Category Archives: On Travel

The Rhythm of Travel

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I recently wrote about Clara Bensen’s book No Baggage. One of the things she wrote about travel struck me as particularly true.

This was the rhythm of travel–exhausting marathons of movement punctuated by surprising moments of calm where time slowed and there was nowhere to be except right here…

No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering

No Baggage

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No Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering
Recently, the Divine Miss M had Amazon.com send me a couple of books. I hadn’t asked for the books or even heard of them until they showed up in my stack of mail. One was a novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I haven’t read yet. The other was nonfiction, a travel memoir called No Baggage.

In No Baggage, author Clara Bensen tells the story of the existential crisis she had in her early 20s when she concluded she might not be able to follow her bliss and live her dreams. Heck, she was barely able to complete applications to grad schools. She had a prolonged mental health meltdown and spent quite a long time wracked with anxiety and unable to eat much more than choked-down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

She slowly pieced her fragile psyche back together while living in Austin, TX, and decided she needed to start dating. She joined OkCupid, posted her own profile, and began looking at the profiles of men on the site with advanced degrees. She encountered the profile of an intriguing college professor and emailed him. They went on a date, immediately hit it off, and started having fabulous times together.

The first part of the book read a little much like a teen romance novel to me, and I was a bit turned off. I have to admit, I was more than a little jealous and a bit bitter. I haven’t met a decent, unmarried man to date in years, but this gal met an incredible man on her first try. (It probably helps to be young, thin, and live in a major metro area.) But I stuck with the book to get to the good part, where Bensen and her beau went on The Trip.

The fellow was already planning on taking The Trip when he met Bensen, then invited her to go along with him. While it was risky enough to go on a multi-country journey with someone she only knew a short time, the No Baggage of the title refers to no suitcase, no backpack, no tote bag.

Here’s what Benson took with her on the three week expedition: in a “small leather purse,” she somehow puts three pairs of underpants, a deodorant stick, a toothbrush, a retainer, a contact lens case, a pair of glasses, two tampons, an iPhone, an iPad Mini, a notebook, a pen, her passport, a tube of ChapStick, and “a stack of cowboy magnets to hand out as Texas souvenirs.” (There’s no mention of a credit card or traveler’s cheques or cash, so I don’t know how purchasing food and transportation tickets worked out. Maybe the money the guy carried was for both of them?)

Since I live in my van, I have fewer material possessions than most Americans, but I still have so much stuff! The part of me that makes do with less was intrigued by the minimalist approach to travel introduced by Bensen’s guy, but after all, it was only for 21 days, not a lifetime. I’m pretty sure I could make it on no baggage for three weeks, especially if I had a new love interest to keep me company. (I’d leave behind the iPad Mini–which I don’t even own–and the deodorant and the cowboy magnets, and take my water bottle with me.)

I like travel stories, and I enjoyed Bensen’s. I enjoyed her tale of spending the beginning of her time in Istanbul not knowing if she were in Europe or Asia. I liked hearing about the positive experiences with Couchsurfing.com, especially what happened in Turkey, when Bensen and her guy arrived unannounced at a dark train station, only to be met by a woman on a bicycle who said, “I recognize the hat from your Couchsurfing profile.” She was one of the many hosts they’d emailed, and she’d somehow known when and where to meet them, even though they hadn’t known when they might arrive.

The book was full of such stories of traveling serendipity. Some call it luck, and the Rainbow Family refers to it as “Rainbow magic.” Hikers of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails know about it too. Sometimes it’s as if the Universe is conspiring to get people where they need to go and make beautiful things happen.

In fact, this book is not just a love story or a travelogue or a treaty on minimalism. It’s also about coincidence and serendipity. It’s about What are the odds? and What are the chances? What are the odds that two people so well-suited to be together would meet on OkCupid and find a “weird, magical thing” happening between them? What are the chances a Couchsurfing host would appear exactly when and where she was desperately needed? Bensen’s guy “was in the preliminary stages of developing software to measure the experience of coincidence,” so they ended their three week journey with a visit to a “professor of Risk at Cambridge University…one of the premier researchers on the subject.” The book asks what causes the “connections between seemingly random intersections?”

The day before I finished reading No Baggage, I wrote a blog post partially about a road trip song by Dar Williams and partially about an idea of SARK’s about managing expectations. To illustrate my point, I told a story about a road trip I took in the late 1990s. In telling that story, I mentioned my friend who owned the car and did all the driving on that journey to a women’s gathering in an adjacent state. My friendship with the woman was intense during our time on the road, but mellowed out when we got back to the city. We still liked each other, but our everyday lives kept us busy, and we saw little of each other. When I moved away from the city the next year, I thought of her fondly when I thought of her, which wasn’t often. I could only remember part of her name, so there was no Googling her or looking her up on Facebook. And then suddenly there she was, driving through my blog post.

The next day I finished reading No Baggage on the afternoon of my day off, while lying in my bed with the back doors of the van open to the meadow. That was a good book, I decided after I’d read the last page. I liked it. I’m glad I read it.

