Reentry and a Perfect Landing

In Travels With Myself on August 7, 2013 at 2:40 am

In my first entry for this blog, I compared leaving home to achieving escape velocity. Well, yesterday I came back into orbit, made my final approach and reentry, and came in for a graceful landing back in Putnam.
I started the day in the Finger Lakes region of New York, just west of Canandaigua. As I followed US 20 the hills and towns through the center of the state, I began to feel as though I was just on the edge of the familiar. MY goal was to reach Albany, then look for a place to spend the night before making my final push into Western Massachusetts and then down into Connecticut.
Feeling as though I was making progress again, I began to take time to admire the neat, quiet towns in places like Waterloo, Seneca Falls, and Auburn; to comment to myself on the wonderful parks that adorn the waterfront of the lakes such as Seneca Lake in towns like Geneva; to gasp appreciatively at the green, surprising valleys as I maneuvered around and over the hills south of the Adirondacks; and to feel a sense of being drawn in as I approached Albany through Esperance and Guilderland, whose names call to mind stories full of wee folk and Rip Van Winkle and the headless horseman. Although the actual setting for those stories was south and east in the Catskills, I discovered that New York State is filled with such places with mysterious settings and magical names.
I stop for lunch in Albany and looked again at the map. The tourist map I was using had no indication of distances between points, so I had to estimate from the scale at the bottom of the map. I figured that I could make it to Pittsfield, MA, about the time I would usually stop for the night and that I would either go that far or stop just short of the state line somewhere around Nassau. I drove quietly through Albany. At the shoreline of the Hudson River, the roads suddenly get busy and confusing as Interstates 87 and 90 converge and blend momentarily with UCS 20 and NY 9 to whisk the traffic over the river and set it on its way either east into New England or south toward Manhattan and New Jersey.
I was finally getting into the near-familiar orbit, just outside the familiar atmosphere of home.
As I emerged onto US 20 and NY 9 east of the Hudson, I saw a sign that indicated that Pittsfield was only 33 miles ahead. It was just about 1:45. I made a quick calculation and realized that if I were in Pittsfield before 2:30 I would then be only about three to three-and-a-half hours from home. If I extended my driving day just a little longer than usual I could be in Putnam by 6:00 or so even accounting for traffic, slow sections of road, driving through Springfield, and other unknowable factors. I began my approach by angling south and deciding to abandon 20 for I 90, thus gaining a little time, perhaps, and putting myself on trajectory toward Palmer, MA, where I could pick up 20 again, a road that I had traveled often over the years.
I soon realized that I had made a miscalculation. I 90 was winding and gusty and uncomfortable. It also led me to pay my very first toll in more than 9,000 miles of driving. It was only 85 cents, but still.
So I recalculated the angle of my approach. I stopped briefly at a rest area near Lee, picked up a map of Massachusetts, saw that I could get back on 20 at the next exit and sent a message letting Sue (who I wanted to be there when I got in) that I was close to home and not stopping for the night. Two miles later I was off the highway, driving through the forests and glens of the foothills of the Berkshires, passed Jacob’s Pillow and Chester/Blandford and back on down under the Interstate toward Westfield. The road then swung straight east again into Springfield, where it is provided easy passage along I 291 over the Connecticut River and on toward Palmer.
At Palmer, I knew my way in and began my final reentry. Here 20 glides smoothly down through Brimfield, past all those fields that are brought to life when antiques dealers converge on the otherwise quiet fields; into Sturbridge, past the shops and restaurants and Old Sturbridge Village; until the course adjustment at Rte 13 through Southbridge; and the
glide down Rtes 169 and 171 into Putnam.
I could feel the gravitational pull of home exert its force as I crossed the hill by the Sturbridge Inn. I had alerted Sue that I was on my way and hoped that she might be able to get to the condo and turn on the water heater so that I could get a badly needed shower, so I stopped quickly for wine and flowers in Putnam then began my landing approach up Rte 12 and onto Perry Street. I was disappointed to see that Sue had not yet arrived, but as I pulled into the driveway she pulled in right behind me, and brought dinner with her: perfect landing.
There is an arc to our comings and goings, whether we are just running out to the store for milk or traveling across the country and back. How often have we heard it said that the trip home seemed shorter than the trip out somewhere? How often do we find ourselves following the same familiar paths home even when we have taken a new route to get someplace? When we travel locally, we may become inured to the arc because our daily routine obscures it, makes it ordinary. But when we travel some distance there is a sense of breaking free, then of being in a new place, and satisfying return to home and the familiar.
I had thought this might be my last entry in “Travels With Myself,” but I may do one more over the next couple of days to debrief and catalog a few somewhat random and non sequitur observations and experiences gleaned from six weeks on nine thousand miles of road through twenty-one states, six of them twice and ten of them states I had never been in before. I hope you’ll bear with me; and I thank you all who have read all or part of my journal. Without these letters home, the road would have been longer and more lonesome.

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