The great human road trip

September 6th, 2012

The arrival of summer vacation, Spring Break and other intermissions from the normal rhythms of life, bring with them the aroma of adventure. It’s a flavor consistently resident in the caverns of the human brain and spirit that’s tasted at all opportunities of deviation. When a period of liberation presents itself, it seems to have become standard procedure for humans to flee their settlements to exchange one status quo for another. The common form for these pursuits to take is that of a road trip.

This summer, I road-tripped around the perimeter of the country with John Steinbeck in a truck, called “Rocinante,” and a dog, named Charley. I then hitch hiked with Christopher McCandless to various locations in the Western United States, finally settling outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, living off the land by our own devices. Finally, I travelled the world with Wade Davis, being enlightened by priceless knowledge of indigenous and realizing that the ethnocide taking place is perhaps the greatest human tragedy of our age.

Is it a coincidence that the books I read this summer all dealt with an exodus of some kind?  Having no iron-clad plans to go on any adventures, I was forced, by necessity, to make such  selections to help unsettle my soul and sate my wandering thirst. But why was it a matter of necessity, having such compelling power over my being that moments not spent immersed in the black and white, double- dimensioned spirit of adventure were filled with restlessness and despondency?

Many make a point during their first 20 or 25 years to explore the world and its cultures. The existence of exchange student and study abroad programs gives this opportunity to nearly every young person. As we age, it sometimes seems that a chain grows around us, tethering us to settled lives, often bringing with it more wretchedness than its supposed comfort. In many ways, the nature-denying way we live today is very wrong and causes many problems. It doesn’t seem absurd to attribute stagnant afflictions to the same culprit.

This idea cannot be more clearly illustrated than by Steinbeck,“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am 58 perhaps senility will do the job.” He encountered a strong sense of wanderlust throughout the country and the only explanation for its recurrent presence is that this desire is hard-wired in our nomadic roots as humans.

We are very different creatures than our hunting and gathering ancestors and travel plays a much different role that it has in the past. One much more psychological, but no less essential.

The adventurous spirit of humans brought our more recent ancestors to America as immigrants, in search of a better life. The same things subconsciously motivate us to get out and experience the world. How often do we become captivated by far off lands, getting glimpses of cultures and somehow forming the impression that different way of life, that beach, that religion or those mountains supersede anything to which we’ve ever been exposed? Every people, everywhere has their troubles. Yet, it is the hope of stumbling upon a utopia that keeps us searching.

A comfortable life never brought about many exuberant discoveries. Chris McCandless, though he died in the process, sought to have urgency force sensations and situations upon him. Often, finding that, especially in the U.S. every place and person can shockingly and frighteningly uniform. At the very least, grasping the breadth of the world could remedy our short-sighted tendencies and realize the importance of our place.

A body can feel miniscule and powerless in this world of constants and end up returning to its genesis, never again leaving. Yet, nothing will corrode the soul more than the vampiric draining powers of unanswered questions of hope.