Then I flipped the page and saw the heading Acknowledgements. I’m the kind of book geek who at least skims an author’s appreciations. I’m not sure why. I never see a name I recognize. Only this time I did. There among the four names thanked for their “generous feedback and critique” was the name of the woman I’d written about the day before, the woman with whom I’d shared a road trip and not communicated with for nearly twenty years. What are the chances of that?

I know in my heart of hearts that I’d not glanced at the last page of No Baggage and seen my friend’s name, not even for a split second. I know that Clara Bensen didn’t mention my friend in the book in any recognizable way, wrote nothing that would have made me think of her.  And yet, as I read a book about travel written by a mutual friend, I wrote of my own long-lost, seldom thought of friend and a time we traveled together. What are the odds of that happening?

I plan to write to  Clara  Bensen and tell her of this coincidence and our connection. Maybe she’ll tell me how to contact my old friend.

 

 

A Time

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Were you ever really excited about a road trip in the preparation phase, only to find the actual time on the road left a lot to be desired? Maybe your traveling companion(s) annoyed you. Maybe the food you ate left you feeling sick. Maybe the roadside attractions were boring and not worth the money. Maybe you couldn’t wait for the entire “adventure” to end.

Dar Williams sums up a road trip that doesn’t live up to expectations in her song “Road Buddy.”

If you want to follow along, here are the lyrics from http://www.metrolyrics.com/road-buddy-lyrics-dar-williams.html:

We passed the stores, we passed the hotels
Filled our car with gasoline
We drove that night, I saw the moon
Almost got us in an accident then

And then at the rest stop
When that woman tried to steal my wallet
It felt like an adventure
Isn’t that what you would call it?
Well, isn’t that what you would call it?

You’re my road buddy
But I’m lonely all the time
I thought that we’d be joking
Having long talks on late night drives

But you drive so bad, I lost my patience
So, pass the chips and turn the station
Well this is not a romance with the road

Where the moss grows up the trees
To where the dirt is rusty red
I thought we’d find each story
Like a snakeskin or an arrowhead

But we only stop at fast-food places
They hate their jobs, I understand
I try to act familiar
But they’re floating just above the land
And we are all floating

You’re my road buddy
But I’m lonely all the time
I thought we’d show that friendship
Could be stronger than the crossroads devil

But, I, I thought I heard the tollman sing
I’ll take that thing you got from me
And this is not a romance with the road

And those cliffs are the same
As in the magazines I have at home
And the tall grass reminds me
Of the same dreams I had at home

I thought life was a road
And I wanted to begin it
I said, My friend and I are going on a trip
So, I can only stop a minute

We go to the vending machines
I want to watch these kids with their mother
Sipping on their juice boxes
And smiling at each other

And maybe that’s their dad on the phone
Saying, “Hey mom, you shouldn’t wait
Go ahead, have dinner
‘Cause were running just a little late
But we’re on our way” yeah but a

Road buddy, road buddy
I heard about the boxcars and the family of travelers
But there’s real estate signs in the cornfield stubble
I know there’s love, I bet there’s trouble
But you just can’t spend a lifetime on the road

And there’s something I finally faced
I finally think I come from someplace
But this is not a romance with the road

End Of The Summer

As an adult, I always had high expectations for road trips. I wanted my travels with friends to be so much better than the boring trips full of bickering I was forced to go on with my family when I was a kid. (Dad often got lost, then tried to pass it off as taking the scenic route.) As an adult, I wanted my road trips to be full of singing along to the radio and stops for ice cream. Other than “Take It Easy” with Mr. Carolina (read about it here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/04/28/winslow-arizona/), I don’t recall much singing during road trips as an adult.

I remember a journey to a women’s gathering when I was in my late 20s. I was riding with two other women, and only the owner of the car knew how to drive. I thought the other non-driver and I would take turns napping so someone would always be awake to keep the driver company, but after the first couple of high excitement hours on the road, the other non-driver passed out and was pretty much comatose for the rest of the trip. The only time I remember her awake was when we stopped at a diner for breakfast, and an old man in the parking lot insisted on telling us a joke about a “polecat.” We couldn’t decide if he were actually trying to be funny or if he were trying to offend us.

We got lost in a large city in the wee hours of the night, and a man approached the car while we were stopped at a red light. He didn’t seem to want to give us directions. The driver and I were terrified, but the other non-driver—of course—slept through it all.

The trip took hours and hours and hours longer than it should have, and once we were close to our destination, the driver nearly fell asleep at the wheel, then got caught in a speed trap to the tune of a $300 ticket. The old man cop then asked the driver if the pressed leaf in glass hanging from her rearview mirror were marijuana.

When we finally arrived on women’s land, I was exhausted and overly emotional. I cried when I had to cross a rain-swollen creek to get to the main gathering spot. I do not remember singing at any point on the trip.

