In 1804, Thomas Jefferson commissioned an expedition to explore and map the Louisiana Purchase, establish trade and relations with the native inhabitants thereof, and chart a navigable passage through the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Who takes that stupid job? Meriweather Lewis. Who immediately and brilliantly taps his sturdy buddy William Clark as his second in command. Together, they lead a thirty-odd man Corps of Discovery mostly West from the Missouri river on one of the greatest camping trips in recorded human history. With apologies to the Jews fleeing Egypt, Christ in the desert, etc. So, maybe just the greatest in English.
A trip across the country, whether coast to coast or just a big chunk of it, is a big deal and undertaken for lots of different reasons. For some, like my oldest daughter, it was a four day blitz from Connecticut to California to start a new job three years ago. Not a lot of leisure for sightseeing but plenty of wheel time. For others, like the retired couple from New Jersey Bill and I met at Mt. Rushmore, the trip was proscribed by overnights with family along the way. A sequence of pot luck suppers, long lost cousins and nights on the pullout in the den. There are destination travelers whose route is drawn by the geographic sequence of specific landmarks or cities or wonders they want to see. I guess that was sort of our category. There are the professional freight haulers who navigate it back and forth and up and down via our interstate highway system. God bless all the long haul truckers – seriously – every single one of you is a hero to me after this trip. And then there’s the daredevil contingent – the ones who bike or hike it. Lewis and Clark would have set the standard for that crowd I suppose. Apologies to anyone I left out.
Whatever the motive, a cross country trip is a great narrative generator. Nobody can travel so far, through such a vast and beautiful and majestic and (sometimes) dangerous landscape without experiencing an alteration in perspective that makes him/her need to talk about it. And, of course, the big roadtrip has spawned some of the best reads ever. By Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Cormack McCarthy, Bill Bryson…it’s a very long and wonderful list.
So, I’m stalling here. I have no great secret to share about this trip. No epiphany, really. Maybe some little ones, but those are sort of silly. I’ll blog about them later anyway because I took notes and…I’m thorough. And I certainly have no great narrative. I waited a week to let our trip sink in and percolate into magic but it didn’t happen. Or it did, but not the way I expected.
At the end it was all about coming home. We got in really late, everybody was asleep. Connecticut smelled like wood smoke and late frost and wet and sunburn all at the same time. Only in May. I crawled in to bed as quietly as I knew how. Audrey stayed asleep but our cat found me like I’d never left; she crawled up and fell asleep on my shoulder. I woke up to hot sun and fresh coffee and my wife and youngest about to leave for work. Two more beautiful people it would be hard to recruit for breakfast. They look amazing in the morning. And otherwise. Home.
Luckiest man on earth.