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That book they culled at the Wesson library

The text comes through while we’re asleep. He’s in Malaysia. Ten-hour layover. I see it and smile, thankful to get it and all the other middle-of-the-night updates Son No. 3 has sent over the past couple of months.

They read like an itinerary.

Just landed in LA. Aloha from Oahu! Back in Okinawa again. Taking off for Thailand. I’m in the NAM. (As in Vietnam.) 

Today he should be in Manila. I think he’ll stay about a week. It’s been this way since July, when we watched him go through security at Jackson International, him and that backpack stuffed with a LifeStraw water filter, an ENO hammock, a journal and a few carefully selected articles of clothing.

I suspected he was serious about his Magellan-like plans when I saw the world map covering the wall of his barracks at Camp Lejeune. He put a green thumb tack in every spot he hoped to visit, then put red ones wherever he had missionary contacts. He’s the outgoing type, so the thing was covered. Well, every continent except Antarctica. He says he’s OK with skipping that one.

Another clue that his plans were on track came in June, just after he completed his four years with the Marines. He went to Jackson one afternoon and came back with an international driving permit. Put it there on the kitchen island for all the world to see — even his poor mama, who was still in denial.

Then he changed his cell phone company to get better overseas options. Took care of business at the bank. Shared his proposed schedule of stops with important details in a folder in Dropbox.

You know, “Just in case.”

So when I tried to nail him down about how this wanderlust started, he said his deployments fueled it, but at the root, it was my fault.


Here’s the deal. Years ago, the Wesson library had a big book culling, and I came home with a stack of oldies-but-goodies I thought the family might enjoy. There was one I suggested our freshly-minted teenager scan as part of his geography studies. Well, he scanned it all right. Read it and read it some more. Evidently committed all 140 pages to memory. 

Parents, here’s the out-of-print book you want to keep off your shelves: “The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone.” Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

The plot, though non-fiction, is pretty sensational. Back in the 1960s, Robin Lee Graham, a California 16-year-old, spent nearly five years circumnavigating the globe by sea, often trailed by National Geographic photographers. The book has full-page photos of thatched huts and sandy sunsets and the protagonist patching up a wounded pelican. It’s a bit dated, but the text still sounds a timeless clarion call to the adventurous.

Graham sent tapes home to his parents and later used them to pen the book. As a result, we now keep an atlas on hand to track Son No. 3’s whereabouts. So far, so good.

These days, adventurers don’t send tapes home. They pack drones and these cameras called GoPros that go underwater while snorkeling or on a helmet during a motorcycle ride through Bangkok. Then they post their videos (set to music, of course) on YouTube so folks who work 9-to-5 can dream a little.

The GoPro let Son No. 3 take footage while spear fishing in Japan, and the drone let him capture aerial video from a village at the Burmese border. It’s pretty neat stuff, almost able to incite the travel bug in a mom as stay-at-home-ish as me. And when the phone photos come through — the ones from the orphanage and from a church service in the jungle, I’m happy he could go on this once-in-a-lifetime journey, because it’s Kingdom-minded at its core. In his words, he wants to “see the work of the Church worldwide, as well as the beauty of God’s creation.”

In coming columns, I hope to share more from his travels. Maybe you’ll enjoy learning about the night he ate monkey and the day he tore the book of John from his Bible to give to someone in a Communist country. Hey, reading about adventures can almost be as good as being there.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.