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.
I've been home almost a week and, funny enough, I'm itching to get back on the road. I know that the good weather months are dwindling and that soon it will be cold- my traveling and camping nemesis. I have a trip planned to Utah in less than two weeks and then the wait for the twins begins in earnest and I'll probably stay pretty close to home.
One of the most enjoyable activities of the winter months is planning the next year's travel. So far, I plan on two trips to Organ Pipe NM this winter. After 11 long years the monument is now fully open again which is exciting to say the least. I can now explore some places I've been itching to see for awhile but were closed due to the US Border Patrol's activities.
Have you read, "The Devil's Highway" by Luis Urrea? The setting is Organ Pipe- it's a tragic story and my views on immigration were only solidified by reading it. I know it's a complex issue but we MUST find a more humane way of dealing with those desperately poor people from Mexico who simply want a better life in the USA (as did all our relatives- except the indigenous). I have lots of deeply passionate thoughts about these issues and, perhaps, in future, I'll devote an entire blog to what I believe the problems are (and there are many - starting with the government of Mexico and US policy) and how we might go about creating a better world for our brothers and sisters from the south. If you have an interest in these matters please read Urrea, or "Border Patrol Nation" by Todd Miller. Or read anything that Charles Bowden has written on the Border problems.
If you know me, at all, you know I love all things Southwest- by extension- I love Mexico and the Mexican culture. It's everywhere you go in the Southwest and it's one of the major reasons I love it here.
Back to my plans for next year- so Organ Pipe is on big time. I'm also going to spend some time at Anza Borrego near Little Blair Valley doing some boondocking near a dry lake bed. Last year when I was there I was mesmerized by the solitude and stark beauty of the place. The problem was that it's at 3000 feet elevation, it was during a cold snap, and when I awoke it was 21 degrees F. WAY too cold. This fall/winter I'm hoping to go when it's a bit warmer. Of course, I'll also figure out a time to go to my beloved Joshua Tree NP.
In March I'm heading to Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas along the mighty Rio Grande. This is a trip that I've been wanting to do since my 20's and I'm finally going to make it happen. That trip will include stops in Arizona and New Mexico and may include a stop at Palo Duro Canyon and Guadalupe NP. April is a wonderful month to explore the coastal mountains near Santa Barbara and Big Sur and I'll backpack then. I love to travel in May because the weather is warming and the crowds are at a minimum. I will probably be in Taos and Santa Fe then. In June I'll head to the Sierras again. July is "Lupe and Lilly time" and we are still in the process of deciding. I'm considering two options for August - either Flathead Lake and Glacier NP in Montana or a Northern Cascades trip in Washington.
This last trip was really spectacular and I'm strongly considering heading back to the Four Corners in Utah and Colorado in September. I'm still, as I sit here at home, staggered by the scenery I saw in Colorado on this last trip.
My next trip, leaving on October 6, includes a visit with my very best friend from high school, Kevin D. , and still one of the best people I've ever known (or ever will know). He went to college in Utah and then got a job there and so our visits have been sporadic (at best) over the years. I'm hoping that changes in the next few years as we both move into the retirement phase of our lives. As I told him recently- one of us is still working (him) and one of us is a hobo (me) so his schedule will dictate things for awhile. Luckily he's free on the weekend of Oct. 11 and I get to hang with him on this trip. Knowing Kev he's explored most of that beautiful country up there and I'll be the beneficiary of his knowledge.
Here's my Utah tentative itinerary:
10/6 Navajo National Monument
10/7 Arches NP
10/8 Arches NP
10/9 Arches NP
10/10 Canyonlands NP
10/11 Visiting with Kevin near Vernal, UT
10/12 Goblin SP
10/13 Goblin SP
10/14 Capitol Reef NP
10/15 Kodachrome SP
Looks amazing doesn't it? Arches NP remains my favorite. Before I read Ed Abbey I visited it and had an OBE (out of body experience)- after I read, "Desert Solitaire" I understood why. I probably feel more "at home" in Arches than any other place on earth. There is no place like the Red Rock Country of the Colorado Plateau. Being there fulfills my heart's desire. I'll look forward to sharing pictures on my return as always.
Thanks for reading this. I hope all is well in your life and that you too are planning your next adventure. I'll look forward to writing again soon and sharing about another one of my new passions- playing guitar.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.