On the highway on the last legs of my first extended solo auto-trip, DESTINATION NEW ORLEANS, two days from arriving home in Boston, I asked, “Should I do it again?” to which, accompanied by a clenched fist-pump, I shrieked, “Yes!”
Being the sole passenger, no one complained.
I then asked, “Where to?” and just as quickly as some months ago I responded to that question, “New Orleans.”
I now blurted out, “Jackson Hole.”
The lure of bison and elk, of massive, vast, luminous, towering, and sweeping landscapes like no place else on earth, images I’ve seen only thanks to Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington, and Thomas Moran, plus the new-to-me western birds to add to my puny birding life-list, the hikes, the unique smells and sounds of our western national parks, and the cowboys – my heroes have always been cowboys – have persistently pulled on me since time when.
Centering myself – allowing thoughts rampant.
After all these years of hoping, to actually entertain seeing the place seems so incredulous I must pause to center myself.
I pull over to the right lane, slow to five miles below the posted speed limit, push my head back against the head rest, and let the thoughts come.
And they do.
What did I do to deserve such a trip?
Sunshine emphasizes the oranges, rusts, and yellows of the landscapes lavish with mountains, gorges, forests, and geysers.
And the cell phone camera.
Use it only as a tool to slow us down in our admiration of a point of interest. Use it to encourage ourselves to take a good look.
Avoid the danger of snapping and moving on, never to feel the awe; never in the moment.
Food. Steaks of beasts hitherto untasted.
So happy with my car.
Still so new.
Not a ding on it.
Amazing, the trip.
Will take a lot longer than the sixteen days.
Head cleared, comes reflection.
So many really poor people.
So many people not really poor who still can’t afford such a trip.
I don’t have answers for that.
I have this personal possibility.
I will be respectful of it.
I will begin my planning in awe of the good fortune that has befallen me.
I will get closer to my vision of the image I have for myself as civilized.
I will remain aware of the opportunity to plan a major occasion, an auto-trip so focused, so unhurriedly unfolding, as to provide great opportunities for reflection and meditation.
I want to glean every morsel from this auto-trip.
Let me say it another way.
By limiting our goal to arriving at a specific spot on a particular day we doom ourselves to a letdown.
The joy of place is ephemeral.
The joy of moment is fleeting.
The adventure will stand out as life-altering only if during the event we make the people we meet feel better about themselves.
Or we become calmer, or more thoughtful, or in any way closer to the man or woman we want to be.
Mementoes of the wonders of place or moment that we retain often measure the spirituality we’ve achieved at this moment.
My enthusiasm grows.
Fly in the ointment.
Possibly my daughter will need the trip money for a summer program she hopes to take.
If so, I’ll reschedule for another season.
But the pleasures of planning the trip and the spiritual gain already cashed in?
I’ll keep those.
Oops, a horn blast from a fellow traveler reminds me that I’m driving too slowly.
When do I go?
Need several months to save the money.
Go in the summer.
I love the heat.
But when I return home and I share my thoughts for the trip, my daughter, Kat, refuses permission for a summer trip for me.
She’ll be home from school during the summer and will miss me (and the car) terribly if I leave her alone for a month.
She has a point.
Kat, my daughter, asks why not take the trip with her?
She doesn’t quite understand.
Breaking my routine, including parental duties, provides much of the purpose of taking the trip.
Different from traveling alone of with another adult which, with considerable compromise, can work.
Traveling with a young adult daughter puts parents in a perpetual state of unconditional surrender.
Consequence of the relationship.
Permanent until she reaches the age of a mature adult, say, sixty-seven.
If she wants, we can indeed plan other trips together.
I suggest several.
Shorter than thirty days.
None seem to catch hold.
When she comes round she’ll find me willing.
An alternative departure date?
I’m scheduled to drop Kat off at school in Swarthmore, PA during the Labor Day weekend.
I think we’ll arrive in Swat on 8/31 Friday.
We’ll share a room Friday night and move her into her new room on 9/1 Saturday.
I’ll leave first thing on 9/2, Sunday morning, while Kat is still asleep in her own new bed.
I sit to plan the route.
Isn’t technology amazing?
I sit at my computer, pull up Bing maps, type “Jackson Hole” and “Boston.”
The screen instantly displays a map of the most direct route with important details.
We’ll be driving roughly forty hours, traveling 2356 miles, roughly twice last year's first extended solo car trip: sixteen days to New Orleans.
This will be twice that, in time, distance, and money.
Of course, those measures are just for starters.
We’ll want to do some sightseeing.
And then we’ll want to return, which will make the trip near thirty days, over 7,000 miles, and approximately $12,000.00.
It’s a bunch.
But good health, a state of alone-liness, and a certain age dictate I must do it.
And I shall.
Come with me.