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One Woman's Long Road Trip

On the bench strapped to the back of Janet Bratter's camper, words describe her vagabond's life.

"Sit, relax, have fun, sing, read a book, take your time, slow down, make art" are all thoughts she lives by, criss-crossing the country in her camper.

"My philosophy is on this bench. Be happy is the purpose of life," she said.

Temporarily occupying the corner of the parking lot at Keene Mill Center in Springfield, Bratter's camper takes one stop on Bratter's self-imposed tour to see the country, experience people, be a traveling musician and go her own way. She only has one restraint — to be back home in Chapel Hill, N.C., on July 24 for a doctor's appointment. Bratter is a cancer survivor and needs periodic checkups to make sure she stays that way.

"I like traveling, that sort of gypsy thing. It's wanderlust, the desire to see it with my own eyes. You can't get that by sitting in a recliner watching it on television," she said, at home in her 1983 GMC camper, outfitted with a television, computer, stereo and her guitar. Her cat "Scooter" is her lone traveling companion.

Since leaving Chapel Hill in May-ish (she doesn't put an exact date on it) and heading for the Kerriville Folk Festival in Texas, Bratter has visited the JFK museum in Dallas; the Thomas Edison museum in Arkansas; the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Ark.; the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky; and her parents’ graves in Fairfax. She'll work at the Floyd Festival in Floyd County, Va., if she can.

Last weekend, Bratter played guitar for a conference in Alexandria.

"I got a phone call from the National Organization of Women, and they had a benefit in Alexandria," she said. "I closed the conference. I did some of the songs I did at the peace rally, 'Little Boys with Poison Toys' and 'Revolution Road.'" The peace rally she referred to was the anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., last spring.

Bratter claimed that she was asked to perform at the Lincoln Memorial by Peter Yarrow of the '60s folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. Having a good attitude, she said, reflects the types of people she meets along the way.

"If you don't trust people, expect them to rip you off," she said. "That's what you'll find."

BRATTER ATTENDED Fairfax High School and graduated from Woodson High School years ago and then spent a year at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. She would not reveal the year she graduated from Woodson, though.

"I'm a mid-century Libra," was all she would say.

After high school, she got a revelation in the Serendipity book store in Fairfax, where she read "How to Travel without Being Rich." That, and listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Marrakech Express," inspired her to take to the road.

On the corner along Rolling Road, Springfield residents Erin York and Russell Beyer got an eyeful of the camper, with day-glow-orange painted wheels, peace signs everywhere, and the bench on the back.

"I think it's awesome," said York.

"I always wanted to take a long road trip, but I never had the time," added Beyer.

They each took a picture by the camper and left.

While most of the reactions Bratter's gotten from town to town have been similar, she admitted to encountering some naysayers. Bratter had a response.

"This represents freedom to them, and they don't like it," she said.

By profession, Bratter is a musician, inventor and writer. On the road, she publishes the "Road Rash Report," a self-published memoir available on her Web site. For funding, she started with an inheritance after her parents died but has since relied on her "business partner," a companion she insists is not her boyfriend, back in Chapel Hill. He pays her credit card bill.

"For relaxment," Bratter has a membership at a health club, through the Institute of Physical Fitness Association, which allows members to go to certain clubs nationwide. Although she has a shower in her camper, she planned on hitting Jungle Gym in Burke before hitting the road. Some branches don't have pools though, but she has a remedy for that.

"I crash swimming pools at hotels, it does no harm," she said.

Bratter's next stop? Who knows. A music festival in upstate New York with ties to the original Woodstock Festival might be an appealing destination.

2003 may just be another summer of love for Bratter.

"You go from campfire to campfire playing music," she said.