Now that I live in a van, road trips aren’t the big deal they once were. I usually travel alone, and time on the road is a means to an end, the way I get from point A to point B. Sometimes I eat ice cream, and I always sing at the top of my lungs, at least for a little while.

In one of her books (which I must no longer own, since I couldn’t find the exact quote), SARK writes about managing expectations about parties, but the same could be said about road trips. SARK says we often go into parties (and road trips) feeling pressure to have a good time. If we don’t have a good time at a party (or on a road trip), we feel disappointed, maybe even as if we have failed somehow. SARK suggests that instead of pressuring ourselves to have a good time, at a party (or on a road trip), we simply expect to have a time. Expecting only to have a time removes the pressure we may feel if we think we are obligated to have fun. Expecting only to have a time allows us to feel whatever we are authentically feeling, whether that is happiness, irritation, joy, exhaustion, boredom, sadness, elation, or some other emotion.

So if you are traveling this vacation season—whether alone, with your children, with strangers, with your parents or your partner or your friends—I wish you a time. And I hope there is singing.

Sark's New Creative Companion: Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit

Vulnerability and Gratitude

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I’m currently reading “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow,” by Tim Brookes. I picked up this Ocean Beach Library discard from the free pile at the 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR). Three months later, I actually started reading it.

It ‘s the perfect book to read after a long day of mentally exhausting work. The writing is not overly challenging–no words I need to look for in a dictionary, no complicated sentence structure to contend with–but not simplistic either. The story is upbeat (no abused family members, nothing to send me down a spiral of depression) and interesting to me.

Here’s the plot: Author Tim Brookes grew up in Great Britain. In 1973, he bought a cheap ticket to NYC and hitchhiked clear across the United States and back again. After this tour of the U.S. he settled in New England. Twenty-five years later, he recreated his first trip and hitchhiked across the country and back a second time. (He had more resources the second time around and could buy a bus ticket or rent a car when he needed to, but he still relied extensively upon the kindness of strangers.)

I’m about halfway through the book now, but something I read last night rang so true that I wanted to share it here.

Brooks is telling a wealthy twenty-one year-old man about his adventures hitchhiking.

The young man says he doesn’t understand the appeal of hitchhiking. He tells Brooks that he prefers to ride in limos and stay in five-star hotels.

Brooks answers, The problem with that kind of travel…is that you’re never vulnerable.

The young man asks, Why should I want to be vulnerable?

Brooks says, Because otherwise you’ll never feel grateful for anything. You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable before you need something from someone else, and you’ve got to need something before you can feel gratitude. And unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you never have any chance encounters.  All the most remarkable people I’ve met on this trip, I’ve met by chance.

I could say the same thing.

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I took the above photo.

If I Knew the Way…

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If I knew the way/ I would take you home

–from “Ripple” by Robert Hunter

I’ve been working in the parking lot since Memorial Day Weekend, and again and again tourists have asked me How do I get to…?

Usually they want to go to Babylon, or MegaBabylon, but sometimes it’s Northern Babylon and yesterday it was Babylon Springs. Sometimes a tourist just throws a number at me: How do I get to the 342? (or whatever).

When my co-worker is around, I let him field those questions. He’s lived in the area for years; he knows how to get places. But after he leaves for the day, the tourists are left with me and sketchy knowledge of geography.

The other day, a tourist (I think he was European) driving a big, rented RV asked me how to get to MegaBabylon. I said I was sorry, but I didn’t know. I told him I was new to the area, and didn’t know how to get from where we were to where he wanted to be. He looked at me as if looking at me long enough would cause the answer to pop into my brain. I suggested he look at his map. He told me he didn’t have a map.

Come on! Who comes from Europe (or Maine or Alabama or wherever) and rents an RV, but fails to pick up a map? Who takes a trip to the mountains without first getting directions home from Google  Maps or Yahoo Maps or MapQuest or one of the other internet sources of maps and driving directions? Obviously many tourists do.

People probably think they can get directions on the go, like they do in the city. Probably many of them don’t realize how far into the wilderness they are going, don’t realize they’ll be lacking constant internet and cell phone services. And since GPS devices are often wrong, even in the city, they can’t really count on those things either.

(Side note: The parking area is a one-way loop. Drivers pull in and are determined to go the wrong way because their GPS is telling them to go left, even though real live human people are gesturing–and sometimes shouting–that the car needs to stay to the right.)

Since I’ve been working at the parking lot, I’ve heard my co-worker give directions to Babylon and MegaBabylon enough that now I can more or less do it too. I also found a map in a free info guide for tourists which shows the area we are in and how to get out. I’m learning, but the company I work for gave me zero training in helping people get where they’re going. I wasn’t provided with a map to use to help people either. (My co-worker has a good map of the area. He got it from the Forest Service and paid $10 for it. No way am I forking out $10 for a map.)

The company seems to think my job entails nothing more than collecting $5 from each car that parks and then handing that money over to my supervisor.

The tourists, however, want more than that from me. They want me to get them home.