
In 1998, two years after he graduated college with a degree in exercise physiology, Decker moved to San Diego. He loves the sun, loves to surf, loves to backpack in the foothills.
Ever a free spirit, he also spent some time touring South America. In Peru he met a girl. They married and moved to L.A. He got a job working as a health club manager and in medical sales.
Decker said that when his wife expressed a desire to live near family, they moved back to Chicago. They were only in Illinois a few months when they broke up and Decker moved even closer to family in Evergreen Park.
That was 2010.
“I’ve been trying to get back to Cali ever since,” he said.
The illnesses and eventual deaths of two uncles and three grandparents kept him in the south suburbs.
Finally, this spring, the timing seemed right for him to make his move.
“I’d always wanted to see the Northwest, but I knew I wouldn’t have enough money to move and travel,” he said.
So he applied for summer employment at 500 resorts. He heard back from 25 and ended up getting eight job offers, including the bartending gig in Idaho’s northernmost town, where every animal that ever roamed the United States is said to live.
“I’ve met so many people who do this every year,” he said. “They’re real nomads, true hippies, people doing what makes them happy.”
In 1960, at the age of 58, celebrated author John Steinbeck packed up his standard poodle and tons of writing materials and hit the road. The result was “Travels with Charley: In search of America,” one of my favorite books.
Much like Steinbeck, Decker is meeting all kinds of people and taking in all that America has to offer.
He’s met writers and homesteaders and reconnected with old college buds. He blogs about his adventure and plans to turn that into a downloadable book available through amazon.com.
“Seems like the farther I get from the Midwest, the more rural the area, the people seem to get kinder and sweeter,” he said. “There are no egos, no attitudes.”
It took some doing to convince his German shepherd, a rescue dog, the journey was a good idea.
“At first she was not happy, she didn’t like all the driving,” he said. “But now that we’ve kind of settled, she’s loving it. She loves to backpack, carries her own pack.”
In addition to finding peace of mind, Decker says he’s been able to visit magnificent sites. He spent some time camping in the Rocky Mountains and he’s hit three national parks.
“I am blessed and happy to be here,” he said. “But it is a little scary because I don’t have anything waiting for me in L.A.”
Before he ends his journey, he plans to meet vacationing family members in Lake Tahoe, attend a wedding in Las Vegas and maybe visit friends in New Mexico. He’s living the life of a nomad and making the most of his youth.
“I’m pushing the limit while I can,” he said. “And I’m loving everything along the way.”
As Steinbeck said in “Travels with Charley,” “People don’t take trips, trips take people.”