On February 6, 2016 — a cool but sunny winter day — I set off on a cross-country trip. I figured the 7,000-mile round trip would take about three months, but because of zig-zagging through different states and going further north than I had planned, I have now been on the road for almost four and a half months, and I have driven over 10,000 miles. I am still 1,300 miles and perhaps two weeks from returning to my starting point, a small city in the high desert of California.
The most shocking revelation to me is that I won’t be returning to cool winter desert temperatures but to intense summer heat. Funny how the mind works — somehow I thought that I would be looping back to the beginning, that no time would have passed. It’s not that I expected nothing to have changed — in fact, I am a bit worried about returning to dance class knowing how far behind I will be — it’s more that this has seemed such a timeless journey. Wherever I have gone, there I was, living in the ever-present moment. But the world has kept turning and the seasons have kept churning without any regard to me and my travels.
It’s an amazing thing, all those hundreds of hours spent driving. Thoughts and emotions drifted tbrough my mind the way the scenery drifted through my body as I drove. (Scenery seems to be out there somewhere, something apart from us, and yet we are a part of it. Vibrations of light impinge on our retinas, allowing us to see. Sound waves reverberate in our ear drums, allowing us to hear. Particles flow through our nose, allowing us to smell. The fabric of the scene — the air — swirls around our body and through it, allowing us to feel our surroundings, to breathe it, to become it.)
It’s all very zen-like, this driving. It became a thing in itself, not just a means of getting to my various destinations, but a separate reality. Just . . . driving. Feeling the passing scenery, watching the passing thoughts.
So what did I think during all those miles? Not much. If you let thoughts drift in, note them at the moment, then leave them in the dust as you continue driving down the road, they obviously don’t remain with you.
I wanted a lot from this journey — wonder, joy, change, wisdom, focus, direction, all of which I have found. Particularly direction. Ever since the death of my life mate, soul mate, constant companion, I have been adrift, looking for a bedrock upon which to build a new life. And in the midst of all the drifting thoughts, it came to me. The three w’s. That’s where to begin.
Before I got a computer and the internet, during a time of great upheaval in my life (the first unacknowledged sense that Jeff was pulling away from life and me, along with a growing numbness to the coming death of “us”), I kept to the discipline of those three w’s — walking, writing, weight lifting. I’d gotten away from these three daily activities for various reasons, though they had been a comforting (but not always comfortable) part of my life.
I’d hope that on this trip I would get back into walking and writing, but both have pretty much dropped by the wayside. I would like to try to get back to those three w’s, though it’s easy to make such a determination when there is little opportunity for any of them. But maybe, this summer . . .
I have come to another realization — there is no need to choose between a settled or a nomadic life. During this trip, I have often stayed in one place for a while, sometimes a week or two, sometimes a few days, and once for three weeks. So finding a place to stay in the high desert for the summer will be just a longer hiatus in my continued journey.
Although 10,000 miles seems like a lot, there is so much I haven’t seen, so much I haven’t done. It would take a year to experience what any one state has to offer, and on this trip I caught mere glimpses of 21 of the states. I didn’t see many of the greatest tourist attractions and passed by probably thousands of little-known attractions. I also didn’t camp or hike much, didn’t get an intimate feel of many wilderness areas. All joys still to come.
Currently I am in Wellington, a small town in southern Kansas, visiting in real life a friend I met on Gather, that fabled but extinct social networking site. Then . . . who knows?
One of the many things I wanted from this journey was to become more spontaneous, and that I have done, following whatever whim and invitation that has come my way, so perhaps I will do as I have planned — scooting the rest of the way back to the desert to settle in for the summer with my 3 w’s.
Or . . . perhaps not.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)