Road Trip: The Heart of the Matter

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    "You can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamn contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbrush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail, you’ll see something, maybe." Edward Abbey

    About every ninety days, give or take a dozen or so, a travel alarm goes off inside of me. At first, it seems like a forgotten memory that I cannot retrieve, then it manifests as restlessness, irritability and a loss of concentration. Before long, I find myself reading the road atlas while sitting on the couch, pretending to watch television but actually calculating mileage between this city or that, imagining the scenery in between.

    That’s what happened when I announced to my wife, Rachel, that I’d like to visit northern Montana, where my uncle and his family moved not long ago. Maps were strewn around the house. Calculators were warmed up and pencils were sharpened. Before long, the car was packed, our dog Ghandi was in his traveling crate facing forward between the two front seats, and our seat belts were fastened.

    Three days later, after having enjoyed the tree-lined neighborhoods near downtown Fargo, N.D., [nicknamed "Gateway to the West" – must be a sister city to St. Louis?!), and a leisurely walk through the spacious Lindley Park in Bozeman, Mont., [nicknamed "the Most Liveable Place"], we arrived in Bigfork [nicknamed "Far from the Common Place"] on Flathead Lake, home to what we learned are the best-tasting cherries in the nation. Unfortunately, the cherries were still on the trees, ripening under the mid-summer heat in the valley.

    What I didn’t know, until just days before departing, was that our excursion to Montana would include a side trip to Canada. Rachel wanted me to see Banff National Park in Alberta. In her younger days, she and her brothers loved to hike the mountain trails during family vacations to the Rockies (Colorado, Montana and Alberta). Unbeknownst to her, my family camped and hiked and picked huckleberries from bushes and garnets from streams in the Idaho wilderness at about the same time.

    Rachel and I, we learned not long after meeting synchronistically during the early days of AOL chat, were both carriers of the explorer gene.

    Goats and gawkers

    Some thoughts along the way. It turns out that visitors to Glacier National Park are no different than everyone else. The species Homo sapiens seems to be hardwired to find pleasure in looking at wildlife – in the wild, or even locked in zoo cages. During a round-trip through Glacier, halfway back through the park, we turned a corner and saw a mom and baby mountain goat on one side of the roadway, and the father mountain goat on the other side. In between, carloads of gawkers strained to take pictures. Progress ground to a halt. A ranger standing nearby tried to keep the traffic flowing. Looking at the scene from a goat’s eye view, it must have been like sitting in the front row of a three-ring circus, watching us in our primal state [climate-controlled air conditioning, six-speaker stereos, DVD players] watching them.

    Traffic also delayed along a stretch of highway near the western boundary of the park. Dozens of cars were pulled over on the shoulder. My wife rolled down the window. "What are we looking at?" she asked.

    "Black bear!" a burly guy replied.

    It was clear that if they saw anything at all, it was a dark glob of shadow way back in the trees. But even that is enough to cause a frenzy.

    Together in our element

    During this trip, even taking into account the flat stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Winnipeg (unless you love the brilliant yellow canola fields!), and Rachel’s on again-off again fever and stomach distress due to food poisoning along the way, I learned something important about why I enjoy being on the road with my wife.

    The heart of the matter is, it’s an opportunity for the two of us to just be together. We don’t even have to talk. Driving along, periodically we will glance over at each other, and smile. When we’re on the road, we encounter a different level of joy. A different way of relating. Words don’t do it justice.

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