MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Wylie W. Sensing Jr. died of lung cancer before he could realize one of his lifelong dreams -- to visit the Alaskan wilderness.
In his honor, his son, Scott Sensing, is driving 10,000 miles in a 1952 Chevy truck to the most northern point on the continent accessible by car -- Prudoe Bay, Alaska.
''I'm not doing this for fame or recognition,'' says Sensing, who started his journey June 11. ''This is something my father always dreamed of doing, and if I can somehow fulfill that dream for him, and raise money to fight the disease he died from, then it's something I have to do.''
Sensing, 36, a student services officer at Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro, took a one-year leave of absence from his job for the journey.
While such cross-country pilgrimages are not unusual, traveling in an old truck that averages 40 mph, has no radio and no modern air-conditioning makes the journey a test of human will.
''Being without an air-conditioner has been a hard adjustment. If your going across town that's one thing, but eight hours at 93 degrees without cool air is tough,'' Sensing said June 14 from his Texas hotel room.
''I've never been someone who needs music to drive. So far I've done a lot of thinking to pass the time, watching the changes in scenery roll past.''
Sensing and his father renovated the truck, affectionately named Shelley, after he discovered it near his rural Middle Tennessee home the summer after his 1982 high school graduation.
''I said I was going to drive it to Alaska that summer. But of course that was silly back then, and I didn't do it,'' he said.
His dreams of Alaska were passed down to him by his father, who fantasized about homesteading in the Alaskan wilderness since he was a child.
A normally animated man, Sensing is quiet as he talks about his father. He stares into the distance, fighting strong emotions.
''My dad was born about a hundred years too late,'' said Sensing, noting his father owned every Western novel written by Louis L'Amour. ''He was one of those people who would have been fine living back in the woods all alone, fending for himself.''
Friend Galen French said when Sensing's father got ill with lung cancer, the father and son used to talk about a road trip to Alaska.
''I think Mr. Sensing really thought he was going to beat it,'' French said. ''I think that was one of his motivating factors, that they would finally get to take that father-son trip. But it wasn't meant to be.''
The elder Sensing died in May 1998 at age 65. It took the younger Sensing about a year before he could commit himself to making the trip for both of them.
''It was then I said, 'I'm going to do this all the way, or I'm not going to do it at all,''' he said.
It took another year for him to raise money and find sponsors. Corporate donations -- including $1,000 for fuel from Kroger Fuel Centers and a laptop donated by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee -- have helped him finance about 90 percent of the trip.
''It was our way of helping out what we believe is a worthwhile cause,'' said Sherri Tate, a Kroger spokeswoman. ''We get all kinds of donation requests, but Mr. Sensing's request is definitely one that I haven't seen before.''
Sensing also raised over $30,000 for the American Cancer Society from about 40 antique car clubs nationwide.
Sensing plans to keep a travel journal that he will post on a Web site, along with pictures, so his family, friends and sponsors can monitor his progress.
Once he arrives, Sensing doesn't have any particular plans. He believes the journey alone is a tribute to his father.
''My father had dreamed about Alaska since the 70s,'' Sensing said. ''By finally making it a reality, both his dreams and mine will come true.''
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