I’ve left the safety net of my old home and community and am embarking on a journey across the US. I’ve never been out west, never been further than Minneapolis. And I’m not used to traveling alone. I’m preparing myself though.
The car is loaded with clothes and shoes and coats and fleece. There’s a small tent, a sleeping bag and two knapsacks full of books and guides and maps. There’s a bag full of electronics for when I encounter electricity and wi-fi so I can email and blog and keep in touch. My friend Tom lent me a small grill with propane canisters and a lantern and I picked up some utensils and other camping gear I may need while away.
I have no plans, per se. I have a list of places I intend to visit, National Parks mostly, that when connected on a map present me with a pretty squiggly line to travel along as I head south and west, then north and east-ish. There are more than a few spots along the way where I will likely need to backtrack and retrace my steps so I can see everything I want to see.
I left Albany the other day and am now at my father’s in Western NY. I’m spending a few days with them before I officially leave the safety and security of my known world in New York State. Visiting dad a few times a year over the past few years has prepared me for retirement. I’ve learned by watching. I’m more comfortable now sitting and relaxing for longer periods of time. I can watch in anticipation the few cars traveling along the gravel road of their trailer park and I can appreciate the peacefulness of the birds. I can sit and contemplate the next major event, like taking out the garbage or watering the plants. Watching him over the years has shown me how much I’ve unconsciously learned from him throughout my life. Dad retired over 25 years ago and has gone to Florida every winter to escape the snows of Western New York blowing in off of Lake Erie. Except for the past two or three years he’s driven himself south to the Sunshine State, packing the minivan a day in advance and making sure that Joyce is out of bed and ready to hit the road several hours before the sun is to make its appearance. This past winter I drove him and Joyce and Joyce’s sister, Thelma, the two days down to Florida. The day before we headed out I watched Dad with his stack of maps and AAA trip-tics, poring over the familiar routes, the roads he’s traveled north and south for 25 years. I’ve always loved maps, like my father does. But at this point I’m finding there’s too much information, too much to see, too many places wanting me to stop and explore.
While I’m holing up here before I head out on my journey, I’m poring over my stack of maps and travel guides, figuring out the best way to get from Ohio to southern Utah while minimizing my time on interstates. Should I go to Cincinnati, or St. Louis, or Kansas City? Should I dip south and drive through the Cumberland Gap and Nashville, and then over to Little Rock? I’m reading that most of Route 66, the Mother Road, has been lost to the interstate system, with relics and remnants of the old road mostly seen now from the 4-lane highways.
I’ve never camped on my own before. I set up the new tent yesterday in my Dad’s side yard, practicing so I won’t look the fool when I have to do it in the rain and in the dark with strangers ogling my ineptitude from the site next to me. I can thank my friend Robin for sharing her experience on that. Now that that’s tackled I need to figure out how to actually stop each day on the road to find a campsite or a hotel or some other resting spot. I need to know when to stop between milepost destinations, in small-town America, the places I want to see and get to know. I’m not used to stopping and smelling the roses, but I need to channel what I’ve learned from my Dad and Joyce and from other mentors that know how to live one day at a time.
The whole point behind this trip is for me to slow down and take it mile by mile. I shouldn’t be planning as much as I am, but I’m finding it hard not to. I’m finding inspiration in the few books I’m reading about traveling this country’s blue highways (with a shout out to William Least Heat-Moon and Jamie Jensen).
And back to my mantra: It’ll all work out.