10.29.2006,10:51 AM
A bum on two wheels

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was upon me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy described was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight maybe senility will do the job. Nothing has worked……I fear the disease is incurable.”

John Steinbeck eloquently describes what some of us experience not once, but through a lifetime. The urge for going. I get the urge for going, and I just have to go. It’s in my blood and runs in my veins. It is in every cell of my body.

One month ago, I was on my return leg of a fourteen-day road trip across five states. I can still taste, smell and see all of it. In essence, I'm still on it.

When I was very young, at the ripe age of six or so, I tied some food and a few tokens in a bandana, tied it to a stick and went off down the street from our house on my first walkabout. My parents thought I ‘ran away’. But that was not it; I was ‘going to.’ Where to I don’t remember, but it doesn’t matter. I got the urge for going, and I just had to go.

Since I was little, I was inspired to travel in exotic places or just out in the backyard. I collected maps and brochures of states and other countries, gazing at the photos, reading about the geography and cultures, with a longing I didn’t understand. I built an elaborate fort made of hay in the woods behind my house and it was often a destination to read of far away places.

It was a visceral drive that captured me and I started to let it steer me as soon as I could walk. Without any real comprehension until much later in my life. It was inherent and I didn’t, and still don’t, understand why others didn’t have the same drive.

“What do you mean you’ve never left your home state? Don’t you feel the need to explore, discover, experience what lays beyond your hometown? Your home state? Your own country? Are you nuts?”, I find myself thinking sometimes.

Years later I learned why people don’t move beyond their own little microcosm where they grew up and lived. Some people have accused my wandering lust as an inability to be happy and always in search of meaning. But they’re mistaken and I have tried to explain that is not the case. I don’t wander because I am running away from something or myself. To the contrary, I wander because it is what lies ahead, and it is what I am. It is the destination and the journey.

Steinbeck referred to the disease and the afflicted as being a ‘bum’. “I don’t improve. Once a bum, always a bum.” I recall as a teen asking my father what I should be when I grew up. When he responded I could be anything I want to be, I asked him if it was all right for me to be a ‘bum.’ He shrugged and responded that as long as I do it well and to always be honest.

So throughout my teen and adult years I’ve been a bum. There were periods of years during which I partook of the “American Dream,” doing what all people do as they mature: going to college, having a family, working long hours, acquiring ‘things’ and staying in one place for many years. But even during those times, I still traveled. Even with a baby and toddler with me, we still went found time and the capacity to move on the road and explore. We even moved from one coast to the other.

Nevertheless, the itchy feet would start and grow until I had to go somewhere, or I was unfit to live with. As a family, we would go for an all-day drive in the van, or a weekend journey along the coast or the mountains. Sometimes, when the urge was upon me, I would jump in my truck and drive with no destination in mind. I was moving; that was all I cared about. Other times I would throw a pillow and blanket in the truck and drive to the coast, finding a rest area or park to sleep in the back seat when night descended. I’ve even been known to wake up at three in the morning before a scheduled trip and depart in the silence of the darkness with the stars as my companions.

How do you explain to someone this urge to go, be moving, this restlessness when you are bound to your current place and time? How do you describe the soaring spirit and grinning when you are on the road? Perhaps it is inexplicable, except to those who share it.

Since I left Oregon and moved to Texas eight years ago, with no job or place to live, and started a new chapter in my life, I have not been on a journey without a destination and planned objective. Like any bum, a destination is usually inevitable. And like most, I can cultivate a reason to travel from the garden of plenty. But that is the only predetermined factor. The rest in between is often unplanned, or at least, the intentions are subject to change.

“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

When we return from the journey we are hardly ever the same. If we truly let the trip take us, we discover new places, new delights, new sensations that we’ve never had before. Or old ones are rejuvenated. We meet new people, strangers; we meet pieces of their lives as they have lived them, where they are and from other places they have been and what they have done in their lives. We learn of things they know that we may never understand. Yet they all become a part of us, too. Although they may be different, in many ways we are similar underneath.

When I return from a journey or a trip, I am a different person.
Still the same person as when I left, but in many ways my world has grown. And become richer and full of life. All the images of the mountains, canyons, prairies, the conversations with strangers met along the way: they are all a part of me, and my life and world are expanded. I bring them all back with me.

The saying “You can never go home” may be more true to us bums than to anyone else. ‘Home’ to most people is where they grew up, where they have set anchor and their roots are firmly planted in the ground. For us, ‘home’ is where we hang our hat, or helmet. I returned from this trip without a ‘home’, because I realized on this trip that home is inside me. It is wherever I am. I returned to the same physical space but as a different person than when I left.

After describing the high prairies that I rode across on my last journey, a close friend commented that seems to be ‘where I belong’. My immediate response was that I know where I don’t belong, but I don’t know where I do belong. Perhaps I don’t necessarily ‘belong’ anywhere, but everywhere is where I belong. I can easily live on the coast, a lake, in the mountains or canyons, on the high plains, or even the desert. As long as I can still be in touch with my environment and don’t become desensitized to what surrounds me. When I do, then it’s time to take a trip or a journey. Sometimes I can come back and feel rejuvenated; other times, I don’t. And that is when it is time to consider moving.

Like Steinbeck on his travels, I also encountered other people having that look in their eyes, often commenting they wish they could go too.

“They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

I suspect it’s a part of our nature, like many other animals. But my experience echoed Steinbecks; most are running away from something. Whereas us bums are traveling to somewhere, or just moving. At times I saw the hunger in their eyes just as it resides in mine: the burning desire to go, to move, anyplace. They had the dream I had, that Steinbeck had, all our lives and there is no cure.

With this realization on my last journey, as I rode through the vivid shades of earth in the canyons and mountain passes bejeweled with golden colors of cottonwood trees, I grinned, looking side to side, and whispering aloud inside my helmet, “I will be back. Wait and see. I will return.”

And so I shall some day. But it won’t take nine years.

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posted by Macrobe
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