Local Teen Alexis Comeau Starts Cross-Country Adventure
By: Alan Pollock, Cape Cod Chronicle
HARWICH — Driving across the Great Plains, 18-year-old Alexis Comeau of Harwich can look all around her and see wheat fields all the way to the horizon. On Sept. 9, she loaded up a customized van and embarked on a cross-country odyssey that's already broadened her perspective in other ways, too.
Comeau has been planning the trip since she was 14 and dreaming of this kind of travel adventure for much longer. Having graduated high school in the spring, she decided to take a year off before college and chase that dream.
“I've been doing research probably two full years now,” she said, speaking by phone Monday from Minnesota. She and her father, Perry, researched the perfect van and then spent two months renovating the interior into a cozy camper. Inside there's a sink, refrigerator, bed, storage space and a dining table; on the roof are solar panels that charge deep-cycle batteries that provide electricity.
Comeau is traveling with her boyfriend, Tom Shanahan of Brewster, who shares the driving duty. The pair has been making good progress on their goal to reach the West Coast, where Shanahan has family, and then return to the Cape before Christmas.
“Yesterday we drove 500 miles,” Comeau said. The driving is enjoyable because the van is in good shape, and the vista is ever-changing. After visiting some of Comeau's family members in Western Massachusetts and Vermont, they stopped at Niagara Falls and made a short detour to Ontario. Living in the tiny van isn't a hardship, she said.
“It makes you realize just what you can live off of, which is so simple,” she said. “All you can fit in a van is all you really need.” While she does miss being able to take a shower whenever she likes, the freedom of the road more than makes up for that inconvenience, Comeau said.
Half of her “gap year” will be devoted to this trip, and in the spring she will begin some kind of volunteer work, spending a few months on some worthy project – maybe rebuilding hurricane-ravaged homes in Puerto Rico, maybe working in an animal shelter, or maybe teaching English in India.
“I want to do everything,” she quipped. When she begins college next September, she plans to follow a degree program related somehow to the environment and sustainability. (In fact, she and a friend started a small company a few years ago that organizes environmental trash cleanups.)
Admittedly, it was a bit of a challenge getting her parents to support the idea of the trip.
“It took them awhile,” she said with a chuckle. But in time, she convinced them that the journey would be a chance to add to her education in a meaningful way. “And it has been, so far,” she said.
Encountering heavy rain on Sunday, the pair pulled off the highway at a random exit in Indiana and immediately noticed something new.
“There was this smell in the air,” she said. Soon they discovered the source: a smoke-belching steel mill. And then another, and another. “There's just miles and miles of industrial factories and pollution,” she said. On the shore of Lake Michigan, “you can see all of the factories – towers everywhere pouring pollution – and there are kids swimming in the water,” she said. The experience left her with a new appreciation for the clean air and water on Cape Cod, and a strong desire to pursue an environmental career.
“It makes you realize that global warming and climate change are very, very true,” she said.
So far, it looks like the trip has been a life-changing experience for both Comeau and Shanahan.
“Both of us have lived on the Cape our entire lives,” she said from the road in Minnesota. “On Cape Cod, everything is so narrow you can only see what's right in front of you. When you're here, you can see forever.”