Day Eleven, September 27, Mileage 663, 5427 Total
I sit down to write this last entry, separated by over three weeks since I drove into our garage in Nashville. In fact, in a strange twist of fate, I am writing this exactly a month after I set out on this journey.
There is no doubt that this trip was a success on both counts – I returned with more sanity than I left and I have quality contacts in Orange County. There are numerous other effects of this trip that are slowly making themselves known, some major, some minor.
For example, caffeine is buzzing through my system for the first time in a month. Why is this? First, I am a coffee snob, but also a control freak. I usually take a caffeine holiday from time to time, letting my body get back to life without stimulants. However, after trying this after marriage, Kymberlee let me know that I can kick caffeine whenever I want, as long as I am not around her. Yes, the first day is always rough for relationships. So this was the perfect opportunity to go on a caffeine fast – no people to piss off with my impatience and lethargy for at least two days.
I managed to stay off caffeine for a whole month. Yes, there were sips of cola, even a few sips of coffee from time to time, but never a whole cup or a whole bottle at one time. In retrospect, it has been delightful. I have not had the highs and lows that come from caffeine, and in general, it seems like my overall energy has improved. But is was hard. It was hard because I enjoy coffee, the smell of freshly brewed gourmet coffee, the feel of a heavy, warm mug in my hand, and simple pleasure of sitting while my coffee cooled. I was constantly frustrated at coffee shops, as some have decaf drip but not decaf espresso. Others were opposite. Every order started with a question regarding their decaf offerings.
This morning I decided it was time. My last home roasted batch is getting stale – over a month old. And I had a twinge of sleepiness as I sat down for a work call, something I have not felt for quite a while. After the call, I caved in and enjoyed going through my comforting, relaxing experience of making a cup of coffee in my Aeropress.
This caffeine jolt is now coursing through my system, which I am sure will result in this post being my longest. In many ways, it is proper for the last post of a trip to be the longest, so enjoy the wordiness – or not.
So where was I? Oh yes, I was in Dallas with the Kims. James and I rose early and visited his local coffee shop for a great morning conversation about life. In case you are wondering, this one did not have decaf espresso, so I settled for a decaf pour over. After this too brief time of fellowship, I once again steered my vehicle to the nearest superslab with the goal of hitting Nashville before my girl headed to bed.
I honestly do not remember much of the first part of my day, but relying on my new habit of taking voice notes while I drive, I offer you this observation:
I hit the first corridor of pine trees somewhere between Dallas and Texarkana, the final closing of my horizons. The rocks, the bones of the Earth, are now getting buried beneath loam and leaf and grass. The rivers now are broad, deep and wet. I guess I am home. To my green life. Back to where the plants grow with abundance and fecundity. Back to where men can no longer control what grows through controlling water and nutrients. Instead I am surrounded by a jungle of exuberant growth. But an exuberance that is very one-sided. No longer do peaks tempt me in the distance. No longer do beaches call at me with the pounding of the surf. No longer do dry desert winds haunt me at night. Instead I am stuck with the same environment for hundreds of miles in any direction. The diversity here, if there is any diversity, is in people, experiences, and perhaps mindsets. I long to embrace it, but I can’t.
I find another note that blends other observations into a stream of consciousness:
This is the last day and I’m struck with so many thoughts and feelings. The first is it was so comforting to put in “home” as my destination in the GPS and not having to look up an address to figure out my route. Merely using the voice command on my GPS or, more accurately my wife’s GPS, and telling it to “go home” feels good. The other thought is that I am weary. I am weary of being on the road, being in a seat, and not being able to do things that I know I need to do. It is that old “I am defined by what I do” value that continues to haunt me. I have always tended to be a “human doing” instead of a “human being.” Maybe this is why I feel I recovered some sanity on this trip.
I think about my lack of caffeine the last two and a half weeks, and I am so tempted to get some at my next stop. I just don’t know at this point what will turn me back on to caffeine. I enjoy the challenge of not needing it and, quite frankly, I have not needed it. I have slept long and well most every night, unfortunately not like my wife.
I am feeling that I am gaining weight slowly as I drive towards the more treed, more wet, more humid, more dense world that I live in, with the weight of responsibilities coming back on my shoulders. I appreciate so much the sacrifices my wife is made for me to have this trip. But re-entry, much like any re-entry, will be difficult.
Looking back at the last three weeks, re-entry has not been that difficult. I enjoyed coming home and taking over the household and childcare, giving Kymberlee more margin in her life to sleep, exercise, and take care of herself. The trip was rough on her, and despite her wanting me to spend more time in Orange County, she was happy I was home.
