What do you call 4,051 miles? Good question.
You may have heard I just completed a 12-day solo journey across eight states visiting 53 bookstores. I drove all those miles and spent more than 80 hours in the car.
I’d do it again tomorrow.
Not because the trip changed my life or because of any single moment. I’d buckle up again in that rental car because at each stop, even the unscheduled ones, I realized my life isn’t about books.
It’s about you.
On the plane from Virginia to Phoenix I sat next to Drina Munroe, a recent widow flying for the first time without her husband. She was sad to be flying alone and I was happy to be her seatmate.
At my very first stop of the tour in Mesa, Arizona, I crossed paths with two dear friends I met on a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru, seven years ago. I hadn't seen Diane Jarman or Heidi Tucker since we said goodbye at customs, but it took less than five seconds to laugh again about one of the greatest adventures of our lifetimes.
Later that evening in Las Vegas, I met the family of a marvelous missionary who served in my tiny town of Woodstock, Virginia. Kerri and James Kuhn dragged along a group of young women from their ward and we talked and laughed until the store closed.
In Cedar City, Utah, I was reunited with Zach Riddle, a little boy with big dreams. He presented me with his latest book — autographed, of course — and I was reminded that I owe my career to people who believed in me when I was his size.
Later I picked up my daughter, Oakli, who’s settling into her first year at BYU in Provo. We spent a few hours together visiting bookstores, enjoying dinner and restocking her fridge. It wasn't nearly enough time, but it was just enough for me to see how far she's come and how the world might not be ready for her, but she's ready for it.
Up the interstate in Salt Lake City, I met Lisa Stocking, who for two years has been hanging onto an article I wrote for the Deseret News. It had personal significance for her and she’d been patiently waiting for me to pass through so she could tell me her story. I could've driven straight to the airport and come home completely satisfied that the trip had been worth it.
In Logan, I saw two extraordinary missionaries, Chanse Dahl and Spencer Jensen. Both served in the Maryland Baltimore Mission and left lasting impacts. Dahl is home attending school at Utah State and Jensen is on medical leave recovering from mononucleosis. His last area was Woodstock and I had the honor of looking his parents in the eyes and telling him what a powerful missionary he’d been and how desperately we want him back.
In Star Valley, Wyoming, I visited Hastings, a store that sells everything from hammers to hammocks and brooms to books. The gang there was gracious and grateful and I made a phone call to a reader I’ll never forget.
Oh, and the drive to get there? Heavenly.
That night in Rexburg, Idaho, I spent precious time with my more precious niece, Stephanie. A recently returned missionary from the Arizona Tucson Mission, Stephanie is studying creative writing and has more natural talent than I'll ever know. One day she'll call me while passing through town and ask if I want to meet her at a bookstore where she’ll sign my book and take a cheesy picture.
The next day in Boise, I saw Jamie Hilton and Ashlee Birk, two friends I've written columns about but never met face-to-face. I was honored to tell their stories and even more honored to finally tell them so in person.
In Washington, I visited stores in Kennewick, Spokane, Bellevue and Edgewood. On Interstate 90 in Snoqualmie Pass, I had a choice encounter in the middle of the road with Linda and Dana Sledd. Together we learned that when life hands you road closures and you get out of the car, you’re not just stretching your legs.
In a bookstore near Portland, I was surprised to see Kevin Milne, the talented writer of "The Paper Bag Christmas" and "One Good Thing," two of my favorites. It’s humbling when a more gifted writer comes to your signing when I should be going to his.
In Redlands, California, I hugged AnnaBelle Palmer and Cheryl Hawkins, an aunt and cousin who can make me laugh from 3,000 miles away, but it sure was nice to have that experience in the same room.
In Orange County, I was blessed to discuss my all-time favorite book with Lisa Sullivan. It’s The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. We spoke of its powerful descriptions of his ministry and his map home. Todd Wynder, the store manager, keenly aware and sensitive to the Spirit, stepped into the conversation to add a beautiful second witness. And though I left his store a little bit late on the final day of the trip, I would've given up every other memory for that one.
There were many more exchanges, planned and spontaneous, in bookstores, gas stations and parking lots. All of them deserve a mention and each encounter was another chapter in the textbook of my life.
One by one I was reminded that without readers, books are just pulp, ink and glue. They only become meaningful when someone holds them, opens them and invests the most valuable resource any of us owns — time.
It might be difficult to thank every bookseller and every reader in person, but that won’t keep me from trying, even if I have to do it 50 bookstores at a time.
What do you call 4,051 miles? A good start.
Jason Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." Learn more at jasonfwright.com, or connect on Facebook at facebook.com/jfwbooks or by email at email@example.com