The recent purchase of our “Egg” travel trailer got me thinking about road trips and what drives our wanderlust. I realize that my travel adventures have been fueled mainly through books I’ve read–starting way back with some of my favorite picture books. One was called Sylvester: The Mouse with the Musical Ear, about a mouse who lived in a guitar and traveled the countryside with a wandering cowboy.
Even more than Sylvester’s travels, I loved the idea of living in that wooden guitar. The temporary homes we create while in transit can be so satisfying, sometimes almost as much as the journey. Even though I thought I was done feathering my nest now that my children are off in college, nothing pleases me more than the idea of creating a new, cozy space. I think it all goes back to the days of making forts out of chairs and blankets, coveting the neighbor girls’ playhouse or picking out posters and a bedspread for my first dorm room. Nesting? A return to the womb? Who knows why, but I think it’s intriguing that that primal, domestic drive often accompanies the urge to be on the move.
I remember the surge of delight and envy when I read how the Boxcar children made curtains for their new home (an abandoned boxcar in the woods) and filled a glass jelly jar with wildflowers. I loved the thrill that they had run away from home, but equally revelled in their new digs. I’m still seeking that balance between hanging out in nature and enjoying a comfortable shelter at the same time. If you read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Lewis Stevenson as a kid, do you remember the poem “My Bed is a Boat?” It’s hard to tell if childhood books created the wanderlust impulse or simply tapped into it.
Although some of us yearn for cozy, fort-like spaces well into adulthood, it’s hard to justify while padding around a spacious, 4-bedroom house. Guess we have to hit the pavement to hide the fact that we sometimes prefer cramped quarters.
During most of my pre-family road trips, I was usually running away from something, and at times felt sad, lonely or scared. And looking back, it was for good reason. But at the time, I also loved bumping through the sweltering Mexican desert in our rusty VW van, or sitting in the giant door of an open boxcar rattling through the sunflower fields of Montana, or even zoning out the Greyhound bus window on the 30-hour ride home after getting fired from my summer camp job (for no good reason, I might add). These were the peak adventures of my reckless teens and early 20s. Trips since then are better described as “travel”–planned, relatively safe and with loved ones.
Books like Zen, Blue Highways, On the Road and The People’s Guide to Mexico gave me the courage to strike out on trips that didn’t always have any set destination. I remember repeating the mantra of The People’s Guide at times I was homesick or anxious while bombing around Mexico for a year: “Wherever you go…there you are.” I was a free spirit because my spirit was free of fear. When did that change?
I recently read my current favorite road trip book, one I don’t know why it took me so long to find. Maybe I thought Steinbeck would be on the dull and downer side, like Grapes of Wrath. Or on the other extreme, and Steinbeck lite, and not worth my time. No, in fact the writing is outstanding. There are lines in the book that you want to memorize and quote. And it’s so dang funny. Steinbeck also meticulously chronicles plotting his trip and assembling his ideal travel vehicle. All sheer pleasure. Any traveler knows that one of the best parts of a good trip is the anticipation.
So far, I am finding a similar thrill in starting to renovate our little camper. So far, new cushions are done, windows and lights have been ordered, and we’ve started on making our own cabinets. (I wish I were as excited about sewing curtains as I thought I would be.) The goal is to get the inside livable, and take it out by March to one of our local campgrounds. If all goes well, we can start dreaming about more ambitious trips. I need to keep working on my sense of adventure–it pretty much vanished after having kids. Now I’m a terrible backseat driver in the front seat, and steer clear of bumpy rides. Is it possible to recall a missing free spirit? Maybe I just need to find the right book. Don Quixote?