To DC and beyond (Days 59, 60; Epilogue)


A pleasant night in Pittsburgh and a beautiful ride along West Virginia country roads. A magnificent evening with Tony and Abby in Shepherdstown. And then 72 miles to Washington, DC. 54. 28. 13. 1. 0. Home.

I cannot fully describe the feelings that sprang to life upon my return: triumph and relief and joy all tangling about each other in an emotional cacophony, the sights and sounds and smells so familiar and yet oddly distant, scenes from another time, another life.

"Thunder Road," Big Bend National Park, Texas.
All said and done, I was on the road for just 60 days. In that time, I'd traveled 15,167 miles, to 28 states and 3 provinces and 3 countries, to 29 national parks, to dozens of cities and scores of towns and hundreds of communities, simple unassuming seams along the great American quilt.

I saw things. I saw superlatives of every variety: tallest tree and oldest organism and starriest sky, grandest geyser and largest lake and mightiest mountain. I saw canyons and ranges and oceans and rivers and deserts and badlands and everything in between, sights and roads and trails so breathtakingly beautiful that I literally lost my breath, so truly awesome that I was literally awed.

"Jacob's Ladder," Taos, New Mexico.
I felt things. I felt freedom I could never hope to describe, limitless liberation that awakened the adventurer, the child, the vagabond within me. I lost myself to the spirit of the traveler; I felt my very being subsumed my something greater. I was born anew and born better, a new self within me conceived in the bayou and birthed in the canyons and baptized in the great Pacific, reared and raised by the rivers and roads of the West, nurtured and nourished by the never-ending nature of our neighbor to the north.

I did things. I walked and I hiked, I climbed and I fell, I got lost and I got found. I slept in tents and I slept in hotels, in motels and hostels and public parks and parking garages and college faculty rooms, on couches of friends and on couches of perfect strangers. I met people. I met so many people, people who gave me faith in our collective future, people who gave me faith that what I was doing was about more than just me, people whom I wish I'd gotten to know better, if only we had more time.

Time. Time stretched, time distorted, time warped and waxed and waned and wandered. Days felt like weeks and weeks felt like months and months felt like seconds, and by the end of it all, the fabric of time was so wrinkled and creased and folded over upon itself that I could not begin to separate out the various stops and starts and sights and scenes of my safari with any temporal logic; they are all simply the trip.

"Park Avenue," Arches National Park, Utah.
I was on The Trip for 60 days, I've said, but my experience tells me otherwise; my mind hurls obscenities and denials toward my senses at this claim, for every fiber of my being would swear differently: The Trip was at least a year, maybe more, maybe my whole life. When I was in it, when I was living and eating and sleeping it, I had known nothing else. Sedentary living was foreign, something others did but that I had never; The Trip—I had told myself—it was all I'd ever done, and all I ever would do.

My memory of it, a short time later, is a mosaic of small images, each a grainy rendering of my beleaguered body aboard my idling bike, always stopped at a petrol pump, apple or salty snack in hand, staring off into the distance in sustained disbelief, my inner compass spinning wildly to grab hold of my bearings before I vaulted off again. The Mississippi, the Gulf, the Rockies, the Canyon, the Pacific ... each legendary landmark pulled me further from everything I knew, and I thrived in it, thrived in the exhilaration and excitement of the unknown, the unfamiliar, the unexplored.

"Sittin' Sideways," Bodie, California.
I learned things. I learned that the continent is big, massive, mind-blowingly mighty. I learned that there's a lot of space out there, and a whole lot of untouched beauty. I learned that I'm not alone—that there are others who share my sentiments and beliefs from sea to shining sea. But I also learned that there are great forces persecuting our kind, entire economies and paradigms and crushing constructs seeking to annihilate the free spirit. And I learned that if I am to fight in this war, I must trudge to the trenches, for the only way to deal with an unfree world, as Camus once wrote, "is to become so absolutely free that one's very existence is an act of rebellion."

"This I believe," says Steinbeck: "that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that it one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed, we are lost."

"Eye in the Sky," Arches National Park, Utah.
This experience has taught me much, yet this blazing truth both permeates and outshines it all. We all get but one life to live, one blank canvas on which to paint our masterpiece. Perhaps some can live with subtle texture, a simple pattern, the routine and repeated shapes of a routine and repeated life, and if that wallpaper may satisfy its creator, let it be so without the slightest hint of judgment or scorn from myself or any other. But for me, nothing but the brightest canvas will do, a screaming mess of passion and paint splatter, vivacious variety, every last inch of my narrow dimensions covered with the dirt and grime and blood and tears of well-worn life. And if, after it all, my piece comes to nothing more than a sopping, dripping, sorry excuse for a coherent, proper, ordered existence, so be it—for at least I picked up the brush and tried my hand at it at all.

It's good to be back.
It's good to be home.
It's good to be alive.

"Little Bighorn," Zion National Park, Utah.


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