The call of the open road

July 20, 2009

by Ivan Raconteur

The day dawned bright and the sky was a brilliant blue, but as I sat down at my desk and surveyed my surroundings, the airy exuberance I had been feeling evaporated as quickly as the mist over a mountain lake vanishes in the warmth of the rising sun.

I could feel the heavy yoke of responsibility settle once again upon my shoulders, and the shackles of seriousness clicked shut on my soul as I reluctantly rejoined the rat race.

It was Monday morning, and I was back in the office after more than a week of freedom.

After spending July 3 in the office making final preparations for my absence, I slid behind the wheel, fed the first of several mixed CDs of road music into the player, and pointed the vehicle northward.

My road music collection includes selections from multiple genres and time periods, but it all seems to work together, and the miles fly by.

The beautiful thing about traveling solo is that there are no restrictions.

One can listen to whatever one wants, as loud as one wishes, and, if one is feeling especially sporty, one can sing along to the music without offending the co-pilot.

There are, of course, the obvious disadvantages presented by not having a co-pilot.

The distance one can cover in a day is limited by the lack of an alternate driver.

As a recovering ex-married person, one thing I miss is having a traveling companion to share both the driving duties and the excitement of seeing new places.

There is no point in dwelling on this limitation, however, since there have been no applicants to fill the vacancy.

One simply takes a more relaxed approach to traveling when going it alone.

There is no one to act as navigator while one is in the pilot’s seat, but, on the other hand, there is nobody to tell one to turn left when they really mean right. For this reason, traveling alone can be less confusing.

Navigation becomes more a matter of planning ahead, and, in some cases, of trial and error.

The very best way to travel is to have a general plan, but to avoid too much rigid structure and tedious detail.

One might, for example, have a destination in mind, but keep one’s options open with respect to time of arrival and the route one takes to get there.

This leaves one free to take detours along the way, which opens the door for discovery.

It also eliminates the stress of being locked into a schedule, which is what one is trying to avoid in the first place.

Exploring new places and meeting new people can be enormously satisfying.

If one maintains a relaxed and open-minded attitude, there is no telling what one may find along the way.

Sometimes, the key is to throw away any pre-conceived expectations and just enjoy the journey.

Meeting the new people behind new faces can be fascinating, and I find that it gets easier with time, especially when it comes to women of a certain age.

One of the benefits of getting older (and there aren’t many) is the comfort factor.

When one is young, women to whom one has not been introduced sometimes mistakenly interpret the most innocuous remark as someone hitting on them.

When one becomes sufficiently ancient (from the perspective of women), one becomes somehow safer and more comfortable, like an old pair of boots, and interactions are correctly interpreted as simply making conversation.

A touch of white hair can do wonders when it comes to breaking down barriers and getting people to open up.

One can learn a lot about a place and its inhabitants simply by asking questions.

Most people, when they are relaxed, are happy to talk about themselves, the people in their lives, and the area in which they live. Listening to them is an excellent way to learn.

Often, the most mundane details of a person’s life can reveal a universal truth, or something that all of us share.

After a week up north, I spent some time in Duluth, which is the town where I was born.

I soaked up the power of the big lake, and watched tourists at Canal Park experiencing for the first time the wonder that was an essential part of my youth.

It is tonic for a wanderer’s soul to watch a 1,000-foot vessel head out onto Lake Superior bound for some distant port, and my brief visit left me energized and feeling alive.

As I crested the hill leaving Duluth behind me, I felt the itch that is always awakened when I travel.

It is a feeling that it is time to move on, that I have stayed in one place too long.

With the sound of the road music in my ears, and the hum of the pavement beneath the tires, I dreamed of unexplored horizons and people I have not yet met.

When one is on the road, each intersection or exit ramp presents an opportunity. Perhaps I have been passing the same intersections and taking the same roads for too long.

As the summer breeze washed across my face, I could almost taste the adventures that lie just over the next hill or around the next bend in the road.

The world is out there, full of stories waiting to be told, and like the call of the open road, the yearning to track them down and share them gets stronger with each passing day.