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A Meditation on Road Trips

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On: Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 2:14PM | By: Nick Bakewell

A Meditation on Road Trips

I recently undertook my first solo-long-distance road trip (yet another chance to test the Kia; it passed), driving from Texas up to the frigid wastes of Maine. Joking, Maine is beautiful right now, the last gasp of the changing leaves painted in warm winter sunlight, set off the by the immeasurable steel-grey of the Atlantic Ocean. It makes for some heavenly driving, too; some fantastic coastal roads that twist and wind their way smoothly through small forests and across peninsulas are a stone’s throw away from my lodgings. Now that I’m here, though, the journey as it stands is over, and I find myself reflecting on the nature and possibilities therein.

Having only undertaken road trips with friends or family before, I found the experience to be thoroughly meditative; knowing that I was alone in a river of people who were similarly so, coursing across America through the landscapes delineated in America the Beautiful. The Midwest, I admit, is not the brightest gem in Columbia’s crown, but once I reached the East Proper, things changed from brown and flat to mountainous and fall-colored, and I found my thoughts turning from amusing ways to keep myself awake towards introspection. I experienced vindication, the confirmation of a theory I’ve long held to be true, which is that driving is one of the most therapeutic activities a person can engage in. It was what I did for years whenever I needed to think, or just wanted to get away: I’d find an excuse to leave and just drive, sometimes for hours. I recognize that with gas prices the way they are, this isn’t quite as much of a cheap leisure activity as it used to be, but think about how much a spa day costs, or even an hour massage. You can get a lot of mental yard work done on $30 of gas.

So a road trip begins to seem a more extreme extrapolation of that idea: if putting around town for an hour can make or break your day, three 10 hour days on the road, speaking only when you want to, listening (or not!) to music and absorbing the landscape is…if I total up the numbers, the equivalent of two weeks on the beach in Mauritius. You learn a lot about yourself when you have nothing to do but think all day, when you have no demands on your time, when you are free in a way that you just don’t get to be at home. Stop off somewhere, say hi, meet some people; when you get bored, you can just leave. Life becomes very simple, a case of doing what you want to rather than what you think you have to. You have only a destination: it’s up to you to get there. It reminded me, if anything, of sunny days spent in the backyard as a child, creating kingdoms out of anthills and worlds out of trees and grass. The imagination may have matured, but the mental freedom is the same: your thoughts are your companions.

This unique sort of mental piece only manifests on the road, I’ve found. I have no capacity for sitting on my knees for hour after hour, expanding my mind and contemplating the nature of cherry blossoms. I’m too American to deprive myself of visual stimuli for that long. But I can meditate in my own way, traversing the highways and byways of the world. So here’s my advice to you: the next time you need a weekend away, don’t book some expensive vacation or destination. Just throw some clothes in a bag, pack some water and trail mix, pick a place and just drive. You might be surprised at how much good it does you.


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