On the Road Again

In Travels With Myself on July 9, 2013 at 3:36 am

After three days of the most wonderful R&R at the home of my sister Linda and her husband Layne in Beryl, Utah, I got back on the road.  Most of the territory I covered yesterday and today was simply more mountains, more desert, more wind; so I won’t try to describe the whole trip.  Instead, I will offer some observations from the road.

It’s easy to look at a map and segment out the features on it:  Here’s a mountain, there’s a river, down there’s the plains and up there’s a lake.  But when you get on the road and start to experience the country at ground level you quickly realize that it doesn’t quite work that way.  From Colorado to California, I have never left the mountains, never ben far from the deserts or valleys or plains.  When I finally make it to San Bernardino tomorrow, I will only then really be getting out of them.

The hardest part of driving across the wide open spaces of the southwest is the wind.  Speed limits are 70-80 mph along the interstate, but the crosswinds keep larger vehicles’ speeds down, for fear of being blown across the road by a sudden gust.  Next hardest is the long upgrades and downgrades, sometimes 20 miles or more of either straining the engine or testing the brakes.  From St. George, Utah to Glendale, Nevada, for example, it is almost entirely downhill.  I have a lot of new respect for the cross-country truckers who make their way along these highways every day.

Someone asked once if I was going to take Rte 66.  It’s a fun idea, but the fact is that it almost doesn’t exist anymore.  I took a segment of the historical Route 66 from Barstow to Victorville.  It’s still a nice two lane road through the Mojave desert, but along most of its length it is dotted with the fossils of motels and restaurants and tourist stops that long ago stopped attracting tourists.  Alongside these are small homesteads and ranches perched like dollhouses in a great sandbox, their yards closed in by fences.  Some of the homes still look as we might imagine them, 150 years ago, simple square, squat buildings with a water tower perched on a wooden tower in the yard.  It’s a long way between towns and cities that are more than a few aging buildings set back away from the main road.

I think I believed when I started this journey, that all I had to do was just keep going; that the driving itself would be relatively easy; I’ve been practicing for 50 years, after all.  I thought that I would certainly feel afraid or uncertain at times, that I would feel lonely; but I’m discovering that being so far from home is about more than just that.  Since I hit the Rockies, I have been displaced.  I’m a New England boy.  I’m used to the special conditions and quirks of New England’s weather, its topography, its ecology.  I could learn to live somewhere else, I suppose, but I’m not well suited for some of what I’ve encountered so far.

I have made a commitment to the road, without knowing where the road would lead me.  The result is that I have been unprepared.  This is the nature of our journeys of discovery; this is the nature of our lives.  We think that we know the road ahead, that it won’t be all that different from the road already traveled.  We put one foot in front of the other and, if we’re paying attention, we are constantly surprised, sometimes but not always, pleasantly.

I will be in Los Angeles tomorrow.  I will visit there a few days, then start the second leg of my trip: the drive up the west coast highway.  I suddenly have absolutely no idea what’s in store for me.   But I will continue to try to pay attention, and write down what I can of it.

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