My finger slowly traced the veins. Mapping each artery, each intersection of life. Time passed by in heart beats, beautiful and simplistic 4/4 timing. The tires on the pavement seemed to mimic this cacophony of beauty and peace. I was seven years old, on the road for the first time.
I like to presume that I knew then, travel would be my life’s purpose, but truly all I knew was the feeling of inner peace. Understanding of the unknown and acceptance over my fragment of space in this world.
Every mile marker and street sign gave excitement. Not because we were closer to a destination but because it signified a terrain never traversed. This was my favorite part of my childhood trips. Knowing I was growing with each passing mile.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where road trips were a yearly have-to. My grandma had always had the travelbug and wanted to make sure that my cousin and I were exposed to it at a young age. She drove us to Florida, Colorado, New Orleans, Wisconsin, Michigan and through Canada (just to name a few).
We were able to experience all of the tourist sights, as every child traveler should, but my perfect space in time was always the road. The potholes were my breath, the hum of the tires my heart, the headlights of each passing traveler my brain, filled with unknown stories waiting to be learned.
Carry that over to a 16 year old, filled with wanderlust, teenage hormones and bad decisions. A group of friends, a hoopty and a total of $700.00 to split four ways. New Orleans was the destination and the necessity. The second stage of personal freedom through exploration.
We hit the road with no plan in mind and eleven hours of human overexposure in our future. We arrived in Louisiana some 16 hours later after two flats tires, $30 worth of Taco Hell in our bellies and an exhaustion that could only be quelled by the lights of a city waiting to be met by intermediately adolescent brains.
Our hotel was a shack, our ID’s non-allowing but the concern was zero. No matter what happened, no matter what life would throw at us in the moment, it would be for the first time. What followed was a mirage of illegality, cemetery hiking, voodoo culture, homelessness, roadshows, street characters (also known as performers), hurricanes, paint, alternators, Western Unions and just a tiny bit of personal blood.
The truth is when you travel under these conditions you have no fear. You are not concerned with the sketchiness of a neighbor,the straw mattress you may have slept on, the amount of money in your pocket or even the death that may follow trying to pull that drink from under a police horse’s hooves. All you feel is true unbridled freedom. A glorious horror show of experience.
A life lived in the moment. You are growing. You are learning, and you are forming thought processes for your future self.
In this carelessness and debauchery there is a single instance of perfect beauty that has carried with me to this day. It was the last day of our trip. We had $5.00 between us barring the $20.00 in gas it would take us to barely eek home. This moment found us in Biloxi, Mississippi. More out of necessity than decision we were going to sleep on the beach.
We waded out into the surf at Midnight. The moon was high, the city lights distant and the water was just oh so refreshing. The gulf made it up to my collarbone before I noticed the blinking lights that surrounded me in the water. It was like a personal symphony of blue illumination. Gentle jellyfish glistening just below the surface. It was living artwork gained through a single occurrence never to be experienced again. A partial insight into what is achieved through the incidences of fearless travel in your youth.
We all progress through life and our experiences adjust slight changes in our personalities. We are never fully aware of these changes until we sit in reflection, maybe come across old diaries or see someone we haven’t seen since childhood. We barrel through life as its moments rip chunks from our skin just to be replaced with a new form. Pretty soon we look in the mirror and even though our eyes reflect who we used to be, our souls have changed hue. Our hands are grittier, our skin hangs heavier. We were put through a processor, spit out the other end then molded back into a semblance of our former bodies.
As an ever evolving species this is something that happens in every stage of life. Travel simply assists and perpetuates this evolution.
As I grew older, as almost everyone does, comfort started to become a necessity. Fear crept in and made me foot the bill for a rental car as to not breakdown. The group roadtrips were replaced with solo drives, reveling in that familiar hum of the road. I was more likely to shell out the extra $200 for a beach view and private bar. I looked for hot tubs and actually read reviews. While in my early twenties I felt like I was losing a part of my guille and fearless spirit.
Now when I hit the road I have a plan. I have booked all inclusive vacations (which used to be the bane of my existence). I have come to terms with these changes in self and realized it is all a part of growing up through traveling, just like any other aspect of life. It is finding that inner peace and love for surroundings that you know so well as a child and somehow lose along the way. Life is nothing but the lifelong roadtrip. If we pay attention we can respect each stage and know ourselves better with each passing mile.