Back in the 1980s as Rosalyn Pursley, Port Hudson, and her daughter, KrisAnn, were backpacking across Europe, they occasionally hitchhiked to their destinations.
If that sounds a little risky, Pursley, who has just published a book about her early travels, including her solo trips to Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal and India, understands, but she said there are two things that make the difference — caution and confidence.
She always travels with both.
That’s the message that Pursley, 77, wants to get across with “Rosalyn, Cautious, Never Afraid,” which features a photo of her hitchhiking to Zinal, Switzerland, on the cover.
“My story is about traveling solo, following my spirit and zest for life,” she writes in the book’s prologue. “Looking at the world from the angle of a woman alone in a foreign land, I found that it is safer than many want us to believe.
“I expanded my travels and always felt safe wearing my commanding presence. I encourage other women to pick up the banner of self-confidence, follow their dreams and know they can achieve if they will believe in themselves. It is my hope that this book will lead them to venture out on their own to see the world, taking one step at a time — always moving forward.”
The 333-page book features 18 chapters and dozens of photos, including her early camping trips with her husband and their children, then ages 3 and 5.
“When we started out, we couldn’t afford a tent, so we camped with a tarp over the tree to keep the droppings from us,” Pursley recalled. “The first time was (in the early ’70s) at the Lake of the Ozarks, and we wondered if the 3-year-old would wake up and stumble into the lake in the night . . . so we explained the situation to her and it was fine. She slept between us.”
The stories throughout the book are pulled straight from the journals she kept on her trips, and thus include the kind of vivid details that paint a picture.
“I want the reader to travel with me as they read the book, and people who have read the book have told me, ‘I felt like I was right there with you,’ sitting and watching the glaciers in Switzerland, walking through the Kali Gandaki River Valley to take an early morning dip in the Tatopani Hot Springs in Nepal, sitting in the tent on a long, rainy day in the Alps when there’s only bread and jelly in the backpack, sleeping on the night train listening to the steel on the tracks in Europe, feeling the cold fingers digging into the icy Chilkoot Mountain, riding the tides in a john boat on Prince William Sound in Alaska or finding my way through the dark streets in Indoneisa . . . ”
‘You Should Write a Book’
Pursley, who grew up in Washington and graduated from St. Francis Borgia in 1960, said her interest in travel goes back to her childhood.
“I always loved geography and dreamed of seeing faraway places,” she said. “As soon as I learned to read, I read about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and how it buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
“That just fascinated me. Will I ever get to see that? And many years later I sat on the rim of Mount Vesuvius with my daughter and watched the steaming crater down below.”
Her ability to write about her travels in a way that is interesting and inspiring to others is something she credits to her teachers, namely Martha DeGreef at St. Francis Borgia and Robert Harvey and Joy Kopp at East Central College.
Pursley enrolled at ECC alongside her children. She studied journalism and wrote for the college newspaper, The Cornerstone. Back then she wrote a feature story on her travels that ended up winning first place in a Missouri College Newspaper Association contest.
That was the first time Pursley thought that she could one day put her stories into a book that could be worth reading.
For years people have told Pursley she should write a book. Not only were her stories interesting, but people were always fascinated at her traveling alone through so many countries.
“That was a bold new experience,” she said.
Felt in Danger Only One Time
After making trips with her husband and children and later with her daughter, Pursley said her decision to travel alone was the result of her circumstances. Her husband didn’t like to travel as much as she did, and her daughter had married and started a family of her own.
Pursley didn’t much care for tour group trips, and she still had a list of places that she wanted to see. So she started with an “easy” trip to Switzerland to “test the waters.”
The secret to staying safe, she said, is to walk with an air of confidence and assurance. “If you’re not confident, you’re a target,” she remarked.
“Being anxious triggers anxiety and when a person panics, they no longer think clearly and logically.”
At the same time, Pursley said she’s always made a point of being kind to everyone.
“It’s important to be aware of potential dangers and take precautions, but always be kind,” she said.
Looking back on all of her trips, Pursley said there is only one experience when she felt in danger. She was walking down a dark street in Indonesia, where there were patrol dogs at each house, and she noticed that one dog came out into the street behind her and then another and another.
