Carol Hasbrouck’s new book chronicles the Dames’ travels and travails during their “summer service adventure.”

Joyce Claflin and Carol Hasbrouck pose in front of Carol's Hyundai Santa Fe before loading it up and taking off on their four-month, 10,000-mile, 24-state 'Dames Gone Wild' journey.

10,000 Miles of Miracles

How Two Middle-Aged ‘Dames Gone Wild’ Found Purpose During a Cross-Country Road Trip

Joyce Claflin and Carol Hasbrouck pose in front of Carol's Hyundai Santa Fe before loading it up and taking off on their four-month, 10,000-mile, 24-state 'Dames Gone Wild' journey.

May 2024

BY KIM WHITING

Carol Hasbrouck had just watched her marriage of 20 years collapse. Then came the trauma of almost losing her eldest son to a severe head injury, and his long rehabilitation that followed.

At 55, this St. Petersburg, Florida resident thought she’d made her quota on hard times.

But when the real estate crisis hit in the late 2000s, Carol was the sole employee laid off from the mortgage banking job she’d worked for 23 years. As a result, she struggled to pay her bills, lost all her retirement savings in bad investments, and had to file for bankruptcy.

Carol sums it up with three words: “I was devastated.”

But as these losses grew, Carol says she started to realize that a bigger issue simmered beneath the surface of her problems. Her identity and self-value had come almost exclusively from her career and the prosperous, financially independent life she had derived from that work.

“I was a successful businesswoman and then suddenly I wasn’t,” Carol explains. “Being the only employee let go made me feel utterly devalued and my career was almost the only area in my life in which I felt of value.”

She continues, “I’d long had an image of who I was, and being unemployed and unvalued as a businesswoman was not that image. I felt like my life was over.”

Little did Carol know that her life was actually just beginning.

Losing what she thought gave her value would ultimately help her realize her real and intrinsic worth. And it would usher in a new and wondrous journey.

In the midst of looking for a new job in the spring of 2012, Carol sat down and asked herself, “If money and time didn’t matter, what would I do?”

The answer came immediately: “Travel and help others.”

Rather than stay mired in misery, Carol made a life-altering decision: She had to “take off,” to simply load up her Hyundai Santa Fe and head out to parts unknown. She had to get her mojo back.

And the best way to do that, she concluded, was to try and make a difference in other people’s lives.

Says Carol, “I love helping others and knew that doing so would give me back some purpose. Some of my friends thought I was totally nuts, but most were really supportive.”

 

Carol and Joyce completed a five-mile run in St. Petersburg, Florida, in support of a cancer charity.

 

Before she could go, Carol asked her friend and roommate, 60-year-old Joyce Claflin, if she’d mind the house and take care of her pets while she was gone.

Joyce thought about it, but said no.

Anxious to leave her dead-end job answering phones in an office, Joyce instead told Carol, “I’m coming with you!”

Joyce had endured her own personal losses, also including bankruptcy. She would later tell a Florida news outlet, “I was praying to God for something and there it came. I knew this was it. I felt like my soul was dying and now it’s free, so I jumped off the cliff.”

Carol’s youngest son Rob and his wife stepped in to watch Carol’s place and care for her beloved pets, Chester the cat and Jimmy the dog. “I didn’t need to worry about leaving them because I knew they were in good hands,” Carol says.

Once on board, Joyce helped Carol develop a three-pronged “mission” for their trip:

1) Joyfully provide services and financial resources to organizations that help people, pets and planets.

2) Spread happiness, connection and love to all we meet. 

3) Repurpose people, especially women, who have felt that life is over because of a loss.

 

The Dames created a logo and tagline that, according to Carol Hasbrouck, “represents the earth, people and pets–all the things we wanted to serve.”

 

Finally ready to hit the road, the women combined their available cash—only about $500 bucks—purchased a map of the U.S., and embarked on a four-month, 10,000-mile journey across 24 states.

From Maine to Michigan, they helped needy organizations by stocking shelves, cleaning, cooking, even ditch digging. Before reaching each destination, Carol would call ahead to potential charitable organizations offering their help. She’d always tell them, “We’ll do anything.'”