Throughout the whole trip, I was very fortunate regarding traffic. Sure, there was the occasional slowdowns for bridgework on the interstates, but no major construction was going on and I managed to avoid every rush hour period by either timing or going opposite of rush hour. I continued to make good time, hitting the Tennessee border by 2pm. The GPS reported my arrival time as 5pm, and I was overjoyed by the thought of getting home that early in the evening.
Less than an hour away from home, my traffic lucked changed. The interstate came to a complete stop, and Google informed me that it would be an hour delay. Really? This close from home? Painful. Even worse, the traffic on this stretch between Memphis and Nashville was almost all eighteen wheelers, resulting in this lovely view for over an hour.
This was cruel. This was the final coup de grace on my return to the claustrophobic East. Not only did trees block my side views, I was surrounded by semis in every other direction. Get the hell out of my way! Thoughts of teleportation, jetpacks, and chitty-chitty bang-bang flew through my head as I tried to figure out ways to escape. In the end, we had all slowed for a bad truck fire, which was all cleared by the time I went by an hour later.
I want to say that this was symbolic, but I can not come up with a good reason other than God reminding me that I am not in charge.
So what else can I share about this trip? Deep or shallow? On the shallow side, I can offer you my license plate list. Yes, I am one of the few people that probably still do this on trips. I was trained on long car trips before the age of portable electronics, so old habits die hard. I did notice that tracking license plates is much harder now, with so many vanity and special plates making it much harder to spot a state from a distance. You have to be practically on the bumper to read some of them.
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- Washington DC
- West Virginia
With 41 states (and DC), it is almost easier to list the ones I did not see:
North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Delaware, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.
Close, but I can not cross the goal of hitting all 50 states license plates in one trip off my bucket list yet.
I also committed to letting you know how the voice notes worked out. As you can tell from some of the quotes above, I did capture thoughts that would have escaped memory. This alone made it worth the learning investment. However, it was not as accurate as I hoped. Much of what I posted required quite a bit of editing, especially punctuation. It may be I have not learned some of the tricks yet. I also found some stretches unintelligible. For example, I gave up trying to figure this note out:
Kama promising to say she ate any and all first of plants or animals are dead.
Absolutely no clue, even if I try to sound it out phonetically.
I was also stuck with many notes that are difficult to share. Many of my thoughts are without context, and thus make the words hard and brittle. For example, here is a “deep thought” excerpt that is both incomplete and, in some ways, immature, because readers will not have the context, both experience and content, that I was exposed to:
I am going across the whole country and seeing it in separate strips, thinking about white privilege and westward expansion and how we treated the Indians. Much of that treatment was for financial gain and us versus them. I wonder if there is an end to this, if there is a balance to expanding your own territory to protect your own family and providing the best opportunities for your relatives but at the same time leaving the margins open for others to make more than you and take more than you and actually impact your standard of living. Are we willing? I don’t know.
I listen to a great This American Life episode talking about the one solution that has been tried and tested to improve poor performing schools and that is integration. However, those of us who are privileged and want our children to be surrounded by people like us are the worst enemies to that. We think about home values. We think about safety. We think about drugs. We think about how integration can negatively impact us. But we don’t think about how it will better us. How it will better our children. How our children will learn to embrace people that are different than them. Wanting to be with people like us is inherent in the human nature. It takes deliberate intentional measures to get out of that comfort zone and embrace difference. And not just embrace but value. So how do I value people that are different than me? People that scare me? People that are a threat because I don’t understand them or what is normal to them is threatening to me? I want to believe but there is a future where we have learned to share our privilege, our margins, and our opportunity.
Even now, three weeks later, I am not sure of what to make of those thoughts. But I am glad I wrote them down. I think.
In the end, I am grateful for all my experiences on this trip. The benefits of doing something different in life are well documented. Creativity is enhanced by scarcity and adversity. New thought patterns plow up fallow ground in the brain. If I include this trip with the last year of geographic uncertainty, a new consulting business, a fruitless search for full-time employment, and the usual stress of balancing life as a father, husband, son, brother, nephew and son of God, I have to appreciate these benefits.
I did something I did not think I could do anymore, and I proved myself wrong. I can still be an explorer, sleep in a car, drive twelve hours a day, live off of cereal and PB&Js, and enjoy myself despite not knowing where I would sleep at night.
Immense thanks goes to my wife who supported me on this vision quest. She deserves so much more than I can provide right now, and my hope is that the benefits of new experiences will pay off in the long run. All 5,692.6 miles of them. Selah.
Links to the rest of the journey:
Why I Don’t Camp in the East
Aunt Panda and Homebrew
Bucket List Maintenance
Gee, That’s Swell
AdversityHumanity and Home?
Hot and Cold
What I Learned From The OC, Part One
The OC, Part 2 – We Are Family
A Big Hole (In Our Memory?)
Leaving the Mountains Behind