Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Posts from the Road - Road Warrior

The hum of the tires on the pavement is soothing, mile markers going past me like years.

I don't have to drive in to "work" every day, like many in offices do. Often I fly out, and am gone for days, sometimes weeks. But I enjoy the drives in when I make them, often in the dark, before the roads are busy.

I've made most of my vacation drives by myself though a friend from college and I recently drove across half the country in a couple of days, to visit our families who lived in the same area. I remember when we pulled into the subdivision where one of my relatives had moved, I'd only been there once, and I got lost in all the streets, each bearing the same name but with a different ending. Magnolia Lane, Magnolia Drive, Magnolia Trail (that's not confusing), etc. I had a map printed from Mapquest out but it was ignored in the back seat. My gal friend said "uh. . you want to grab that map" and I was "no. . I'll get it, this looks familiar" as we got further lost. She says again, "say, how about that map behind you" and I responded "nope, I'm sure this is it". She started laughing and said "OMG. You're a GUY! You don't want to ask for directions."

If I'm alone, sometimes I watch other drivers. On one truck a NRA sticker with a older fellow driving. When I came abreast of him, the driver looked at me, expecting some sort of liberal stare down but I just gave him a smile. When he pulled past me and saw MY stickers he gave me a friendly wave. Speeding past us both, a young girl, driving 20 over the speed limit in the construction zone, as she tossed what appeared to be three days worth of lunch bags and trash out onto the roadway, cups, bags, everything. The fact that she had a bumper sticker of our current elected official on her beat up car did not surprise me.

People often drive as they think, modestly, slowly, recklessly. Some move in and out of traffic with the brisk efficiency of a surgeon, others, shyly and with hesitation, invite themselves out to dinner with the Reaper. Myself, I just roll along, not faster than anyone, not slower than anyone, not wanting to stand out, simply watching the centerline break underneath of the vehicle.

When I tell people that I sometimes drive to the Rockies to visit family there they look at me like I'm daft. "You can fly there in an hour". Yes I can. but I like that time to myself, no schedule, no commitments. When I get hungry I stop and eat. When I get tired I find a quiet, clean place to sleep. If I want to stop and look at the world's largest ball of yarn, no one is going to tell me "sorry, that flight has already left the gate." Though I still wonder about some gas station bathrooms. Why do they lock them? Are they afraid someone might break in and clean them?

As we travel through life we often pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we blow right by it. As adults, we usually fail to stop and just look at what we have right here as we pass by it, things hidden by the layers of indifference casually tossed on us by others, dreams gathering dust while we toil to somehow make our world conform to what we are told it's expected to be. And everything in a hurry. Maybe it's the specter of mortality, maybe it's just this new generation of entitlement that's trying to nudge common sense out of the way, but people seem to expect things they've never earned.

I'm not sure why I enjoy the slow and hard look at things. Perhaps it's just the process of becoming slowly born that are those years leading up to middle age. Perhaps it's what I do for a paycheck. Maybe it was all the hours hiking up into mountains of the West as I grew up. You really learn to appreciate the slowness, the detail, the stillness of a day in the outdoors. The ascent may be hours or it may be days, but with a compass and a few tools, you simply gather your wits around you and head uphill. What you expect to greet you is up ahead of you,even when you can't see it. It's there in the blue, and it only remains for your body to reach it. Patience, one blister, one tear, at a time.

The wilderness gives you time, for the wild, though changing, is still eternal. That's what long road trips are like for me. I keep the horizon in my window but still look back, savoring the journey. The tumbled landscapes of glacier stone, and great pristine rivers, thin as a strand of pearls as I travel on past. It's time, my time, filled with the immaculate sameness of hours bathed in the sun's warm honey. Anything that really requires detailed thought, the engine setting, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals. The miles roll by with the thoughts, miles of tears, of laughter I've not known since youth, of love, of mechanical, rhythmic memories of the past that I carried with me as I started this journey.

Those memories are not always happy ones, which is part of the trip you will make. As the miles flow past, you realize that when you are young, no one really tells you the truth about love, about life. About coming into your heart and your strength and what it means when you realize what you have beneath you.

When my friend and I took that trip, after hearthbreak for both of us, we finally talked about many things we never had. Sure, we'd shared many a cup of coffee and a beer discussing past dates from hell over the years (what do you mean you have guns? Eeekk!), kids, parents, coworkers, and dog hair. We'd talked about old loves, about the hopes for a new one. Like old friends, we hadn't really talked of those things that seemed obvious.

Talking matter of factly about about such things seemed banal, like proving a right angle or finding the equal distance between two lives but it felt good for us to share our joys and our griefs on that drive. The two lane highway rose slowly out of the Plains as I tried to navigate through words that carried with them both joy and pain, holding me back like the weight of a dead end. So we talked, not in a great gush of words, but as friends do, in small bits of ourselves spread out on the table like show and tell of things that troubled us, those hurts that built up over years of living. The miles and hours flew past, fields clutching onto the skeletons of flowers that long ago died, of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. Things were sticking to us both.

