Something I get asked from time to time is, "How do you travel alone so much?". It typically strikes me as an odd question but I get it. Being alone with one's thoughts as your only companion can be difficult especially if you identify with those thoughts. This is a major reason I meditate. I'll write about meditation in a blog post soon but, in the meantime, these are my thoughts on traveling solo:
My career was people oriented. I did my best to create positive relationships with everyone with whom I worked. I truly cared about the people I worked with even if it wasn't always reciprocated. Perhaps I was naive. I also worked with people who didn't share my passionate values about the welfare and education of young people and I didn't mind their enmity but was always hopeful that we could "see the light" together at some point. Nonetheless, I was constantly interacting with others. I spent my life, from kindergarten through retirement, around groups of people on a daily basis. As a result, my retirement has been completely different and weird at times (thank God for my beautiful family who have endured my sadness and helped me). While I used to crave solitude I now seemingly have an over supply of it. My first year or so of not working was terribly difficult for many reasons and I often felt lonely.
That's no longer the case.
I have learned to cherish and appreciate this solitary life. I'm blessed with an understanding and loving wife and family. They accept my longing for the road and pursuit of beauty. That unconditional love provides a firm foundation which gives me permission to do what I want (and need) to do with approval and encouragement from those who "get" me.
My days, off the road, consist of reading, meditation, and personal growth activities - like walking, writing, watching films, following sports (USC, Liverpool FC & the Dodgers), learning Spanish, reading my twitter timeline, running errands, planning trips, an occasional motorcycle ride, and learning the guitar. My reading hunger since I stopped working has been insatiable- I know I'll die before I read everything I want to read.
My days on the road, since I have my books and my meditation, are rarely lonely. I do, of course, enjoy traveling with others, in particular, my kids, family, and wife. They are all fabulous, non complaining, funny, curious and grateful, adventurers. Of course, they have their own business to attend to and my wife can't retire for a few more years. I do, certainly, miss many of my friends, some of whom have died and others lost to the vestiges of time and vagaries of life. The worst part of traveling alone is wanting to share the singular experiences and the astonishing scenery. I take pictures, lots of them, in my attempts to share. This website and blog is another effort to share with my friends and family the places I see and visit.
There is, however, something peaceful and poignant about traveling solo. I can reflect, muse, and do all things that I damn well want to do. If I like a place I can stay- if I don't I can move on. After spending many hours researching I go where I want to go and see what I'm curious about. As the Buddhists suggest, I eat when I'm hungry and rest when I'm tired. I read voraciously. I listen to music and spend hours preparing a long playlist specifically designed to complement the journey. I hike. Occasionally I fish. I write. I meet strangers and share travel stories. In the evening I make a nice dinner, perhaps start a fire, and watch the sunset. Afterwards, I crawl into the back of the truck- get comfortable and listen to the local radio stations, contemplate the doings of the day, and plan my next day's activities. I nod off while listening to the songs of the coyotes or the pure quiet that can only be found miles away from cities.
I do miss the people that I love. I think about their qualities- the reasons that I miss them. I remind myself that all things are temporary, I will die, and I must use this time in the most meaningful way possible. I worked, for a lifetime, trying to change the world and make it a better place. I attained a doctorate and rose to the top of my profession. All those years of work, putting my career first, ironically didn't work out as planned. Now, I try to live my life the right way and let the Universe decide if my life will impact others positively in any way. I can only do my best for my family and friends and this beloved earth. I try to be an example. I choose to surrender the rest.
This precious time in my life, when I have the freedom to travel the West, is a profound gift. Perhaps, some day, I'll connect with former friends, become a better guitar player, write beautiful stories and poems, work publicly to save the planet, demonstrably help the poor and needy, but, for now, I'll travel alone and contemplate, learn what I can, and be the best father, husband, friend and man I know how to be.
This solitary travel helps me ground myself, clarify what's important, and find and explore my humanity. I enjoy myself. I experience a powerful spiritual connection to nature and, in particular, the Southwest. It is my sacred home.
All I can truly offer the world, in the end, is my humanity and experience - if I can stay true to a life of empathy, compassion, tenderness, and love, then, perhaps, my life will be of some worth. I can't think of anything else to do that has more meaning.
The one song I have listened to more than any other the last several years is "'Cross the Green Mountain" by Bob Dylan. The lyrics resonate deeply in me- like a soft breeze of pure, cool air in the late desert afternoon.
He expresses it perfectly:
Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot
Let them say that I walked
In fair nature's light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right
See you on the road, in fair nature's light, soon.
I'm Utah bound in a few days.
Notes From The Road- Ready To Go?
Hi friends. I'm getting ready to take off early, early tomorrow morning. "Pre-trip" is an odd emotional time. It's an exciting time usually tinged with some sadness about missing my wife and family. I also start to anticipate the first day's drive which means dealing with Southern California traffic until I get "out there". The older I get the more I abhor traffic and the lack of scenery in SoCal. As I leave I can't seem to put it behind me fast enough. In addition, my mind gets cramped with details. Did I pack everything? Food? Personal items? Do I have what I need? Am I ready?
