I crave the road.
And not as a metaphor. I mean that I crave the dusty American highway. I crave the chase of a sunset over the horizon as I cross yet another state border. I crave climbing into my truck amongst the red-rocked Arizona deserts of home, taking off in any which direction I desire….tonight’s bedroom could be anywhere from the boulders of Joshua Tree to the high mountains of the Rockies to lightening bugs in Missouri to the open fields of North Dakota. I crave the idealistic adventures perpetuated by Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan and J.D.Salinger, infused into my consciousness since I was eleven years old. I crave not knowing where I will watch the sun rise over a steaming cup of tea tomorrow morning — adventure, the unknown, the uninhabited, and a taste of the ideals of a previous generation. Those ideals may not exist in the way they did twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago, yet they are firmly cemented in the way I see the world. In spite of a time defined by modernity, knowing what I yearn for has been lost to an increasingly changing world, I nonetheless crave that intangible, probably gone “open road”–and have set out in search of it.
I think as Americans we all identify with this kind of freedom on some level. The Pioneer Sprit, The Wild West, Manifest Destiny–all those americana keywords we grew up studying in text books, and to some degree carry with us into adulthood. But how to do so in today’s ever shrinking world? Where wilderness includes cell service and once pristine, untouched places are rife with discarded coca-cola cans and plastic bottles?
Without any real answers, at least for me, we just get out there anyway.
Thankfully, for now, this country is still home to a lot of open land. Get a map (a real one, not on your phone), and look at all that green……that is all open, public land. And most of it is still just that……open. This summer, I found myself (and simultaneously lost myself) in these lands–by loading up my little dog, a cooler full of wine and avocados, a stack of books and antiquated ideas, and driving crosscountry–I became the cliche of my 1950’s books. Below is my trip in a few snapshots.
And for those with the time, the energy, the booze, the nostalgia, and the need for a semi-unplanned drive across our still beautiful country–do it. As you follow the black pavement and dashed yellow lines running seemingly endless, tantalizing and encouraging you to join in their journey into the depths of that fading evening light, you will find both answers and questions. And there is nowhere else to find them, but the open road.
And so this summer, from west to east and back again, I spent the majority of my time alone (apart from the pup). I had held the notion that such a trip would be not only a journey of place but also of people–however I came to realize that either that idea is wrong, or gone, or I am as inward of a person as I always thought. Romantic (perhaps childish?) ideas of simply venturing into the unknown and jostling into people and experiences along the away is not the reality–at least not anymore or not for me. We are no longer forced to interact with strangers; never once did I need to stop and ask for directions, nor stop to ask for a good place to sleep or park my car for the night, nor ask for the nearest grocery store or best place to grab a midday drink. The trip was both easy and disappointing because of an overarching, intruding sense of disconnected-connectedness.
I was never truly lost, never felt truly scared, never felt completely unsure. And isn’t that part of the allure? Isn’t the unknown supposed to be just that, unknown? I realized with a sharp tinge of loss that the strong-held beliefs of every preceding century, the notion that “adventure is out there,” is largely lost. Where to find that sense of wonder, sense of nervousness, the rush of adrenaline, in an age that allows for wifi from my tent? We are now forced to find it in, and for, ourselves– to make a commitment to disconnect and to get completely lost, which by our nature is hard to do. We now must chose the harder path, and seek out the challenge in a way that our parents, grandparents, and ancestors did not have to chose because that was just life.
However, although I feel this loss deeply, I did end up finding truth on the road. I think now, more than ever, that the past will always seem as the better, more wild, more real times–but it is simply progress, and the way every generation has and will always feel.
And in actuality, I did find what I sought; all the angst, the love, the beauty, the confusion, the simplicity, the challenge, and the life. I did get lost, and I did feel scared, and I wasn’t always so sure…..just not in the way I had envisioned. The challenge will forever be out there, we just have to decide for ourselves–decide to follow those dashed yellow lines as they disappear beyond the horizon into yet another day, another day on the uncertain and still open road.