All that was left was the words; and they flowed, like the laughter and the tears, until I opened the window to let the wind dry my face. Wind that would carry those old hurts to where they would simply bounce off the landscape like a piece of discarded trash, delicate, crumpled tissue best left to be disintegrated by time. Better left behind as the sun began to relax on what would be a renewed journey; the road pulling away from discarded thought, the highway lines breaking up like Morse Code as we moved forward. Moved away from that painful past, those roads best not traveled, til it was just a speck in the rearview mirror.

My friend has found her happiness, and I've found mine, nothing left but the memories that I'm making now, moving on into new skies, open roads. Time ticks past as the diorama of a life unfolds in the window up ahead, the rush of the world, fast food, fast life, suspended for a few hours. The truck still moves on, this time to find a place to rest for the night and I do, cleansing myself of blood and bone and the grime of the day. The hotel room has all the ambience of a dental lab and I can't help but wish I was instead at hunting camp, sleeping under a fluttering tent, canvas murmuring to the whispers of the rain.

As I lay there, I think of Heraclitus, of whose writings are only left fragmentary remains, who said it better than I, expressing the nature of reality as flux in words, the way I'd express them in motion today.

The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor.
For this reason
change gives rest.

Sometime it's time for a change of landscape, of thinking, a journey forward. No agenda but to see the day transfolded before you up ahead. You need those moments alone, those miles of open road, miles of open sky.

Those times of solitude, for souls like us, are simple moments of inwardness. In our simple code of life, quiet independence stands guard over courage heightened by change. This is our own compass north, that directs our paths, the self in isolation, resolve, honor, emotion, thought and liberty held in like breath, until they are amplified within us, becoming direction in life's unhurried journey.

Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home.


  1. Travel blessings to you Brigid.

  2. Safe trip to you and I have to say a very timely post for me.

    Road trip looms this weekend. Some have said "why are you doing this"? The time on the road is modest, but well into the realm of you have been on the road a bit of time. The activity I am going to, a fund raiser for the Wounded Warrior Project is secondary motivation to me.

    It is a time to reflect, renew, and experience new things as you say. I am going to meet a new friend again and hopefully make more. I am taking old mechanical friends as well to meet others. An old mechanical friend will carry me there too.

    There is however a passing nod to middle age as you say, but not in your context. The new seat cushion will be here tomorrow for the ride, LOL! Long gone are the days of riding around on reupholstered Mustang seats filled with old pantyhose instead of new seat foam cushions for any amount of time!

    I don't know of the sorcery you have to post exceedingly prescient topics for me but I will accept them always!

    Godspeed to you B.!

  3. Stay safe and I hope you get to come home soon.

  4. His post brought to mind a Walt Whitman quote," But where is what I started for so long ago? And why is it yet unfounded? Safe trails.

  5. Thank you for sharing your solitude with all of us.

    And as always I'm saying a travelling prayer for you.

  6. I saw a lot of myself in this post. Every spring I travel south for our annual cousins reunion - 1300 miles in 2 days and then back again. I, too, have been asked, "Why don't you just fly?" There is something about the open road, and as you said, no schedules, no commitments. I listen to satellite radio, I enjoy watching spring come alive the further south I get, I stop when I want and eat when I want. In other words, I answer to no one!

  7. Another reason to drive whenever feasible: No TSA!

    Safe journey,

  8. "Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home."


    Nice. Amen.

  9. Uncle Jay - re: your comment not for posting. Yes, I'm free to join you all that weekend. Drop a note at the email you referenced or Tam can give you my home and cell phone numbers. Looking forward to see you all again.

  10. Brigid, You do have a way with words. I too would rather drive then fly. I think its because I spent time with my grand parents who drove to Florida every year. It was just my mom and I until she remarried, so I was with with them.

    Flying is good when short of time, driving is viewing America. You can't beat it.

  11. "And the road goes on forever" - Allman Brothers, Midnight Rider

    A great post, that many of us can relate to :)

  12. Be safe in your travels, Brigid.

    One of the great things about driving is the intrusion of new scenes/events ... even on those frequently traveled highways. While we can't really gaze around too much, every now and then we drive by something new ... or unseen the last time through.

    A former girlfriend and I drove to the East Coast frequently. We switched off regularly and I know we both found time to relax within our own thoughts during those 1200 kilometre trips. (You just can't find that peaceful zone when you fly.) Then, again, there were those fascinating conversations around topics that often had no bearing on our day-to-day lives, but seemed to be sparked by time in our little capsule.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories, Brigid. Driving will always be one of my best times.


  13. Much prefer driving, myself...fewer TSA agents encountered that way. Lots of time to think, contemplate, drift and just go into a sort of mental resting time (yet paying enough attention to the road so that you're not endangering others). I miss long road trips, having made several cross-country journeys by myself back in my single days, stopping at the occasional roadside point-of-interest or historical marker, "just because".


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