…the Rogue pulled into its parking spot at home. Before I wax philosophical about the magic of this journey, I want to share a couple of shots from my last day on the road. I stopped for gas in some little town in West Virginia and this view greeted me next to the station. Talk about a good omen for the day’s travels.
One of my last random stops was at a scenic overlook near the West Virginia / Maryland border. There are a lot of pictures from that stop (yes, I promise, I’ll be adding the links to the Flickr albums soon!) but these are just a taste of the beauty I got to soak in.
There do not seem to be enough superlatives to describe this experience. I saw awe-inspiring sights. I experienced the pain and joy of time spent just with myself and my own thoughts. I saw family and friends that I don’t see often enough. I worked every day. Most of all, I observed and I learned and I grew and I shrank. Yes, I know that is a confusing statement, but it is an accurate description.
I observed the majesty, beauty and quirkiness of getting off the beaten path and out of my comfort zone.
I learned about places in this great country that I did not know about. I learned about cultures and customs that I don’t interact with every day. I learned that we, as Americans, have way more in common than we have different and we need to start embracing that commonness and pushing away the forces that try to divide us through politics, ideology, religion, race, geography or other arbitrary metrics.
I learned that my way, my view and my beliefs should be challenged – regularly. So should yours.
I observed the convenience, privilege and loneliness of wealth and the heart-breaking sadness and immense pride of poverty. Urban poverty is something most of us in the Northeast see or experience regularly, but seeing the poverty of a ramshackle RV, not even a home, but a travel trailer just parked in the middle of the desert, that houses a large family of Native Americans and is surrounded by the family’s herd of goats will give you a whole other view of poverty. And a whole other view of why it is so important that we start addressing some of the issues with compassion and respect instead of derision, annoyance and cruelty.
I learned that we will never be complete until we stop doing things the same way and seeing things through the same lens. Opening ourselves to tolerance, compassion and understanding means being willing to try to see things differently and requires getting off the highways and onto back roads; taking the time to talk to a stranger; searching for the beauty in everything; learning patience and most importantly, being willing to get both into and out of our own heads for a while.
Along with the beauty I saw, I took the time to talk to people – servers in local restaurants, the man or woman getting gas next to me, clerks in convenience stores, the woman washing her hands in the sink next to me at the rest stop. It is amazing what a simple smile, holding a door for someone or just general chit-chat will do for you and for someone else. I bought ice cream for kids whose mother was clearly having a rough day, had breakfast bought for me by a cowboy who was clearly flirting, and had a 95 year old woman give me the sweetest smile and say “God Bless You” when I helped her up a curb and held the door for her to enter the chapel. It really is about the little things in life.
I turned off the technology for large stretches of time (other than Waze – I love Waze! – go download it now!) and listened to the radio – music and talk. Hearing the farm report as the sun rises over Kansas is a great reminder that my life is not the same life everyone else has and I need to understand their lives too. I listened to local radio stations, including Sunday morning preachers, conservative talk shows and local NPR stations. I listened to the local news and weather. All of this exposure to things outside of my norm helped me see the gorgeous views through a new lens. Those tree-covered mountains took on new meaning when I heard about the wildfires close by. Those fields and farms took on new meaning when I listened to the grain price reports or saw the billboards and advertisements with the cost of farm machinery. Heck, even the wide range of gas prices ($1.85 to $2.65) was eye-opening to how others experience life.
Simple opening lines like “did you drive from Alaska?” to the family whose car had Alaska license plates and Trump bumper stickers create an opening for a fascinating discussion over a cup of coffee about their trip – yes they drove to New Mexico from Alaska! – and that the current rancor in politics was what prompted them to bring their kids down to see the lower 48. They are spending 4 months traveling the US with their final stop being Washington, D.C. and a visit with their Congressperson to share their views on what the President and Congress is doing right and wrong. We could not have been further apart on political positions, but they were thoughtful, articulate and clearly held their views with strong resolve. It was just a short chat, but they were willing to listen and discuss, not argue, and so was I. I believe we all, including their children (ages 10 and 12) whom they insisted participate in the discussion, learned something from each other. Getting a different perspective is always beneficial. To quote the father (I never did get their names) ” talking with someone who thinks different, does not mean you have to embrace or believe what they believe, it means you are smart enough to know that you are not always right”. Wise words, indeed.
I grew by embracing my curiosity, instead of my fear. I shrank my perception of myself as the center of the universe. I grew my wonder. I shrank my anxiety. I grew my patience and tolerance. I shrank my limited viewpoints.
I shrank my willingness to accept intolerance, bigotry, racism and sexism.
I grew my love for this country and the wonderful people, of all shapes, sizes, colors, races, ideologies, religions, cultures, and beliefs who call this home.
This trip has come to a close but Rogue Tripping has not. There are many more adventures in my future, both near and far. I will be documenting them here.
I have one wish for all of you – experience something new, go some place new, meet someone new – Just get out of your comfort zone!