They volunteered with 30 different organizations, helping the homeless, special needs children, and people with brain impairments. They volunteered at a hospice, with the Special Olympics, cancer centers, an organization that promotes life-long marriages, Habitat for Humanity, a holistic health care center, an educational nature center, humane societies, food pantries, senior centers, inner-city schools and a Latin American youth center.

Staying in the present moment “saved my life,” Carol explains. “The ever-changing, heart-opening service projects that we participated in gave me a feeling of meaning and purpose, and transformed my own mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.”

 

Carol and Joyce put in drainage pipes at a Habitat for Humanity construction site in Asheville, North Carolina. “It was hard work,” says Carol. “After they trained us on site, we spent five hours in 98 degree heat doing this pretty heavy labor.” 

 

The women stayed with 26 host families (many of whom were previously strangers) along the way, sleeping on beds and sofas of various sizes and shapes in places they’d never been, and never before dreamed of being.

Carol and Joyce found people willing to host their stays by reaching out to friends and spreading the word on social media. Says Carol, “Sometimes we ended up staying with friends of friends of friends, and there were times when we simply had to change our destination so that we’d have a place to stay.”

She adds, “We constantly adjusted to new locations, sleeping arrangements and hosts, which made it necessary and easy to keep my mind only on what was right in front of me.”

They called themselves “Dames Gone Wild.”

Hasbrouck says the name “just came to me. I didn’t know anything about Girls Gone Wild,” the popular yet scandalous videos that featured college-aged women exposing their bodies to camera crews at parties and clubs in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.

When she did learn of the adult entertainment franchise, Carol says “my jaw fell to my knees,” but her initial surprise led to the realization that the moniker “Dames Gone Wild” helped capture media attention—”even though we keep our shirts on,” she told Patch Florida.

Before they’d arrive in a new city, Carol would research various media resources—newspapers, radio, TV, and digital. “I’d contact them and tell them that ‘Dames Gone Wild’ was coming to their town to help charitable organizations by giving our time, talents and treasures,” she explains. “We received loads of coverage.”

During a stop in Minneapolis, Carol, Joyce and another friend, Sharon Saraga, handed out “free hugs” to passersby in an outdoor mall. Sharon’s twin sister was hosting the women in Minnesota so Sharon decided to become a temporary Dame during their stay.

 

Carol, Sharon Saraga, and Joyce provided free hugs to strangers on the street in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

 

Carol told the local CBS affiliate, “I got a divorce after 20 years of marriage, my children went off to college, I was alone. I no longer had an identity, I had no one to take care of. I went into a very deep depression…We want women to know if you’ve lost your job, or your husband, or your children, or whatever that may be, that life is not over. There is so much more to living.”

Joyce added. “It’s about stepping outside the box, and jumping off. It’s been a wakeup call to take a breath, let go of expectations or preconceived ideas and just enjoy life.”

“Free Hugs” would ultimately become a popular staple of the Dames’ journey.

 

The Dames promoted their “free hugs” effort on national television during ABC-TV’s morning news program. 

 

Of course, the Dames’ initial $500 in funding didn’t last long, so they relied on the generosity of friends, family and strangers to donate to their cause. They set up a website and raised enough to sustain them on their trek.

“People liked hearing about how we had turned pain into purpose,” Carol explains. “They saw us as courageous, compassionate and generous. We received many comments on our website telling us how we had inspired them or changed their life in some way. It kept us going, and I began to see and believe, not only that there were other ways that I was valuable and a contributor in this world, but that some of that value came simply from who and how I am.”

At the same time, Carol says she was still “often challenged and sometimes scared. When I found myself depressed about my losses or afraid of what was next, I’d ask myself ‘Am I OK right now in this moment?’ and the answer was always ‘yes.’

“I committed to trusting that all would work out perfectly—and that’s what happened.”

And now, more than a decade after the “Dames Gone Wild” cross-country journey, Carol has published a book about their gutsy and heartfelt service adventure: 10,000 Miles of Miracles. By serving others, Carol writes how she came to realize she can be “pulled by joy instead of pushed by pain,” and create the kind of life she’s always longed for.