Tomorrow I'll take the good old Interstate 15 through seedy, gaudy, tawdry, Las Vegas and then head toward Zion on my way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I'm interested in the state park and anxious to explore it. I hear it's a place a lot of the land maulers, aka Quad riders, visit. The noise, partying, and general attitude of those people aren't usually my cup of tea. We'll see. My hunch is that it will be more than fine.
It's a long drive (442 miles) but not as long as Tuesday when I drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (476 miles). When I arrive there and get a camping spot my trip will settle down into a more relaxed mode. I work at slowing down constantly the first few days of any trip. Once that calm kicks in the trips can start to become tranquil and magical. After rushing around for 35 years slowing down is a daily challenge. I'll explore the new National Park at the Gunnison River and then head for fishing and hiking grounds near Silver Jack Reservoir, the Rio Grande and, eventually, the Arkansas River.
I will try to write from the road but that may not be possible given the typical lack of cell reception in the more remote and mountainous areas. I purchased a small digital tape recorder to perhaps more easily take notes. I also got a monocular for the camera and it will be interesting to see how that works. The playlist is ready- lots of Bob Dylan, Calexico, Neil Young, Gourds, Jon Dee Graham, Beck, Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. I'll be reading "Go In Beauty" by William Eastlake and bring lots of Edward Abbey & Terry Tempest Williams to supplement. I'm also bringing the classic, "Land of Little Rain" by Mary Austin.
May you all slow down and enjoy the simple things while I'm "on the road".
My next trip starts on Monday, September 8. I will be spending some time in Colorado. My father grew up there albeit in one of the most desolate spots in the state, La Junta. La junta means the meeting or meeting place in spanish and, sure enough, that's where several railroads meet (or met- passenger trains ain't what they used to be). My father used to speak about the wind and the snowdrifts and the unbearable summer heat. He also talked about his father being an excellent outdoorsman. I never met my grandfather. He died in 1948 at age 48 due to acute alcoholism. I wish we'd known each other. I have sensed in my lifetime that some of my genetic predilections are directly linked to him and his appetites.
The stories that my Dad told me about the outdoors often revolved around the southwestern part of the state in the San Juan mountains. Places like Creede and Pagosa Springs were mentioned. This is an area I'd promised myself that I would spend time in before I died. I plan on fishing, camping, hiking and exploring.
The mountains are at their peak in September in the West. The crowds and kids are gone. September is my favorite month of the year anyway. Even when I was working in the schools I loved it. The parents and kids were well behaved and everyone still had hope for a successful school year. While this made school and my job better than say, in March, I still always longed to be outside. I remember, even as a child, thinking that I was missing some important things going on in the outdoors in September. Now, at long last, I get to spend some time in the Rockies in September.
Do you know the song from "The Fantasticks"?
Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember, and if you remember,
I am going to "follow".
Here's the tentative itinerary:
September 8 Monday - Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, UT
September 9 Tuesday- Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, CO
September 10 Wednesday - Same
September 11 Thursday- Silver Jack CG - (Southeast of Montrose)
September 12 Friday - Same
September 13 Saturday Bridge Campground (Northwest of Pagosa Springs).
September 14 Sunday Bassam Guard Station (Northwest of Salida)
September 15 Monday -Same
September 16 Tuesday Holbrook, AZ
September 17 Wednesday Home
My trips are generally set up as "tentative". If I find a place I like, and it doesn't require reservations, I'll stay and stay. I have found, however, that being literally "on the road" is what I enjoy most. It's the discovery that I like. Of course, many of the best places are found in exactly that way.
I'm cutting this trip a bit short as I am required home to prepare for a baby shower of epic proportions. This should be a good "taster" of the area. I've always loved Durango and I'll be sure and spend some time there (if nothing else than to pick up a fishing license and grab a bite to eat).
The drive home requires one motel night in Holbrook. AZ which is a fine western town. When I get home I'll have a bit of time to prepare for my October Utah Red Rocks trip that promises to be spectacular. After that I'll be laying low waiting for my first grandchildren to be born. The twins are coming in November which means December and January will be perfect for celebrating their birth in Organ Pipe, Cabeza Prieta and other desert wonders in southern Arizona.
One last note, I've been communicating on Twitter with the excellent film director and cinematographer Eric Temple. He claims we are "brothers from another mother" and I agree. His films are all great and I own "Edward Abbey: A Voice in the Wilderness" which is truly excellent. If you can find it- buy it. If you can't buy it then see it any way possible. It's fantastic and features some other great Southwest artists and authors including the great Charles Bowden who just passed away. Charles' death is a huge loss for us desert and justice lovers. Eric did mention to me that for his next film subject he's considering either Maynard Dixon (my favorite Southwest artist) or my inspiration Everett Ruess. See? He is, indeed, a "brother from another mother"!
I'll keep you posted from the road.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.