Driving Miss Norma: One Nonagenarian's Epic Road Trip

Driving Miss Norma
Driving Miss Norma / Driving Miss Norma

Last summer, 90-year-old Norma Bauerschmidt was preparing to say goodbye to Leo, her husband of 67 years. The day after he was admitted to hospice, Norma was dealt another blow: Doctors had discovered a large, cancerous mass on her uterus. She barely had time to process the news when Leo passed away. Just two days after his death, Norma found herself at the doctor’s office, discussing how to treat her cancer. Her doctor recommended surgery to remove the mass, but was concerned that she may not survive the operation.

Norma decided the typical late-in-life path—surgeries, nursing homes, assisted living—wasn’t in the cards for her. Her son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Ramie, had made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: to join them on the road. The retired couple spent much of their time roaming the country in an Airstream trailer, but if Norma would join them in their nomadic lifestyle, they promised to upgrade to a 36-footer and see whatever sights she wanted to.

Norma didn’t have to think twice, and said no to the cancer treatment. “I’m 90-years-old,” she told her doctor. “I’m hitting the road.”

Less than two months later, she did. Their first trip was a little over a year ago, when they left Norma’s home in Presque Isle, Michigan, and headed west toward Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone. Tim wasn't sure if she would make it to South Dakota. Twelve months later, Norma is not only surviving—she's positively thriving.

“If you could have seen her when we left,” Tim told the Washington Times, explaining that her transformation has been utterly amazing. Not only is she doing better physically, going from 94 pounds to 110, but she's also been transformed emotionally. “I’m open more now than I used to be,” Norma said.

Since last August, Norma has been to several National Parks, Roswell, the Kennedy Space Center, Walt Disney World, Niagara Falls, the French Quarter, and the Grand Canyon—and that's just to name a few of the sights she's seen.

She has served as an honorary Atlanta Hawks cheerleader, dipped her toes in the ocean, experienced her first pedicure, eaten her first oyster, and she shook a lot of hands at the National World War II Museum—Norma is a veteran herself, having served with the Women Accepting Volunteer Emergency Service unit in 1945.

But out of all of the amazing things Norma has experienced in the last year, one of the most memorable may have been the hot air balloon ride she took in January. She and her husband had always wanted to experience a ride together, and while he was in the hospital, Leo said he still hoped to be able to take her someday. After his death, as his family was cleaning out his papers, they found multiple newspaper clippings about balloon rides among his things.

As of Labor Day, the traveling trio was in the Pacific Northwest, where they have visited a lavender farm (one of Norma's favorite flowers), watched Orca whales, and celebrated the one-year anniversary of the beginning of their journey. Wherever Miss Norma heads now, she's likely to be one of the main attractions—since starting her journey last year, her Facebook page has gained more than 400,000 followers, and she's been featured on the CBS Evening News, the ABC News, the Today Show, and the Huffington Post. What's next for Norma, Tim, and Ramie? Possibly California for a peek at some redwoods. Follow along with her adventures on Facebook—you'll be glad you did.

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