I have travelled this road thousands of times.
I know all of its many and varied potholes, simultaneously acknowledging their growth and avoiding contact with them in the manner of a disinterested parent. I know the intersection where the traffic always slows to a crawl and where, fifty yards later, it accelerates again as if each car gets fired out of a cannon. And every time I pass it, I acknowledge with a sympathetic glance the forlorn demeanor of a lonely roadside sign, resolutely – but with an increasingly defeated look – advising those who pass that the speed limit really is only 55 miles per hour.
From the moment we wrestled our bags into the car, and its wheels began to turn, it was as if we were seeing that familiar road for the first time. Yesterday it was a means to an end – merely supplying a supporting role to a daily ritual. Today it is full of promise, a gateway to a wide-open world of possibility shining through the foggy shroud of a bleak morning.
Today that road looks different. Because today it marks the start of an adventure.
Yesterday’s burden of serious adultness has been lifted to reveal today’s carefree childish enthusiasm. Creatures of duty and habit have been transformed – however temporarily – into creatures of accident. Into free spirits. Into travelers. With no daily obligations, no certain destinations, no advance reservations.
No advance expectations.
The road looks different and so do the car’s occupants.
At its core, travel is a form of addiction – more often rooted in a need to escape the routine and responsibilities of home than it is in any great desire to walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall or to scale the steps of Angkor Wat. But, once addicted, it cannot be assuaged. Quietly, it develops into an unquenchable thirst. And while the next fix may provide immediate relief, it will not slake it. It will only ever leave us needing more.
Those so afflicted know that it is the anticipation of an impending departure – the going, not to arrive, but simply to go – that intoxicates; the promise of something unknown quickening the pulse from the moment the thought of the journey is first said out loud.
And then, as a vague plan begins to form and a rough outline of a route slowly takes shape, we consult maps (you know, those old-fashioned folding paper things with colored lines and numbers and words of random font sizes); we read books. The pulse rate increases. That insistent, unspoken need amplifies.
And then reality strikes.
Unless you’re one of the happy few with no employer expecting your return, ambitious travel plans often founder on the rocks of practicality. But that does not mean the pursuit of adventure must be abandoned to a time constraint.
While it is true that a time constraint is inimical to a desire to wander aimlessly in a let’s-just-see-what-happens kind of way (an approach which, incidentally, is rarely conducive to inter-traveler harmony), it is also true that adventure happens between two questions: “When are we leaving?” and “When do we need to be back?”
We leave home because of the possibilities that exist in the middle.
Whatever its duration, adventure requires a willingness to embrace the forces of chance and luck; to be prepared to launch yourself on the haphazard drift of things and put yourself in the way of whatever opportunities the journey may throw up.
Yes, of course, we will revel in our explorations of enthralling cities and we will stand in respectful awe of glorious vistas. Many have been there before us; many more will follow in our footsteps.
Yet, for every city, every view, it is always the things that happen along the way that endure; those experiences that are uniquely, and forever, just ours.
Others have hiked the same path, but our memory of a New Mexico track will always end at a hot spring pool shared with a probably high (and definitely naked) drifter. Our recollection of being stuck in a snowbound Akureyri in northern Iceland will always include a group of drunken Poles and Russians insisting we go and dance with them at the local post office. And, among countless other experiences, there was a drive through Croatia guided by a map of only occasional accuracy – and its consequent detour in and out of another country – that finally led to a crested hill. The memory of a collective “Wow!” of amazement as a stunning view of the Adriatic Sea appeared far below will never fade. Never.
Each of these experiences – none intentional; none prescribed by an itinerary – happened because, a few days earlier, our wheels had turned along a familiar road.
Not to fulfil some daily ritual, but as the start of a journey to explore another small part of a world elsewhere.
20th January 2022
Written in the fervent hope of wide open 2022 roads …
Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires. – François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld