EAST COUNTY — In summer 2008, the Sheckler family prepared for the first phase of a cross-country trek that would touch all 50 states by barely preparing at all.
An East County family who lives in a home with a front door that leads to a swimming pool and a backyard lit by a fire pit, Ken and Kala Sheckler and their children, Kendal, 16, and Karley 13, believed a goal — completed in July with a visit to Hawaii — to visit all 50 states over four summers would be best fulfilled by “winging it.”
Well, not completely.
Ken, who sells hurricane shutters, and Kala, a self-employed occupational therapist, had to plan time away from work.
Each summer, they would decide on a basic route on which to drive their Dodge Durango — also known as the “Silver Pull-it.” They’d take a mish-mosh of side roads leading to a pre-planned string of states.
They’d often detour to a different side road — one less sketchy, one less rocky, one less boring — than called for in the original “plan.”
The bills would be paid online; the Fleetwood pop-up camper, fitted with two king-sized beds and a kitchen, would be towed, and a prayer would be said.
They hoped the Tefilat HaDerech, a Jewish prayer for a safe journey translated to “The Traveler’s Prayer,” would help Ken avoid stubborn kidney stones.
But the destination within the destination — the places in each state they’d visit, the landmarks they’d photograph, the campsites or parking lots at which they’d sleep — those were left to chance.
“We think flexibility and an open agenda is important when traveling,” Kala said. “The Sheckler Way is to visit as many places in the shortest amount of time. We have always found a place to sleep — even if it is a Walmart parking lot.”
For the Shecklers, the trip was a great way to show their patriotism. They say they visited “every Walmart in existence” as pit stops or overnight stays to buy ingredients for pancakes, popcorn kernels and boxes of pasta. Ken planted a tiny American flag at each campsite.
The family stopped at each state’s welcome sign and took a photo.
They saw 35 national parks, from which Kendal and Karley earned 23 junior ranger badges.
“At first, we thought the trip be a great way for the kids to learn about their country and to set a goal and achieve it,” Kala said. “We had never been afraid of traveling, but we weren’t crazy about getting in a car and traveling with two kids. Our friends thought we were crazy.”
One Friday night in summer 2011, after driving from Canada to Alaska along the Alaska Highway, the Shecklers met a family with whom they could identify.
They were an Orthodox Jewish family from Miami, and there were nine members in all. They kept kosher in their motor home and all got along.
“It was amazing to think there was this family like us, traveling together more than 15,000 miles, keeping their Jewish tradition while traveling the U.S.,” Kala said. “And, it was nice to know there is life in Alaska other than bears.”
The trip also brought change.
In 2010, the Shecklers spent the beginning of their day with barefoot snowball fights in Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border and the end of it overdressed in Los Angeles.
Kendal and Karley were 10 and 8 years old, respectively, when the trip began.
By 2011, when the journey to 49 of the states ended, flip phones had given way to iPhones. Phone reception and Internet access improved.
After they spent hours mastering their Haftorah selections downloaded onto their iPods during long car rides, the sisters had become bat mitzvahed.
The family became better at handling extreme weather — hail in Canada and tornado threats in Oklahoma — by getting faster at packing the camper.
On the drive back from Alaska, Ken and Kala realized they had miscalculated the timing of the trip. Kendal and Karley would cut it close to missing the beginning of school.
So, the Sheckler ladies flew to Sarasota from Missouri, while Ken drove the Dodge and the camper home alone.
“It was nice and quiet,” Ken said. “I liked that part of the trip.”
Back home in Sarasota, inside their home with the swing set Ken made by hand, Karley creates a quilt from T-shirts purchased during the journey.
Kala reviews scrapbooks — one representing each summer — stuffed with brochures, postcards, photos, statistics and “grades” of campsites.
Kendal has key chains, and Karley has snow globes — the only gifts the Shecklers agreed to fit into the budget.
The Shecklers’ tans won’t let them forget Hawaii, the “reward” state — the last stop on the trip, traveled to by cruise ship.
The Shecklers returned from Hawaii, a place they rated modestly and found too similar to Florida, in July.
The camper is for sale under one condition: The buyers must retain its stickers, collected from every state.
“As a family, it feels good to accomplish this goal together without killing each other,” Kala said. “In all the years we were gone, nothing bad happened. The kids never got sick. Ken never got kidney stones. I think people are afraid to get off the couch and leave their environment. Get up and go do something.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].
BY THE NUMBERS
2008 — 9,200 miles driven, 48 days traveled and 23 states visited, including Wyoming and their favorite, Utah
2009 — 5,200 miles driven, 25 days traveled and 17 states visited, including New York and Rhode Island
2010 — 13,000 miles driven, 70 days traveled and 25 states visited, including California and Texas
2011 — 15,322 miles driven, 61 days traveled, $4,240 cost in gas (the most) and 23 states visited, including Alaska, and three Canadian provinces
2013 — The “reward” — a seven-day cruise to Hawaii