Here’s an excerpt from the book that helped bring her to that realization:

There was a local mission, called Wayside Christian Mission just down the street. It’s located at a former Holiday Inn and is now called Hotel Louisville, a low-cost hotel for travelers and a homeless rehab center for addicts and alcoholics who are grateful to learn new working skills for their eventual entry back into society.

We were introduced to Suzanne, who cleaned the hotel rooms. We helped her by changing sheets, scrubbing toilets and bathrooms, dusting, and vacuuming. We were very humbled by the experience.

Suzanne was embarrassed because she didn’t have any teeth and hadn’t put in her false teeth. My understanding is that many drugs, including meth and cocaine, can cause people to lose their teeth. She was probably in her thirties, but due to the years of abuse, looked to be in her late forties. She welcomed us and was grateful for help in cleaning the rooms.

At noon, Suzanne told Joyce and me to take a break for lunch. When we returned from our lunch break, I asked her if she was going to eat. Her response startled me as she replied, “Oh no. I can’t eat. I have two sons, and all the money I make goes to feeding them.”  She turned and continued cleaning. I promptly went to the car, got some money and food, and returned with our small gifts to lighten her load. She beamed as she gratefully accepted them.

We met Tom while cleaning a filthy dirty room full of beer bottles and cigarette butts. He told us he had just gotten out of prison after a 20-year sentence. It crossed my mind to ask why he was in jail, but I felt safe in his presence, so I didn’t pursue it…He was also a happy, grateful recovering drug addict, who works seven days a week, 10 hours a day, without complaint. “I’m grateful every day for this place. It is a far cry from where I came from. Working here gives me purpose, self-esteem, and keeps me out of trouble. I am blessed to be here,” he exclaimed.

I was overcome with emotion and sadness as we cleaned rooms full of odors, filth, and negative energy. We changed the sheets with clean but blood-stained new ones. The people staying in these rooms were a ‘step above’ the workers because they could afford $50 a night for a bed and toilet. It was so sad that people lived this way. But the workers were grateful for another day of sobriety, a bit of money, and a roof over their heads. They had a 12-step program and hope that they could enter back into mainstream society someday soon. I was reminded to count my many blessings.

This service work was when I first realized what an incredible soul my [friend and traveling partner] Joyce is. She looked everyone straight in the eyes, smiled, acknowledged, and greeted them.

Even though it took me some time, I learned from her to do that, too. We all want to be acknowledged and valued. I kept telling myself, “I am that. I am that.” And indeed, I am. If a few things had been different in my life, I could have just as easily ended up in their shoes.

For decades, I had been giving money and food to the homeless on street corners. Still, I had never really connected with them eye to eye nor heard their stories, saw how they lived or felt their sincere gratitude for being alive. It is an experience I will never forget. I now try to look everyone in the eye and smile, acknowledging that we are all human beings wanting love and happiness.

In 10,000 Miles of Miracles, Carol outlines lessons gleaned from her experiences—the list includes nuggets such as “Receiving is as important as giving,” “It’s not your place to judge when others act out,” and “Follow your bliss.”

All of these can be seen as cliché or overused to the point that they cause eye rolls, but how many of us have ever really followed that advice? How many of us even know what “bliss” means in relation to our own lives?

Carol now has a much clearer idea.

Experiential learning happens to be inherently abundant in novel experiences that stretch us past our comfort zones, like Carol and Joyce’s service trip.

 

At a brain injury rehabilitation center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the Dames worked with individuals with disabilities and limiting conditions. 

 

In the book, Carol writes: My favorite project of all 33 organizations we served was with N.E.W. Curative Rehab, now called Curative Connections, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s an adult day care facility for individuals with brain injuries and impairments.

The facility’s mission and Carol’s experiences there hit close to home because her oldest son Andy experienced a traumatic head injury at age 15 while skateboarding; he was holding on to the back of his best friend’s car and lost control.

Andy’s injuries were so dire that he was air-transported to a hospital and put on full life support. “While he was in a coma, the swelling got so bad that we had to discuss removing part of his skull and brain,” Carol explains. “I signed papers allowing the donation of his organs, should the worst happen. You can imagine the fear and trauma this brought. No parent wants to make this kind of decision.”

