Anytime you stop committing the act that holds your passion, it takes some adjusting. That “act” for me is photography. Having said that, over the past few months I’ve come to realize that photography, nature and the other obvious parts of the whole experience that I have ceased doing, may not be what I miss most. The less obvious component is the actual life on the road as I traveled from place to place. I don’t know if I can explain just what an important part of my life that my photo (and non-photo) trips were, and I mean the actual journey. Life on the road.
Of course I planned my trips, but not too much. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.
For many years I began my trips on airplanes, with a rental car (van, suv, etc.) waiting on the other end. Then in the late 1990s the airline industry (before 9/11) cut down on the amount of non-checked luggage you could carry. I traveled with a lot of camera equipment. I decided to drive the entire trip. On my first such journey I drove for just under 6,000 miles. That was in 12 days. There were times when I had to talk to myself to keep going but…..I loved every mile.
This first part is the hardest to explain. I would always start with a long overnight drive. Overnight is a poor description because they were often close to 24 hours with the longest being 30 hours. I love this part of the journey. This is the only portion of my trip when my camera equipment was packed in the trunk. I loved observing the other cars and wondered where that little old man in a 1972 Dodge was going at 2 a.m. I looked forward to my ventures into truck stops. Put a little gas in the car, release several sodas from the driver. I wondered where that semi was headed. Did they make it through the last weigh station without a citation? It was time to move on. Another bottle of soda, some cashews and a Ding Dong for desert. Life on the road is wonderful, but not always healthy.
I have stayed in luxurious motor inns (very few), too many middle of the road motels to count and some of the sleaziest motels imaginable. Places where things were happening that even I with my insatiable appetite for knowledge, did not investigate. There were downtown hotels in American towns with populations of 150, woodland cabins and lakeside cottages. Surely nobody except the unfortunate homeless have spent more nights (sometimes days) sleeping in cars. In big cities, small towns, national and state parks and in the vehicular wilderness, I have slept in cars. I have spent many nights sleeping outside but near my car. I have spent a handful outside, and nowhere near my car.
One year I was traveling through western Kansas about 9 am., on a trip that had started the day before. It was a beautiful spring day and I was enjoying a mix of semi desert dirt prairie, with occasional spurts of lush tall grass prairie. As usual I was also checking out the other cars on the road. I noticed a Kansas State Trooper heading the other direction on the four lane highway. As I continued my journey I slipped into the left lane to pass a truck, and low and behold there was that trooper. You guessed it. A flash of his red lights and a blast of his siren had me heading to the right lane for a place to pull over. He slowly got out and headed to my window with a hard, cold look on his face. Deer God was the second day of my journey going to find me in a Kansas jail. I’m innocent! He quietly but sternly stated “driver’s license and registration please“! After looking at my Wisconsin driver’s license and the Illinois license plates on my car, he inquired as to how come. I should explain that even when I didn’t fly, I usually rented a car. That took the worry of the potential financial burden of mechanical woes out of trip. I explained that fact to the officer and handed him the rental agreement. He mentioned that there had been a proliferation of drug sellers, and drug buyers heading through Kansas from the east, to places like California. He asked if I had any large sums of money or drugs in my car. I replied that I had a credit card, about $2,000, and a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol in the glove box. I said I was headed for Utah and places west for a couple of weeks of photography. He said then you won‘t mind me searching your car will you? I gave permission and handed him the keys to the trunk. He searched for about three minutes and returned the keys while stating, you have a years worth of camera gear and about three days worth of clothing. I agreed and told him there was only room for so much. We joked and exchanged stories from the road and wished each other a great day.
It is amazing how much attitude matters in life. The trooper was doing his job. He was trying to remove from the roadways of the kind of person who would gladly hurt someone like me. He knew not if I had a gun pointed at him as he approached my car. My positive and helpful attitude allowed me to meet a nice guy and exchange stories. He first has to know my plans are not to make his wife a widow. Attitude matters.
Three times my journeys have carried me into Mexico. Never the beautiful resorts, only the third world country that most of Mexico is. That is in fact where I wanted to go. The only time I was truly frightened was after the fact in February of 2006 when I crossed the great Rio Grande River for a 50 mile journey on the other side of the border. When I returned (without incident) to the USA, I realized from a radio broadcast, that there were drug wars gong on just about where I had been.
Most of my scares on my journeys came from weather, high altitude mountain and low desert roads, and some scary visits to the wilderness, both via automobile and on foot. All worked out. There were moments when my heart skipped a few beats because of human interactions. My fear was only well founded once, and that worked out just fine. Most of the memories of people who I have met along the way are positive and they are still etched in my mind. I savor them like a fine wine
Driving the entire trip instead of flying first, brought me to many national wildlife refuges while on my way home. They were found in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota. I would have never experienced these little slices of the natural world if I had not been on a car trip.
If you add all of the dirt, gravel and sand I have driven on my trips, it might exceed the asphalt. I have a passion for those dusty roads.
Every journey has its revelations and epiphanies. I have not only solved my own problems, but most the world’s problems while driving away the hours. I guess I should have shared them with somebody. Oh what a better place the world would be. lol
I started most of my journeys with sheer joy, and at least one in sadness. In the end, every single one allowed me to grow, and sent me into the next phase of my life a wiser person. I came back with more than what I left with. Not money and not even images. It’s something inside that cannot be explained.
I did not take every trip alone. I would be remiss if I did not mention my friend Ron. We share the same curiosity for what is over the next hill. That curiosity often got us into trouble. Those “troubled times” were some of the best of my life.
I thank you for indulging me.
I apologize for once again breaking my rule of showing at least as many pictures from others, as from myself. This was not a planned article and I will make it up next time. As you can see, the images below are just meant to bring a smile to your face….nothing less….nothing more.
The quote above the picture is what the grumpy goose in the photo was heard to be saying. It is his opinion and does not reflect the opinions of Earth Images or myself. I actually love my pigeon friends.
Thank you and God Bless, Wayne