Reflections from the road: On passing time

6.10.2013

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 fifth.

Driving across the country on a scooter was slow, silent work, and even amidst the most spectacular of scenery, my ears and my mind would grow bored, the tedium of rushing wind well overplayed, without some fresh stimulation.

When I first left home, headphones in ear, podcasts kept me magnificently occupied. Most a full hour in length, I found it easy to pass through large stretches of country, even through pesky rain or violent windstorms, without a thought to the world around me, so wrapped up in an auditory tale of people or science or the great wide world. Comedy, too, was a welcome reprieve from boredom, the jokes and monologues of a comic enough to transport me from point A to point B, laughing manically all the while, never having suffered  the drive.

Podcasts and comedy, then, were my tools to speed up time, to get myself through unpleasant stretches of it, neverending stretches of it. But sometimes, most often, actually, what I wanted was just the opposite: to be in it, to live in it, to experience it. And for that, of course, music was the noise of choice, albums or songs or instrumentals to fit the mood, the environment, and I found these tracks to not exactly slow down time, nor speed it up, but rather to deepen the experience, perhaps heighten it, amplifying the drama of entering the canyonlands, for instance, with the epic score of a blockbuster action film, or calming the drive along the Appalachians with some soothing bluegrass. Commonly, I'd accentuate my immersion with a helping of my locale's regional music scene, the famous or not-so-famous staples of that parcel of geography.

When podcasts, comedy, or music did not occupy my time, my thoughts did, wild meandering inner monologues that began nowhere and ended in an even less certain location. I found these to be important, nonetheless, and would often give myself time to let them naturally occur, the rare revelation from them worth the many hours of working toward it.

Sometimes, when letting my mind wander, it'd gravitate toward the particularly macabre topic of what would happen to my body were I to crash. In stunning detail, I'd visualize myself weightlessly catapulting from Rousseau, flying twenty feet forward in the air before hitting the ground and bouncing, once, twice, eight times, then sliding into a ditch with forty-seven broken bones. At other times, it might be a fall to the side, a thirty-foot skid, the skin from my right torso shredded along the asphalt, arm contorted beyond recognition. Or, while driving along cliffs, a vaulting off the edge of it, soaring through the air for a dozen seconds before crashing to the ground some four hundred feet below, a fireball consuming my flesh. These visions were not, I should note, manifestation of a death wish of any sort, but merely inquiries into the physics of my travel, to the danger of it, my mind forever reminding me to drive safe and be careful, lest I fall victim to the gruesome fate it so readily conjured.

At other times, I'd pass the hours doing a sort of arithmetic, calculating precisely when I'd arrive in the next town, or my destination, based on current speed, and then how much more quickly I'd arrive, down to the very second, were I to accelerate, say, five miles per hour. When seeking to pass a fellow driver, using just the variables of their speed and the speed I'd like to go, I'd compute how many seconds it would take to sidle past them, how many feet I could gain on them per second. I found these calculations, these little puzzles, to be quite fun, and if nothing else, a more pleasant occupation of my mind than the figuring of how many times my body could skip against the ground.

When all else failed, when the tedium of the drive grew too much to bear, I'd break the silence by reading road signs aloud with dramatic flair, "Speed limit, fifty miles per hour!", "Caution, road work ahead," "Susanville 62, Lassen 108," and I found this to be a worthwhile pursuit.

Audiobooks, I'm afraid, never worked for me; though I started several and stuck with them for quite some time, the narration simply could not hold my attention, and I'd find myself, whole minutes later, without the faintest clue what was going on.

Before I conclude, I should make a quick point on time more broadly while on the road, for I see no other place to do it. As of this writing, I have been away from home for nearly forty days, and yet, it feels like 120. Longer, maybe. I feel like I've been gone a lifetime, like this is all I've ever done, my memories of stable, planted life akin to an act I recall seeing at some distant point in my past. Time, whether due to the road or the number of sights or the diversity of experiences, cannot be trusted, minutes and hours and days not a suitable measure of my journey, less a month than an era. Or so it feels.

2 comments:

  1. If it feels like much longer than its actually been, does that make you wish it was over sooner? Does it make you miss DC more? Or does that not effect your enjoyment?

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    Replies
    1. Nah, if anything it makes it feel like a much fuller trip. I definitely do miss the feeling of just sitting around and going to sleep in the same bed night after night, and of course seeing friends and all, but as I start to head home, I'm already feeling a little sad about it coming to an end.

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