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Lifelong traveler takes his home on the road

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 24, 2002

"Not all those that wander are lost." -- J.R.R. Tolkien

When John Busser leans his pony-tailed head back from the computer desk in his 33-foot-long motor home, fixes you with a smile and tells you he is thinking about driving around the country -- take note.

He means around the country.

At 80, an age when many find a trip to the bathroom to be a major undertaking, Busser plans a two- to three-year trip that will take him up the East Coast, across the country's northern edge and then down the West Coast, and he plans it as an almost perfect combination of schedule and freedom.

On the one hand he has a carefully scripted itinerary with lists of destination campgrounds and reservations, but he has also left time to visit and see the country outside of which he has spent half his life.

"This time next year," he said, as dragonflies rose and fell slowly on the breeze outside his parking spot at Turtle Creek RV Park in Homosassa, "I hope to be wintering somewhere in New Mexico after having wintered with my oldest daughter in Escondido (Calif.) . . . give or take a month . . . or two . . . or more."

After a career in design, sales and training in the field of biomedical instrumentation, and spending half of his life outside the United States, Busser decided recently to pack up his two cats, Puti and Cory, take down the awning outside, hook up his compact car to the rear of his motor home and, "just take off and see some of the country. Once I thought about it, I couldn't think of any reason not to do it, so I'm going."

Busser's father served in the U.S. foreign service, so he grew up in England, Wales and Germany, attending school at Oundle school near London before returning to the United States for college and graduate school.

"I think attending that school was one of the most important events in my life," said Busser. "When I got to college, I spent the first two years of college reviewing what I had learned in the English equivalent of high school."

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and returned to school in 1962 for a master's degree in biomedical engineering from Drexel University and a doctorate in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island.

"I never used the oceanography degree," he said. "I just figured the Ph.D. would be a better union ticket, meaning it would help me to get people to listen to me, and it did."

His working life and early retirement took him to Qatar in the Middle East and to Spain, from which he returned to the United States after being widowed in 1998.

He moved from Jensen Beach to Homosassa recently to be nearer a pen pal he met when he began corresponding with female prisoners, "just for something to do. She was the only one out of five that I stuck with and is now out of prison. We are good friends and visit back and forth.

"I looked for a while for someone to share this great trip with," he said, "but I finally decided it will be just me."

Keeping in mind that his vehicle will be getting 5.5 miles to the gallon and that campsites aren't free, Busser will be financing the trip out of savings.

"But I don't think it will be that great a burden," he added.

Health isn't a concern, he said. "I take one medication for high blood pressure, and I recently had cataract surgery, but I've always been in good health."

So, with his mail being forwarded by a local service and a stack of maps beside him, Busser is off April 19 to visit a daughter in Miami before beginning the long northern leg of a journey structured loosely around visiting five adult children scattered across the country and a lot of friends and acquaintances, some of them made by e-mail.

Why is April 19 the magic date?

"Because," he said, "my lease is up that day, and it seemed as good a day to start as any."

Busser's journey is open ended. He expects it, in its current planning state, to last two or three years but acknowledges that it could be more or less.

Has he thought about the fact that he could be literally spending the rest of his life on the road?

"Yes," he said, with a broad grin, "I have."

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