The “Art” of Traveling and Miscellaneous Thoughts from the Road

As many of you know I’ve spent a significant amount of time driving around this huge country of ours recently. I was recently asked by a friend, “So what state are you a resident of again?” as he referred to my nomadic tendencies of this past fall. When I drove out to Wyoming this past summer in June 2009, somewhere near Bozeman, Montana I turned over 50,000 miles in my Subaru Impreza lovingly named Joey. (During my time in Utah, however, Joey finally received a full name and his legal name is now Joey Sender Romper Stomper). When I pulled into Jubilee Partners in Comer, Georgia on Sunday January 3rd, the odometer read 72,600 miles. In the last six months I have driven about 22,600 miles—a little outrageous to say the least, especially considering that prior to this year, the lease we had only allowed us to drive 12,000 a year. I now plan on staying in the same spot until May, with only a few possible small adventures on the side, so I think Joey will have a much deserved rest . . . at least until I have to drive back across the country to Washington sometime around the beginning of summer.

Obviously I enjoy traveling, but it’s not just the new places I get to see and the experiences I have: I enjoy the actual act of traveling, I mean sitting on a plane, or in the car, or on a train—however it may be that I’m getting around. Often times you can’t do much when traveling, and though some people find the limitations obnoxious or maybe even suffocating, I find it liberating. On a plane you’re finally away from cell phones, in a car you certainly can’t read, and generally you’re confined to a small space so you have to learn to sit still just like your mom told you to do when you were little. If you didn’t learn as a child, don’t worry, modern transportation offers you another chance. Of course there are any number of distractions of radio, iPods, and cell phones that we can use to forget our brief confinement, but I’d argue that the “art” of traveling is diluted when we enable those devices.

When I was in Zambia this past summer I was talking with Father Dominique, the priest we worked with in Zambezi, as we walked back from visiting a nearby village. He told us of the many journeys he makes throughout the rural northwest province of Zambia as he tries to visit the eighty different parishes he is assigned to within a two-year period. He told how he usually starts in his truck, but also brings a canoe with him, as well as his bicycle. He said once the road ends at the river, he throws his bicycle in the canoe and starts paddling. After he crosses the river in the canoe, he pulls it ashore and gets on his bike. Once the land becomes impassable on bike he continues on foot to arrive at his assigned church. Talk about a journey, Father Dominique is no stranger to travel. And you can bet there is no option of a radio, cell phone, or iPod for him. As I explained to him how I would be driving fourteen hours to my summer job once I returned to the U.S. I told him that I was looking forward to it and felt like it was a good time to think. He responded cheerfully saying, “Yes, I always like the time to think on journeys. It gives me a chance to empty my trash.” I absolutely loved how he phrased it! As I’m sure you can tell, Father Dominique was an incredibly thoughtful and entertaining gentleman. So throughout my last 22,600 miles on the road, perhaps I have “emptied some of my trash,” but I have also just laughed as I’ve encountered so many new things and places. Below are some of the random thoughts I’ve had during my many miles on the interstate and beyond:

Sure signs that you’ve spent too much time driving:
1- You have a red, sore spot on your elbow from where you rest your arm on the door of the car while holding the steering wheel.
2- You have listened to all the recent podcasts of “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” and you feel as though you could call Peter Sagal a close friend.
3- You can identify the different symbols each state uses on the signs for their state highways. Utah’s is a beehive; Kansas uses a sunflower; Washington’s is a profile of George Washington; Idaho, Georgia, Texas, and Wyoming use the outline of their states . . . I’ll stop there.
4- You begin to appreciate the precise placement of the windshield wipers because the angle which they are at minimizes the obnoxious little triangle at the bottom center of the window that doesn’t get wiped.

These are a few tips my friend Kayli and I picked up during the first few days of our road trip this past fall. Lessons learned on the road so far:
1- Always know where your headlamp is in the car before it gets dark.
2- When you set up a tent and pay for a campsite, be sure to flip the sign to say “reserved” instead of “open tonight,” we learned it makes for an awkward situation otherwise.
3- Keep deodorant handy at all times.
4- Carmen the Garmin (GPS) frequently does not what she is talking about and will often lead you astray.

You know you’re in Utah when:
1- You realize that big puddle you keep seeing is the Great Salt Lake.
2- Your 22 year old friend has a receipt in his kitchen from the “Beverage Control Store”
3- Mormon temples are more frequent than gas stations.

You realize you’re in Texas when:
1- A John Deere pulls up next to you at the gas station.
2- The “Share the Road” signs have motorcycles on them, not bicycles.
3- There are more state flags flying than U.S. flags. Oh the lone star…
4- You cross water sources with names like “Kickapoo Creek”

And finally, you know you’re in New Mexico when:
1- Towns have names such as “Truth or Consequences.”
2- Convenience stores have homemade “Wanted” signs posted on the bulletin board near the grungy bathroom.

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