During my first month on the road, I've experienced and learned a lot. And while I've been doing my best to document everything I've seen, thought, and felt, my attention to the what, where, and when has often overshadowed the how, which is just as important. So this week, I'm aiming to publish seven reflections, each on a different aspect of travel, free from time and space. Here's the second.
"This journey had been like a full dinner of many courses, set before a starving man. At first he tries to eat all of everything, but as the meal progresses he finds he must forgo some things to keep his appetite and his taste buds functioning." -- Steinbeck, Travels
As I worked my way from state to state, DC to Virginia to North Carolina and beyond, rocketing to Texas in just six days and California only a few weeks after that, I faced friendly criticism from many back home who urged me, again and again, to stop and smell the roses. To slow down. To relax and take in the scenery, to stop moving so damn fast.
Such advice was appreciated, and as my journey progressed, I aimed to lessen my stride, sincerely and deliberately, with more frequent and more lengthy stops. But on the overall subject of the pace of my travel, I have the following to say.
First and foremost, this trip has always been, for me, one of the road. It was a road trip, and not a hiking expedition or a leisurely vacation, that I set out on in the spring of 2013, and as such, I found it appropriate that most of my time, or a great majority of it, be spent on the asphalt of America, rolling down the highway with the sun on my skin and the wind in my face.
One fear of speedy travel, I would imagine, is that I might miss out, that I might fail to really take in the grandeur of the Utah canyons or the magnitude of the California Desert. And to this I say not to worry, for the planning of my trip focused on not merely where I was going, but how I was to get there, and I worked tirelessly to ensure that each and every leg of my route was the most scenic and natural available, interstates a rare and unfortunate occurrence. Highway 12, Byway 395, All-American Road 189A, then, these all became destinations just as important as those in which my feet touched the ground, for there, on those scenic drives, I experienced hours and hours of country few ever have the opportunity to behold, real untouched tierra. And aboard Rousseau, blinds spots nowhere and the scents and winds and views of the region all around, I was in it, I was surrounded by it, I was there for longer than I was there. My time in the Rockies was not simply the two hours I spent in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the days I spent traversing those ridges, fighting my way through their chilly summits,, feeling the pressure and the winds and smelling the crisp scents of juniper and fir at 12,000 feet. And so on and so forth for all the great and varied terrains of the country.
I was also cognizant of just how quickly, were I to slow down, my journey could balloon into a six-month or year-long expedition, far longer than I'd care to be on the road. For if I were to extend a two-hour detour to four, or to eight, then I was at risk for granting that lenience to each and every stop, all hundred-plus of them, and though an extra few hours would be nothing to worry about, an extra few hours, a doubling of my stay, all along the way would, logically, double, triple, or quadruple the length of my trip, a trip which I hoped would take no longer than three months from start to finish.
Why I chose three months as my limit is a mystery to me, but perhaps I knew that, at some point, I would burn out, that I would tire of the cold and the wind and the bumpy road and the packaged food and the great distance from home and friends and true relaxation, and perhaps I hoped to beat that burnout back to DC, that the worst case scenario of a trip too speedy was a few missed exhibits here and there, but the worst case scenario of a trip too slow was a man and a scooter stranded in Vancouver without the will and determination to make it back home.
Loneliness, maybe, was another factor that help set my brisk pace across the continent. Beyond a brief bout of angst in New Orleans, I never found traveling alone to be lonely; later, I'll discuss just how liberating I found it to be. But I would not doubt that somewhere, on the outskirts of my mind, I was running away from loneliness, confident that the sights and sensations of a new location would keep my mind too occupied to feel that stinging sadness, the sadness of not being able to share such remarkable experiences with another, a sadness that would, maybe, catch up with me after a day or two in the same spot, but not if I moved quickly, not if I always raced away from it just as it neared.
I don't know if loneliness was truly a factor, for I never consciously caught it on the horizon, but traveling as a lone spirit certainly hastened my trek in more practical ways. Without a travel companion to slow me down with their own rightful needs, I only needed time for one: half the restroom stops, back on the road as soon as I'd chewed by last bite of food, ready to depart from a park or city once I'd seen everything I wanted to see. I will not say that this was the best way to travel, nor will I say that it wasn't, but it was the speediest, and my nature of moving quick and living rough kept me moving at three or four times the rate of a car full of vacationers.
Though my journey was no hiking expedition, as I have said, I do regret not devoting more time to more hikes, but here there was little I could do to change that. An avid hiker in my own body, I was frustrated to not have my own body over the course of the trip, but rather the shell of a hunchback, a turtle, twenty, thirty, sometimes forty pounds of weight affixed to my back, nearly all my belongings, tent, sleeping bag, camera and books and water and clothes and all of it, ever tugging at my core, eating away at my energy and stamina, making every step I took, particularly uphill, doubly difficult. Hiking, then, was not as joyous a hobby as in trips past, for though I could haul a fair bit for an overnight backpacking expedition, as I did many times on my journey, to do so each and every day, often all day, wore down my desire to step off Rousseau, who kindly carried my bag's weight while on the road, and make do with the pack's mass on my very own.
Lengthy hikes, moreover, are wonderful for the lone traveler, but my enjoyment of them dwindled over time, for though my thoughts and musings and photography can keep my mind occupied for hours alone in the woods, walking for hours becomes greatly less tedious with a partner to talk to, someone with whom to share old anecdotes or say, "Hey, did you see that?"
Yes, for the reasons stated, I felt as though my pace was appropriate, if only because it felt right, more mechanical than intentional, and never, spare any exceptions noted elsewhere, did I feel as though I had rushed too quickly or overlooked something too hastily, never did I find myself regretting the pace of my travel. Above all, I suppose, I felt this trip to be a survey course, America 101, a buffet in which I could sample all North America had to offer and, when all was said and done, determine what I liked the best, what places I'd like to study more, visit more, experience more in later life. Yes, the aim of my journey was to live the life of the vagabond, to be, in the words of Che Guevara, "always curious, looking into everything that came before my eyes, sniffing out each corner but only ever faintly, not setting down roots in any land or staying long enough to see the substratum of things; the outer limits would suffice."
And suffice they most certainly have.