Julia and I are often asked what this experience is like – traveling around the country in our motorhome with our two dogs, doing the work we love, writing and photographing. I first caught the bug of motorhome travel nearly twenty years ago, when I toured the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming, including Yellowstone, in a twenty-eight footer. If you have the moving gene but are not entirely vagabond, it is a joyful union of two kinds of life. You wander wherever you wish, always stirred and invigorated by the natural and the new, yet you’re always home. You sleep in the same bed every night, retain all the conveniences of home, and you can have your “stuff” around you. It is a limited amount of stuff, but you can take everything essential, including the most sophisticated communications and office equipment, and you learn, as a consequence, how little stuff you really need. We left 98% behind. I miss none of it.
You can also pick up and move on whenever you like. In a few hours you pack up, unhook, and disconnect. The disconnection would be the challenge for those who need to feel always rooted in place, in community, in relationships. Instead you float over the earth. Through the panoramic window of, say, a thirty-seven footer now, the world spreads out before you, changing by the moment, offering the constant vista of the new.
And you drive. You test your skills. In ’91 it was winding up through South Dakota’s Black Hills to Mount Rushmore. It was ascending the 10,300 feet of Montana’s Red Lodge Mountain switchbacks at sunset, and white-knuckling them down in the dark. Two days ago it was driving from Albuquerque to Gallup in 30 mile an hour winds with 50 MPH gusts and passing outside of Gallup another motorhome gone over the edge and on its side. Cranked the music up real loud and held on tight.
Travel – extended travel – changes your relation to the world and your life. The flow that fixed walls and property lines and routine seek to shut out washes over you and you feel a part of it. You feel it in you and around you, and you know you will wash away in it, to some kind of mouth, through some kind of delta, into a new geography where everything is altered. The world, you sense, in every moment, is vast, and the multitudes you pass among great, and so maybe, as Julia did in India back in 1993 – and so unlike those Wall Street “masters of the universe” who looked down from what they thought great heights on so reduced a prospect – you begin to feel like that “speck on the surface of the sad red earth.”
There is a tension in all we do between the large and the small. Traveling, you may begin to see the line, and the tautness in it, that tugs between them. Here is Ted Kooser, Julia’s fellow Nebraskan, one-time U.S. Poet Laureate, and, by the way, in his pre-retired, salaried life, an insurance man, about a different kind of travel:
FLYING AT NIGHT
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.