Andy remained in a coma for three weeks; when he finally awoke, he required long-term physical, occupational and speech therapy. “I laugh when I see TV shows where patients wake up from a coma and immediately start conversing with their loved ones,” Carol says. “It doesn’t happen that way. He was still on life support, not breathing on his own, and couldn’t answer many questions correctly, but he was awake and responding slowly.”

Carol’s time spent volunteering at N.E.W. Curative reminded her how fortunate she was that, after years of grueling rehab, Andy fully recovered;  at N.E.W., there were people who hadn’t experienced such a positive outcome.

As she wrote in 10,000 Miles of Miracles:

Hal was in a wheelchair and had minimal motor function. We’ve all seen people like Hal, and if you’re like me, you look away when you see them because it’s just too painful or scary to watch. What Hal taught me is that he is a human being who just wants to be acknowledged, loved and respected like the rest of us.

I played a game of cards with Hal and a few other clients with severe brain injuries. Because of his bent-over posture, constant drooling and visible impairments, it was difficult for me to look directly at Hal. Then the aide in charge said something funny and Hal smiled the most beautiful smile. His whole face lit up and his eyes sparkled.

That’s when I realized that even though he couldn’t speak well and had significant problems moving his body, his mind still worked. He wanted and needed love and acknowledgement, just like all of us. So I gave him some. I looked into his eyes, smiled, touched his shoulder, and said goodbye for the day. Hal brought me such a gift.

And then there were the magical experiences, the kind that gave a rocket boost to Carol’s faith and hopefulness. In the book, Carol shares numerous cases of serendipity, synchronicity and other small miracles, but ranks the following story as the most amazing of them all:

The last day in the greater Chicago area we served at Heritage Woods of Bolingbrook. If you’ve spent any time at a senior living facility, you know it can be challenging. My Aunt Betty lived in one for about a decade. When I’d visit her, I’d see older people in different life stages and near death. It can be quite sad.

This facility was top-notch, clean, and bright. The residents we visited seemed physically better than those at my aunt’s residence in Minneapolis. I’m sure it depends on which part of the facility they are in.

We came to play games and connect with the seniors for their weekly Happy Hour. Gail, the Volunteer Coordinator, was so happy we were there and introduced us to everyone in the facility as the special guests for that day. Always being curious, Joyce asked her, “Who is your oldest resident?” Gail beamed, “Oh, that’s Mannie. He’ll be 102 years old in September.” She shared that at 96 years old, Mannie had taken up woodworking. He recently completed an 8’ x 4’ plaque of The Gettysburg Address, which he carved from memory. At 96!

As she was telling us about Mannie, he got off the elevator, and Gail introduced us to him. He didn’t look a day over 80 and had a special twinkle in his eye. He invited us into his humble apartment to see pictures of the wooden Gettysburg Address he had carved. I admired the family photos on his walls.

As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed some small wooden plaques on a chest of drawers. One of them had the name “Carol” on it. I said, “Mannie, that’s my name.”

“Oh, it is?” he replied. “Would you like to have it?”

 I stared at him, somewhat dumbfounded and at first said, “No, I couldn’t do that,” to which he looked back at me equally confused.

“Why wouldn’t I accept his gift?” he must have been thinking. I quickly agreed to take it.

At this point, Joyce was feeling a bit left out and started looking at the plaques for her name. She noticed they all had words on them but no names. She kept looking and in the very back was one with ‘Joyce’ on it.

“Unbelievable,” Joyce exclaimed. It looked different from the others because Mannie had not even had a chance to stain it yet. “Mannie, that’s my name!” Joyce said.

“It is?” he calmly queried. “Then, please, take it. I made it just last night.”

“Mannie, who told you we were coming?” she asked incredulously.

He looked at us as if that were an odd question and replied very matter-of-factly, “Well, God told me, and I always do everything God tells me to do.”

We thought he was joking, and after we picked our jaws up off the floor, we looked at Gail, who had goosebumps, and asked if she had told him our names. “No,” she said. “No one knew your names. I simply put ‘special guests’ on the calendar. To be honest, I didn’t even remember your names.”

Of all the names in the world, ‘Carol’ and ‘Joyce’ were the only two names on plaques Mannie had made “because God told him to.” Being in shock and total amazement, we asked how we could thank him.

