There’s an old saying that, “The road to success is always under construction.” I don’t know if I’m on the road to success, but it seems the path we each travel is often wrought with detours and potholes, doesn’t it?

This past week my dad turned 80 years old and we were thrilled to be able to go to Virginia and celebrate him along with family and friends. Ramsey and I both had busy schedules to work around so the fact we were able to be there at all was a small miracle. It had to be a fast trip, at best.

Ramsey is a student at Georgia Tech and her last class was on Tuesday with her first exam scheduled for Friday. I picked her up in Atlanta at 3:30 Tuesday afternoon and we began what should have been about a five-and-a-half hour journey north. We planned to drive up and come back the next day, so it was important to us that we get there as quickly as possible. The highway gods had other thoughts.

We hit our first detour between Chattanooga and Knoxville. An accident had traffic at a complete standstill. We decided to take the chance to grab dinner, assuming it would clear. When we finished, the map showed that traffic was still backed up, so we figured out an alternate route to get us back to the highway.

I have always been fascinated by US Route 11 that meanders parallel to the major highways on our journey from around Chattanooga to well past our end in Virginia. Built in 1926, the entire route runs from New Orleans, Louisiana, to the Canadian border at Rouses, New York. I think it would be fun to follow its full length one day.

We were still in pretty hopeful spirits, so we enjoyed the scenery of our little detour. We found the highway without any trouble and traffic was light as we moseyed on towards Knoxville. We were feeling pretty good about our timing, even though the detour had added about 45 minutes to our trip.

And then, there’s Knoxville. I really try to look for a positive spin on things most of the time, but Knoxville is nearly always a thorn in my side in one way or another each time I travel to Mom and Dad’s. Be it road work or traffic or the difficulty of getting to the Chick-fil-A, there is always something to bug me there. Sure enough, there was road work north of the city that had traffic narrowed to a single lane, and while rush hour was over, there were a ton of cars still caught up in it. It went on for miles, so we took the first exit and looked for Route 11.

Thank goodness Route 11 exists, but this detour wasn’t as pleasant as the first. We were both road weary and reeling from the realization that we were going to be terribly late. And, it was not as easy a jaunt to find the highway on this re-route, it was long and confusing. When we finally made it to Virginia, we greeted the family and hit the hay, then we were up early the next morning preparing for the gathering.

Dad has been eating breakfast at the Emory and Henry College dining hall for several years now. He even goes and picks up a midday meal there often. It has been a true blessing that Mom and Dad have that available so close to them, and the people there are so kind and helpful. We had a lovely breakfast gathering there with good family and friends from the area, and, come noon, it was time to head back.

We had a fairly uneventful trek to get Ramsey home to Tech so that she could hunker down to prepare for her exams. I dropped her off around 6:30 p.m. and as I battled the stop-and-go traffic back to the highway, I had a random thought to check the temperature gauge. The car sounded a little rough, which made sense given all I had put her through, but I truly just had a random thought to look and it was completely in the red!

I pulled into the gas station across from the Varsity, you know, the one where the motorcycle guys hang out that speed up and down the connector with their high-pitched motors echoing off the walls of the overpasses? Ramsey has lived by the highway in both her years at Tech, so she isn’t very fond of them. I opened the hood, let the engine cool, went into the station for a gallon of water, then opened the cap on the radiator to let it leak a bit. I was hopeful I could just add water and be on my way. But, once I closed it up and cranked it up, the engine sounded terrible!

I pulled out my AAA card and cursed the long wait I knew I was in for, wondering if I’d be sleeping on Ramsey’s dorm room floor, just as a young man in motorcycle garb walked up and asked me what was wrong. He opened the cap, told me to crank it again and within seconds, the engine was back to normal. He explained that he used to work on Hondas, checked some things and filled the reservoir tank for me, then advised me on how to proceed. It was an amazing moment of grace in a very stressful situation, all because of the generosity of one of those sketchy motorcycle dudes!

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but there is nothing like a few potholes on the journey to remind us how much we need each other and that grace can always be found even in the most unlikely places. Let’s try to keep that in mind as we navigate this road trip that we call life.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.