“That’s when you walk tall and don’t make any sudden movements,” said Pursley. “And I got to the little place I was staying and there was no problem.”
Joy in Every Place
Pursley doesn’t have specific advice or a list of tips for anyone wanting to travel, but they are sprinkled throughout her stories.
In addition to being cautious and confident, she says remaining calm is key too.
“Things happened on my trips that I wasn’t prepared for, but I had to keep calm. Like when the filling fell out of my tooth in Hong Kong, and I wasn’t even to Thailand, my destination, yet.”
She wasn’t in a lot of pain, but the missing filling was annoying, so she sought out a dentist who put a crown on her tooth.
“It was $140, and insurance paid the whole thing,” said Pursley, noting she still has that crown. “He did a good job.”
That story is included in the book, along with a story about how she caught a money-exchanger in Indonesia cheating her. She went back to him to demand that he give her the right amount.
“I was very firm with him,” she said. “At first he denied it, and then he said his manager made him do it . . . but I told him, ‘I will sit on this chair all day long until I get my money back’ ”
She vowed to cry and attract negative attention which would ruin his business, so then he gave her the money he owed her.
Pursley said that even when trips have had surprises like that, they have all been enjoyable. She has found joy in every place she has visited.
“Sometimes I had to look a little harder to find it, but there was something there that was an experience and an adventure in every place I’ve been,” she said.
“I saw the face of God in many of the poor and beautiful people I met,” Pursley writes in the book’s Acknowledgements. “My faith in my Creator never wavered, and He was a great companion on every adventure. And to my guardian angel who often worked overtime but always brought me safely back to Port Hudson.”
With as many places as she has traveled to, Pursley said it’s too hard to pick just one favorite.
“For scenery, it’s hard to beat the Alps in Switzerland, but for culture, I really loved India. Food? I like Thai food.
“I did eat street food if I saw the people who were preparing it were clean and the food looked clean, and I never got sick. But you do have to be really careful.”
“Rosalyn, Cautious, Never Afraid” covers her early travels, and she has enough information and journal stories to write a second book on other countries that she has visited, but for now that is on the back burner.
“I didn’t realize there were so many decisions to be made in publishing a book,” she said. “I had to decide the size of the book, the weight of the paper, the many shades of white in choosing paper, the font and point size, even the placement of the page numbers . . . ”
Pursley’s daughter, who lives in Arizona, helped her with copyediting the book, and her son, Vernon III, helped with preparing the photos, page layout and book design.
The book, which was printed by Goellner Printing, a third-generation full service commercial printer in St. Charles, became a family project, which was fitting, since Pursley said she never could have gone on all of her trips without the love and support of her husband and children.
They never tried to stop her from traveling alone or told her she should stay home.
“I’m appreciative of that, because not everyone would be like that,” said Pursley. “My husband knew it was risky, but he never indicated that I shouldn’t go. He never held me back. He believed in me.”
Initially, Pursley sent out query letters to 13 publishers to guage interest. Most didn’t reply, but the few that did either told her the book wasn’t a right fit for them, or she found the publisher wasn’t a right fit for her.
“In the front of the book I write, ‘Everyone has a story to tell. Some are told, some are written, some are read and some die without a memory. Only those that are shared live on to serve another. Mine is written with a purpose — to share a faith and a self-confidence that is purely a gift neither deserved nor earned, merely appreciated.’ ”
Presentations, Book Signings
“Rosalyn, Cautious, Never Afraid” is only available to purchase directly from Pursley.
“I want to meet the people who are buying my book,” she remarked.
Following is a list of events she has scheduled:
Feb. 22 — Noon to 3 p.m. at Camping World, 2200 E. Pitman Ave., Wentzville.
Feb. 27 — 4 to 5 p.m., Washington Public Library, 410 Lafayette St., Washington.
March 20 — 5:30 p.m., Scenic Regional Library, 200 Douglas St., New Haven.
May 2 — 1 to 4 p.m. Local Author Fair, Scenic Regional Library, 251 Union Plaza Dr., Union.
For more information or to schedule a presentation, people can contact Pursley at 573-484-3284.