He looked at us with a smile and said that he would like us to recite The Gettysburg Address. “But we don’t know the words,” I said. He politely handed us a paper with the complete address on it. With a bewildered smile on our face, we read it, as he recited it from memory—at 101 years old!

 

Joyce and Carol show off the plaques that a senior center resident gifted them. 

 

We said our goodbyes and headed for the car. When we got in the car, I remarked how incredible that experience was and said to Joyce, “I have to confess. This morning I asked God to send me a sign that we are on the right path. You know, we don’t have very much money, and this is a crazy idea, so I just want to be sure we are doing the right thing.”

 After she stopped laughing, she replied, “So did I.

By the time Carol and Joyce ended their trek, Carol had begun to take note of the many ways that their journey of service had transformed her. She says she returned with a restored belief in the goodness of life and people, along with a feeling of fulfilment and self-worth that she says, “positively affected every area of my life. Our service adventure also cultivated in me a renewed faith and connection with my Higher Power that has brought me joy and carried me through life’s inevitable challenges.”

Once home, after months of constant newness and movement, Carol found that everyday life had a patina of freshness and specialness to it, after all the unexpected and eye-opening experiences of their trip. She viewed her life through a lens of appreciation.

As for Joyce, she says her biggest take-away from her “Dames Gone Wild” experience was realizing that the most important relationship we often have as human beings is the one we have with ourselves—how we define, think about, and treat ourselves. Says Joyce, “It’s so important to be authentic and have integrity with ourselves.” The trip also reinforced the fact, she says, that everyone wants to be seen, acknowledged and loved.

Twelve years later, Carol says she and Joyce remain friends today, explaining, “Our journey together both tested and strengthened our friendship. We’ve had nice long talks about the fact that we never had anyone approach us in a malicious way, about the goodness of people, and all the fun we had.”

The Great Recession was still in full force when the women ended their trek in late 2012 and, despite dedicated job hunting, it would be a year until Carol once again found full time work.

Still, she says she was in no particular rush. “I needed more time to regroup and put my life back together,” she explains. One of the ways she accomplished that was by starting to write 10,000 Miles of Miracles. “It helped me process and solidify what I’d been through and learned, and reminded me time and time again of all the miracles I’d experienced.”

Carol has since re-entered the world of real estate but this time as a Realtor, and for the last eight years she says she’s enjoyed “helping others make memories in new homes.” Working as her own boss, she says she can never again be laid-off from the role of caring about others.

 

(Above) Carol today with her sons Andy, 39, and Rob, 37. (Below) Carol relaxes in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida near her home.

 

She continues to contribute her time to causes she believes in. “I regularly volunteer at a place called Preserve the Burg, which is short for St. Petersburg,” she explains, “It’s an organization that helps preserve the integrity of our city’s historic buildings and landscapes. I also work with Children’s Dream Fund, a local organization that makes dreams come true for children with life threatening illnesses.”

Carol adds, “There is no greater purpose than to extend a hand to anyone or anything in need of help, and in doing so, you will, like me, find yourself uplifted, empowered and healed.”

Through serving others, Carol says she also began to identify new strengths, gifts and personal qualities in herself. She gained an intrinsic self-value that’s immune to life’s ups and downs—value that’s separate from what she might attain through job performance, financial prosperity, physical appearance, or social prominence. Value that’s separate from the outward trappings so often used as measuring sticks of achievement and success in the U.S. and many other cultures.

Simply by serving others, she learned true self-worth.

 

10,000 Miles of Miracles is available for purchase on Amazon. Carol Hasbrouck can be reached here on Facebook.

 Kim Whiting is a Reporters Inc. Advisory Committee Member and you can read more about her here. She can be reached at

 

COMMENTS

No one has commented on "10,000 Miles of Miracles"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

Leave a Comment

Comments will be posted following administrative approval.

The Reporters Inc. is a proud member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of more than 300 nonprofit newsrooms dedicated to serving the public interest. Our articles are syndicated and shared with hundreds of other media organizations, online magazines, top blogs, etc. Please send news, feature and investigative story tips and ideas to .




 
 

Looking for one of our previous articles, investigations, commentaries, essays or book excerpts? Search our archives by typing key words into our SEARCH bar above, or at the top left corner of our site!

Share:



Skip to content