|I recently traveled from my current home in Raleigh back to the beautiful countryside of upstate NY to visit my family. It was just a weekend trip, planned somewhat spontaneously to surprise my parents and siblings since I will not be seeing them at Thanksgiving this year.|
Naturally, my friends assumed I would be flying. In fact, several of them said, “You’re flying, I assume.” Most were shocked to find that I was not flying, but driving. My assurances to them that, “It’s only 11 hours, and it’ll be a nice trip” were met with the same closed-eyed, disapproving head shake that you might receive if you told them, “Well, no, I didn’t actually see his badge, but he said it was an emergency and he’d bring my car right back.” They might just as well have told me I was crazy. In fact, several did.
Now, there are plenty of reasons to drive rather than to fly. For starters, there’s the whole terrorist thing, and the delays, hassles and grief caused by increased security. Regardless of the length of the flight, you generally end up spending most of the day travelling, and on someone else’s schedule. There’s also the cost. Even with a little planning, round trip tickets for my travelling companion and I were going to cost nearly $400. Compare that to $150 in gas and an oil change. Kinda makes the road more appealing, eh?
But these are not the reasons for my choosing to drive. I’ve traveled pretty extensively by plane, and am very comfortable doing it. The problem with traveling by air is that it has the very subtle effect of removing you from the world, not just for the brief time that you’re in the sky, but long afterwards. It takes you away from one place, and plops you down in another without any context.
Think about it. You stand around in a big building for a couple of hours, then get in a big metal tube. It moves and shakes. You get out of the tube and find yourself in a different big building, in a different city, presumably the place you wanted to go. You spend time in this place, perhaps meeting new people and seeing new things, then you get back in the tube and go home. Where was this place? What separates you from the inhabitants there, other than a few hours? Better yet, what connects you?
Pick a place. How about New York City? Have you flown in, maybe for a night or a weekend, and experienced the overwhelming presence of the city that never sleeps? Even if you haven’t, you probably feel like you know a lot about it. Since September 11th, 2001, the entire world knows about New York City. Everyone recognizes the Twin Towers, the Brooklyn Bridge and the emblem of the NYC Fire Department. And yet amazingly, 51% of young Americans questioned could not find New York State on a map. The city, and the events that took place there, are an entity outside of the context of your familiar corner of the world, and so we can’t help but feel a bit distanced from them.
Ah, but drive, and things take on a whole new perspective. You’ll find that New York City is just a small piece of a state that expands out between New Jersey and Connecticut to include sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, and sparkling lakes that shimmer in the basins of tree-covered valleys left behind by the glaciers that crawled across the state eons ago.
Another example? Take The Grand Canyon. Chances are you’ve seen pictures of it. You might know where it is. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ve actually been there. If not, believe me – it is GRAND. Despite what you may have seen in pictures or films, seeing it in person is a truly awe-inspiring experience. But do you want to double, may even triple that awe? Drive up to The Canyon from Phoenix. You’ll see the flat desert landscape slowly change, and the cactus gradually replaced by scrub brush. As you gradually gain altitude you’ll find rock outcroppings and small pines. Stop to splash your feet in the icy cold waters by the falls in Oak Creek Canyon, or wander through the ruins at Tuzigoot or Montezuma’s Castle National Monuments, and you’ll find vivid reminders of the history of this place and these people. Leaving Flagstaff, the landscape will stretch out before you, making it difficult to tell where the land ends and the sky begins. And when the ground falls away before you at your first view of the Canyon, I guarantee it will take your breath away.
But none of this can be had from the climate-controlled comfort of your airplane seat. Air travel allows us to visit places, but we experience them in isolation. They become like push-pins in a map, or a box of colorful postcards. Take the map away and you have a collection of points, seemingly unrelated. Dump the box and you have a scattering of pretty pictures. You lose the connection between these places; the things that tie them all together.
Cherish the map. Paste the postcards in a journal and tell a larger story. Get in your car, choose your destination and immerse yourself in the journey. Experience the millions of subtle details that connect the moments, and the miles.
Celebrate the space between.