Miles traveled today: 448.3
Total miles traveled: 5684.3
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
— Jack Kerouac (On the Road)
Thirteen days after setting out, during which time I traveled through fourteen states, experienced four time zones, and racked up more than 5600 miles, I returned home, pulling into the driveway at almost 1:00 exactly. I opened the front door and was greeted by a very happy cat. I dropped to my knees and immediately began petting her, and marveled over the fact that I was in my very own townhouse again. My very first thought? How big this place is! Which is funny, because it isn’t, but after living in ten different motel rooms over the course of two weeks, the place looked huge. Oddly enough, there was no bed taking up the majority of the space, either. Even though I had the time of my life, and will forever consider this road trip an amazing adventure full of fun and discovery, it is always nice to come back home. You know the saying: be it ever so humble…
My last night on the road did not disappoint. Once the sun set and dusk settled in (10 PM this time of year in this part of the country), I grabbed my camera, hopped in the car, and drove down Vista Avenue in the direction of downtown Boise. I had scoped out Ann Morrison Park, site of the big fireworks extravaganza, earlier but it was closed to vehicles and elbow-to-elbow with people. They were still streaming in as the festivities were beginning. Rather than battle the crowds, I pulled over into a grocery store parking lot and watched the display from there. It was nothing short of spectacular, and I thought to myself, how fitting that the last day of this incredible road trip across America would end with a literal bang.
It was an emotional moment for me. I had seen so much of this great country of ours over the past two weeks, you might say I fell in love with the U.S.A. all over again. I felt a swelling of patriotic pride as the fireworks rumbled and boomed over Boise and silently congratulated myself for accomplishing my dream of traveling across a great swath of America. It was a grand finale in more than one sense of the word.
Once the fireworks ended, I left the parking lot and drove the few miles back to my motel. On the way there, my car’s odometer rolled over to 100,000 miles. Wow! I have never owned a car longer than five years before, and the ol’ Hyundai Santa Fe is now nine years old. She’s been the most reliable and dependable car ever, and even though she struggled a bit in Wyoming, she found her mojo again today on the last leg of the trip and will, hopefully, continue to perform well for a while. As a reward for carrying me more than 5000 miles, I’m giving her a few days off this week. She has earned it.
When I got back to my room, I was excited because I knew after unwinding it was time for bed, and when I woke up, I would begin the final portion of my trip. I was more than ready to come home by then! My alarm was set for 6:00, but I woke up a little before that and got up. Took my last motel shower for awhile, packed up my stuff, checked out, and hit the road. While my drive through Idaho the day before was surprising because I’d been expecting trees but found desert, my drive through Oregon today was equally surprising because I’d been expecting desert but found trees. Ha…so much for my knowledge of geography! Seriously, everybody knows that Oregon (and Washington) are like two separate states: there is the wet side west of the Cascades (home!), and the dry side east of the Cascades. But I had never actually been to eastern Oregon before, and did not realize I’d cross two mountain ranges – the Wallowa and the Blue – before settling into the arid, flat portion. My drive was beautiful, all snow-capped peaks and forested hillsides and streams. I stopped at a rest area outside Baker City, and the air was actually chilly! I’ve been so used to opening my car door and being greeted by a blast of hot air, this was both a shock and a welcome relief. Alas, the landscape did change for the worse, but then it changed for the better again as I drove through the Dalles and entered the Columbia River Gorge. I was thrilled to see familiar sights again, and marveled anew over the lush, green beauty of this place I call home. And while I loved the thunderstorms I encountered on my trip, and miss the fireflies, and wish it would snow more than it does, I can say with certainty after my travels that I am living in the greatest place in the country. For me, at least. The Portland metropolitan area is, and always will be, my true home.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on my trip during the last few days of driving. Was it everything I’d hoped it would be when I first set out during what feels like a lifetime ago? The answer is an unequivocal yes. I had a fantastic time! Every day was an adventure, and the journey truly was just as much fun as the destination. The trip opened my eyes to different parts of the country, and allowed me to experience how others live across this great land of ours. The great plains and the midwest are so incredibly different than the Pacific northwest, and yet, charming and unique in their own way. I’d been feeling pretty insulated here in my little corner of America, and now I feel like the world is a much bigger place, wide open and full of possibility. I saw that firsthand. It was almost like I got to experience a different culture – one in which Sinclair gasoline stations and White Castle hamburger joints and row after row of cornfields dot the landscape; where the weather is often dramatic and intense; and the people – no matter how different their lives may be – are, at heart, really the same as me.
I realized, as well, the truth behind the saying “life goes on.” 25 years after leaving Rapid City, and 31 years after bidding farewell to Dayton, both places had changed some…but they also stayed remarkably the same. I found my childhood home, wearing new colors and sheltering a different family, but still standing, exactly where I had left it decades ago. Same goes for my elementary school and my high school. Growing up an Air Force brat is a transitory existence; everything seems fleeting and temporary. Retracing my footsteps was comforting in an odd sort of way I can’t really describe. It showed me there is permanence in the world, after all. My memories are more than just memories: they’re part of a bigger, ongoing reality. It was a fantastic experience to see these places again.
Best of all, I no longer feel like my life is boring or empty. I’ve seen a lot, and yet, I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s a lot to see and do still, and while my wanderlust has been cured for now, I have no doubt there are future adventures just waiting for me to discover them.
But for now, I’m going to relax.