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A Song of the Open Road

Somewhere there’s a road that winds out of the calamitous city toward a place where the mountains rise to meet the sunset and only a rustle of wind breaks the stillness.

It’s a road which, like Bali Hai, calls from the distance of one’s imagination, a soft and tantalizing whisper that talks of adventures never before taken and a serenity never before experienced.

The lure of the open road is a compelling one. We succumbed to it 25 years ago for three months, traveling the country in a rented camper to small towns and quiet places. We returned to the clatter of the city because that’s in my blood too, but some just keep on going.

Megan Edwards and Mark Sedenquist, a couple in their mid-40s, heard the whisper of the distance in 1994 and have been seeing the sunset over a thousand different horizons ever since.

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For them, it wasn’t simply following a dream. Choice was forced on them when their home in the hills above Pasadena burned to the ground in a series of firestorms that swept through Southern California. They stood among the ashes of their lives, wondering what to do.

“It was suspended reality,” Megan said the other day, remembering the morning after the fire. “The Santa Ana winds had stopped and it was crystal clear. Everything was absolutely normal until we saw the black gap. . . .”

The black gap had once been their neighborhood. They had lost everything, all of the “stuff” that rounded their lives. That night as they discussed what to do, Mark focused their uncertainty. He said, “Let’s hit the road. Let’s just start driving and see where we end up.” And they did.

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“The fire had singed my soul,” Megan writes in her new book, “Roads From the Ashes,” a revealing odyssey of their 130,000 miles traveling America. They wanted to get away from the “smoldering thing” that had been their life up until then.

Theirs was a dream of minimalism, they said the other day in Phoenix One, the 32-foot, gleaming white motor home they bought to begin their adventure. We met at Temescal Gateway Park in Pacific Palisades.

Mark had survived the fire with a T-shirt, jeans and shoes. Megan had grabbed a suitcase, an arrowhead and a pair of red panties. Why the red panties? She laughs and shakes her head. You do funny things when you’re running for your lives.

A teacher once, she had worked for a real estate company before the fire. Mark had his own business creating games and puzzles for adults and children.

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Now they exist without the income that once fueled their existence. They live on the edge, Megan says. They have a computer Web site, RoadTrip America (https://www.RoadTripAmerica.com) and a newsletter, RoadTrip Report, for which they sell advertising. Twice they led tours for the American Cancer Society. Mark sells personalized Christmas ornaments. Megan writes.

“We have no perception of home anymore,” Mark said as we sat in Phoenix One, appropriately named for the mythical bird that emerged from its own ashes to begin a new life. “Home is where we park.”

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In the midst of dreams, there are occasional nightmares. They found both peace and adventure on the road, intersected with lives that impacted on their own and embraced serenity like a warm lover. But there was a sandstorm too and a tornado and blinding snow and mosquitoes and chiggers and gnats. And there was a five-month separation.

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Mark spent “a winter of despair” in Wyoming; Megan in New York and Montreal. The fire, the road, the limited space, the strain of redefining their lives had taken a toll.

“We thought we’d done a good job of choosing a new path . . . but we’d ignored the invisible tie that bound us,” Megan writes in “Roads.” “It took a season in the deep freeze before a new light glimmered. . . . Our marriage needed at least as much attention as our wheels.”

Their feeling for each other brought them back together. Megan puts it this way: “Love burns and warms, rages and soothes, screams and whispers.”

Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida. . . . The journey continues. A brief stop here and then on the road again like gypsies in search of a dream, married lovers ultimately finding peace in the company of each other.

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“I’m sure we’ll stop someday,” Megan says. “Every journey has an end.” But not yet.

I watch the Phoenix One pull away. I hear the whisper of the distance. I envision a road and a horizon I’ve never seen. And I dream.

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Al Martinez’s column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com

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