Different Modes of Exploration #15, Part 1: Highway Aphorisms
Two weeks ago today I loaded up my Ford Focus and headed north into Wyoming for what turned out to be a ten-day, 3400 mile road trip to Oregon, on down to California, across the Nevada desert on the “Loneliest Highway in America,” and through the wild red rock formations of Utah, before returning to the Rocky Mountains and Colorado. I drove the entire journey solo, and as I’ve said before, when that road line yellow passes beneath me, my mind fires up with ideas and questions and contemplations.
There are hundreds of ways to approach travel writing, and most of them involve stories and storytelling. But I haven’t quite unpacked the story from this particular jaunt. Instead, this week, I’m exploring the concept of compiling succinct thoughts: Highway Aphorisms, that offer a small taste of my road meditations. Maybe these are in place of photographs.
1. In the first half hour of the drive, I’ve covered more miles than I’ve ever hiked in a single day. Road travel whips us through the world at an alarmingly fast rate. How much am I missing about the world outside? How much will I miss? By the time I reach Mountain Home, Idaho, my destination for the night, I will have traveled as many miles in one day by car, as I will walk and run all year.
2. This drive begins with loneliness. At a mountain pass in Wyoming, the highest point on I80 in the state, a rest stop reminds me of the chill brewing on the Wyoming plains, the impending winds as I venture towards Rock Springs, the empty highway and its roaring trucks. This drive begins with, yes, just a little bit of fear.
3. Snow and sleet come down as a north wind gusts laterally across the highway rocking my car from side to side. What am I doing? Should I be doing this?
4. The storm clouds break-up just a bit. Patches of blue sky and sunlight peak through. Highway ramblers are cloud observers. The clouds, their shapes and patterns and movement, become a theme for this drive. I’m reminded of this a few days later, admiring the clouds of Central Oregon, as they hide the great volcanoes from my view, but offer a spectacle of light as glorious as the hidden mountains.
5. I listen to the local NPR. A feature on the Young Republicans of Wyoming, a group actually more libertarian than republican, reveals the generational gap between conservative factions. I wonder then if this will play out in the upcoming election.
6. NPR goes out of range, so does the classic rock station. In the desolate southern Wyoming landscape, only Christian sermons and bible studies fill the airwaves. Like the clouds, these radio devotionals, scripture readings, and heavenly revivals become a theme for this drive. Preachers are sometimes the only voices that arrive clearly on the FM dial.
7. My car is filled with snacks and stuff, everything I need . . . but I choose large travel gas stations so that I can browse their aisles for interesting finds. I’m always curious about the curious things highway gas stations sell. Where does all this stuff come from? Why didn’t I invent the bobble-head?
8. Little America, west of Rock Springs, Wyoming, is, yes, sort of like America.
9. When I cross the border into Utah, I emerge from a canyon with a full view of the mountains ahead . . . the staggering and stalwart Sawatch speak poetry to the Wyoming plains.
10. The color-turning trees along the riverbanks are cliche, but they make me think about change, and moments of change. The season of fall captures the process of transition, makes change known to us through its own ambiguity and beauty.