Friday, March 14, 2008

On the Road

And that's the wonderful thing about family travel: it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind. ~Dave Barry

I still need to report on my experiences at the King Arthur Flour Baking Class, but I'll save it for a later time. I've been busy getting The Greasy Skillet ready for a road trip. Tomorrow we hit the road for the 2nd Family Spring Break Road Trip. Last year we headed south to San Antonio. This year we're taking an unconventional approach and heading north to Minnesota, a state I've never had the priviledge of visiting. When I tell people this, they seem very perplexed and concerned by our travel plans. I understand the concern and confusion. With Lawrence, Kansas, basking in glorious Spring weather, it seems foolish to head somewhere that will definetely be colder than our hometown. I don't really have a good rationale other than that I love to travel. I'm grateful for any opportunity to travel. I don't need some glamarous or chic destination. As long as I hear the hum of the wheels on the highway, I'm happy. I am one of the few who actually savors driving I-70 across western Kansas and eastern Colorado. Yes, I am a freak. Luckily, I married a woman who feels the same way, and I think, our daughter shares our love of the open road. My daughter's quite the road warrior for a 4-year old; last year we traveled to San Antonio and back home without once using a newly purchased portable DVD player to entertain her.

Sure, we appreciate the convenience of hopping on a plane and quickly arriving at a destination, but the best way to experience America is via the ol' blacktop. How did I develop this love of the open road. Perhaps, the following will give you a little background:

My love of the open road doesn’t have a storied beginning. I wasn’t born on a greyhound bus, nor were my parents hippies who roamed American during the sixties. My story begins with a childhood in a small Kansas town. Specifically, my story begins with a puzzle of the United States that my grandparents had at their house. I guess, initially, I was intrigued with how the pieces went together because I would spend hours taking it apart and putting it back together. Once I grew a little older I became cognizant of where Kansas was on the map, and I started to ponder my relationship to the rest of the United States. It started with simple childhood questions: I wonder what the weather is like in Wyoming? What do the trees look like there? What are the people like? How long would it take to get there?

My curiosity grew as I would spend entire winter afternoons tucked away at my grandma and grandpa Ecord’s house flipping through old issues of National Geographic. I studied maps the way some boys studied the back of their baseball cards. These maps fed my desire to see what existed beyond the city limits of Pomona, Kansas. I took any opportunity to hit the road and travel. My Vagabond Spirit was fueled by my grandfather, who drove a milk route for a short time. I always relished having the opportunity to ride along with him as a traversed the gravel roads of Kansas making stops along his route. When I travel some of the same road today, I can still see me sitting high in the cab of his truck, viewing the landscape of rural Kansas through a cracked windshield, as we rambled and chugged down roads I’d never been down. I loved the feeling of going down a road I had never traveled before. I still love it. Recently I’ve developed the habit of using an old Rand-McNally atlas to highlight all the roads I’ve traveled in my lifetime.

Traveling with my grandfather was the extent of my travels as a child. I never traveled as a child because we never took family trips. I guess, this stemmed from the fact that my parents started a family when they were extremely young, so money for a vacation wasn’t in the family coffers. However, we occasionally took Sunday drives, a ritual that held deep significance for me.

Upon graduating from college, I had only been in three states. The farthest west I had been was Abilene, Kansas, while Branson, Missouri was the farthest east I had been. The deepest I had ever trekked to the south was Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the furthest north I traveled was Highland, Kansas. I graduated from college seeing only approximately a 720 square mile section of the United States. Had I truly obtained an education? There was much lacking. I vowed that I would someday be a tap into my vagabond spirit and see the country.

However, this didn’t happen immediately. During the summer after my first year of teaching, I decided to get a job. Somehow supplementing my income seemed much more practical than following my spirited whims. I denied my dreams and who I wanted to become for the sake of being practical.

However, I would eventually reach an epiphany. I very rarely reach epiphanies on my accord. Usually others help me in my revelations. I guess, I’ve been blessed to meet the right people in my life. So instead of staying in central Kansas for the summer, I rented an apartment in Lawrence, Kansas and began to work for the city. The city of Lawrence initially assigned me to work with the street department, so my summers would be spent shoveling hot asphalt into potholes. Fortunately I was rescued from this chore before I even hit street. My first morning on the job I was reassigned to the traffic light division. I had no idea what this meant, but I knew I was in for an interesting experience when a pony-tailed, ex-hippie named John Craver came to take me to the traffic light division, which was on the other side of town. John quickly became a quick friend and influence on my life. I listened intently as he told stories of his travels, misadventures during the sixties, and his current interests, which involved music, barbequing, music, history, and of course, traveling. At one point during a conversation, John said to me, “Man, if I had my summers off like you, I’d hit the road.” Somehow in the daily grind of life I had forgotten to follow my dreams. Later that summer I quit working early and headed to New Mexico with a buddy.

