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Coast-to-Coast Wrap-Up: Wherever you go, there you are. July 31, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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When I read Blue Highways, I was enrolled in the documentary feeling of the book.  I related to the author’s style of travel writing, and found the book inspirational, adding motivation to my own coast to coast journey across America. 


Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read Blue Highways, but plan to, you may want to skip over the next paragraph….

As I neared the end of the book, I kept wondering if or how he would build to a climax and pen a dramatic or poignent conclusion.   I wondered whether there would be some sort of epiphany or cosmic realization to tie the whole works together.  As I finished the book, I had mixed emotions as the trip wound to an end with only the slightest reflection.  On one hand I wanted a strong take-away thought or message, but on the other, I knew that in the real world, trips just end without a Hollywood production finish. 

End of Spoiler Alert.


I have traveled enough to know that the best adventures come when you are not looking, and that epiphanies that are sought are rarely found.  It is by putting yourself into the circumstances for a great adventure, and then letting go of all expections, that the adventure finds you.

Many people travel with the prime intention of seeing new things.  They seek to contrast the lives of those in far away places to their own.  They travel to see the landscapes, architecture, history, and attractions that are not found in their own backyards. 

On this trip, I definitely experienced that.  I saw extraordinary vistas, which I had no way to really anticipate, that left me redefining my own limitations of beauty, awe, and inspiration.  Seeing so much of America in such a short time allowed me to compare what was before me, not only to a memory of other places, but to a RECENT memory of what I had seen only a day before.  And, traveling by motorcycle allowed me to experience both the sublety and abruptness of the transistions as I was immersed in the environment.  The continuity of experience afforded by the openness of the bike was so much more revealing than the digital transitions of stepping into and out of airports while flying across the country. 

I found a new appreciation for the diversity of land and culture that our nation has to offer.  Living so near the concrete ribbon between Balitmore and DC, I was heartened by the grandeur of our National Parks, preserving the natural beauty of our country.

But more powerfully than the diversity, it is the sameness that I found to inspiring.  When I was in Wheeling, West Virgina on the last night of the trip, I was asked many questions about my ride:  Where is the best food?  Where is the most beautiful landscape?  What was the most interesting thing you saw?  Where are the nicest people? 

It was at that moment that one of two journey epiphanies found me. 

These superlative-seeking queries were unanswerable.  I had seen incomperable beauty across the nation.  Nearly every stop possessed something new and interesting, even if only in an oddity sense.  And nearly every interaction with other people was a friendly, hospitable, and at least once, a life-saving exchange.   There was no triage to find the “best of”; the “best” is everywhere. 

So what are the odds that my house (or yours) is located in an extraordinarily rare part of the country that is devoid of great people, interesting sights, and great food?? Pretty darn slim.  While it should be obvious, familiarity with our own locales can desensitize us to the fact that our town is an exciting, adventure-filled destination for someone else, and we have the fortune of living in it.

The other realization was a more subtle, more reflective, very personal understanding that slowly evolved riding through the small communities of America.  While I am reticent to explore its full depth in this forum, its point is too important to remain completely tacit.  The upshot is that in this world of “have-to’s”, “need-to’s”, and “shoulds” the quality of “importance” can be externally thrust upon what we do, turning life into the constant fulfillment of obligation, rather than the encouraging the self-authoring of a life story.  We are in danger of being stuck by circumstance, and forgetting what makes us happy.

The importance of Atomic Days in Arco was not an imposed community ethos.  While it may have been to some, for the people I spoke to, the event was theirs.  They owned it.  They made it important, and they derived great happiness in its anticipation.  From Howard Hughes’ manure spreader, to Austin’s Spam Museum, to the Silver Dragon in Vandalia, to Cadillac Ranch, all these things were made important by the people to chose to make them so.  I was reminded that we should not lose sight of our freedom to choose what is important to us.

Being on the road for such a long time provides the opportunity to clean the slate, to forget the mundane, and live for the next adventure.  We have the chance for re-invention of self, if we choose to take it.  In travel, we can learn how to appreciate whatever comes next, whether it is having a good meal, taking a slow ride through a small town, or enduring a story-worthy adversity.  

So, now my goal is to carry these lessons back into “normal” life, and to remember to exercise my freedom to choose what is important, and to approach each day open to experience to whatever adventures may find me, because I know the chances of living in the only adventure-free part of the country are pretty small. 

And, if I find that I am “not having any fun”, it probably means I have been “on the interstate” for too long “pressing for miles”, and should find a less-traveled route to regain the ride.

Thank you all very much for following the ride.  I have truly appreciated and been inspired by your comments, tweets, and posts.  It was great to be kept company by your thoughts and well-wishes on the trip.