It’s raining and I’m sitting in a motel in Brookhaven, Mississippi, waiting for winter storm Remus to move through. Then I’ll continue driving, across the great river and northern Louisiana, then Texas and into southern New Mexico. I’m alone; my wife stayed home. For me, being alone is good.
My first big trip alone was in 1969 when I rode a motorcycle across the U.S. to see the West for the first time. I traveled through Wyoming to see Jackson Hole, the Tetons and Yellowstone, then to Seattle and much of western Canada. Then back into the U.S. through Idaho, then parts of western Montana and back to Jackson Hole where I got a job on a cattle ranch. After a few weeks I rode to Portland, OR, worked a few more weeks, then home to New York. Loved every minute of the trip. I learned a great deal about America and a little about myself. I also learned a new kind of freedom.
Not often do we face an open day, then another, and another, and so on for an undetermined number of weeks or months. The only worry was running out of money, so I lived as close to the ground as possible, literally. That was the summer of 1969, and when I look back on it, that was the only truly open-ended trip I’ve ever taken. When it began, I didn’t know if I would ever return home.
I’ve taken other trips alone, though not many during our middle lives when my wife and I were both working and raising our son. My wife travels independently of me too, usually with friends. She travels with a group of high school friends, a group of nursing friends, and she visits her sisters.
I may travel like this every two or three years for maybe two to four weeks, and Barbara travels usually every year or even more often but for shorter periods: from three or four days to a week for each trip.
Most of our trips are together, but that is expected and acceptable in marriage.
I’m visiting Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico; then driving north to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in the high desert of the Rio Chama Valley, about 13 miles up a Forest Service gravel road that can be dangerous when wet. Georgia O’Keefe lived part-time in this valley, and she painted the landscapes. I’ll spend four nights at the Monastery in silent retreat.
Then I plan to head north and east through the high plains of eastern Colorado and Wyoming, then back south through western Nebraska. I may visit the Toadstool Geological Park near Crawford, NE and/or the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge that is southeast of Alliance, NE. Then I’ll head south through Dodge City, KS, then Oklahoma and Texas when I’ll turn eastward toward home.
I travel mostly secondary roads. On this trip I’m taking US-84 across Louisiana and Texas to avoid the snow storms. After that I’ll check my maps.
I poke along, sometimes stopping at something interesting, sometimes taking a local road a few miles off course just to see what the country looks like, and I take photos.
These trips apart from my family and normal life help me learn about other parts of the U.S., and they rehabilitate my spirit. I enjoy people and I love my family and friends, yet I have always enjoyed being alone.
A few weeks ago I wrote about wanderlust and offered some hypotheses about its formation in various people. Readers more or less destroyed the hypothesis with their counterexamples. So I now accept wanderlust in myself without explanation or justification.
But we can reach for an analogy: maybe periods of traveling alone are like interval training in athletics. Trainers recommend intervals of intense exercise with more moderately paced activity. In walking, a person may run a short distance, then continue walking, then run, then walk, etc. They say it helps athletes perform better in long-distance events, like marriage and family.
After writing the above, I drove across Louisiana in the rain: a steady, hard rain for maybe 6 hours. Now I’m in Abilene looking at an inch of fresh snow. The trip across central Texas was great. Whereas Louisiana showed miles of real poverty, Texas looks richer. And through Texas, I watched the landscape gradually change from the piney woods of the east to the dry range country of central west Texas, from densely populated eastern towns to the growing desolation of western range country.
Will write again soon.