It took me working with John another summer before his words sank in completely. The next summer I set out to see an ex-girlfriend who lived in Washington D.C. On that trip I camped along the way as I traveled through Arkansas, Tennessee, and up through Virginia. My romantic notion of life on the road quickly vanished as I endured evening thunderstorms, wet sleeping bags, and loneliness. In Virginia I decided that I had enough of the monotonous hum of the interstate, so I exited it and traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway. Once on the parkway, I rolled down my window, let the car coast along at 35 mph, and I took my time. In the beautiful vistas of the Shenandoah Valley, the conversations with other travelers, and reflections in my journal, I found my Vagabond Spirit.

The next summer I set off for Yellowstone National Park. Once again, I struggled with finding my Vagabond Spirit, but three days into the trip I found it as I stood on a ferry that crossed the Snake River, and I had a conversation with a man in his 80’s who reminisced to me about his boyhood in Montana and his experiences on a similar ferry that was used to cross the Missouri.

Now that I’m married, I realize that those trips were sacred. I will never have the opportunity to travel like that again. While I occasionally wax nostalgically about those days, I still embrace the present, and the new opportunities of being a father and husband. I’m eager to share my passion for traveling with my family.

I’m still much too conservative and grounded for my own good at times. While this is a quality that makes me loyal, dependable, and reliable, it has also limited my opportunities. Many of my greatest moments in my life were a result of me throwing caution the wind, abandoning a plan, and acting on pure impulse and intuition. This approach has led me to several defining experiences, been a source of great stories, led me to my current vocation, and ultimately it led me to my wife. I’m grateful for these privileges life has bestowed upon me, and I’m glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to become myself in this lifetime.

Occasionally, I lose touch with my vagabond spirit. I think, this is natural. To quote Springsteen, “We lose ourselves in work to do and bills to pay. . .” I try to keep in touch with the Vagabond Spirit. I have my touchstones: Walt Whitman, Jack Kerouac, John Craver, Charles Kuralt, William Least Heat-Moon, Robert Pirsig, Todd Vincent, Tom J0ad, Woody Guthrie, and Douglas Brinkley. I admire the spirits of these individuals.

My formulation of a life philosophy is a work in progress. I imagine and hope that it will always be this way, a comfortable rambling where day by day I discover what truly makes me happy.

I look forward to sharing Minnesota with you,

1 comment:

Jenni said...

I read your most recent post (8/2/09) and then the two linked which included this one, and I've enjoyed them all. This is my favorite, though.

I dream of travelling--across the globe or to the next town. I love to explore new places, but too often I'm plagued by my own conservative sensibilities or the need to get from point A to point B in a hurry.

When I was growing up, we moved a lot, and that was not always such a happy thing. I loved seeing new places and the feeling of adventure, but when it was time to settle down and start again as the new kid I dreaded it. My childhood made me long to set down roots somewhere, preferably in a small town. But it also gave me a taste for the road and for seeing new things. We've settled in our dream home on the perfect piece of land and have started to set down roots in the community. I love it here, and I don't want to leave, but I'm feeling more and more at peace with the idea of picking up and moving if and when it's ever the right thing to do. I'm feeling a deep longing to travel, too, but the thought of a home base to come back to is very comforting.

Lately I've been feeding my travel dreams with the stories of other folks' journeys. I just finished A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and I've been laboring through Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon for months. I'm not sure why Blue Highways has been hard for me to get into. I've really enjoyed parts of it. Somehow the author seems to distant or I'm not catching onto his "voice" or something.

Tom Joad? I prefer the voice and mind behind his. The Grapes of Wrath is my second favorite book of all time. Travels With Charley may be my favorite actual travel journal so far. How about The Martian Chronicles? Did you know Bradbury patterned it somewhat after The Grapes of Wrath? I haven't read Jack Kerouac's On the Road yet, but it's on my list.

Happy Trails!