One of my favorite writers admonishes me, through his writings, to look for the simple things in life when wishing to acquire satisfaction. My recent travels to the desert of Southern California didn’t do much to extend my satisfaction with living. Whoever I was before I left, that same person came along with me, and I brought him home with me as well. My wandering instinct, however, continues to thrive. I’m already planning my next camping trip into the Idaho Rockies. I once thought that I might become something new by going somewhere, like the Spanish explorer who sailed across the Atlantic, hoping to acquire eternal youth.
When I was younger and traveling, I looked for something different than what I look for now. In my teen years, the town I was growing up in was undergoing frantic development. The farms and orchards around me, where I had picked fruit and worked summers in the downtown canneries, were replaced with massive building projects. The old hard-working farm families I grew up with were making outstanding fortunes by simply walking away from their land, turning their heads as the trees and the barns came tumbling down. I felt compelled to go look for a new life in an environment less threatened by the urbanization monster. I thought that the goal of development was to cover the entire earth in asphalt and concrete, and stack buildings tall enough to blot out views of the mountains. Maybe I’m right. Where I wanted to find a simple life and be close to the earth didn’t seem close enough for me, so that my travels were based more upon fear and fright. Just get me away and in some safe place from this maddening pace of life called progress.
My wife and I would spend much spare time in our VW bus scouting out the back country of northern California, and then on up into Oregon when we had extra time. Youth of the 1960s and 1970s had front-row seats in the massive conversion from countryside to city, a 3,000 mile, coast-to-coast, strip mall, hacked from out of the heartlands. Many of the people I knew wanted to escape to a safe and peaceful place as well. The problem was, of course, that all the pretty places that weren’t in the path of development, had no jobs. I learned after much driving, exploring, and thinking, that I would starve to death if I were to try to settle in one of the remote little farm towns where a life of simplicity and purity seemed available. I didn’t have the working skills or the money required to make such a break from city living.
Even then, I still enjoyed wandering and admiring rural scenery. I learned to look and appreciate, rather than fantasize. It took me awhile to understand how difficult it might be to raise a little family and live a humble life where one is close to the earth and can trade modern convenience for time-tested authenticity. Moving the distance of a one-hour commute into the Santa Cruz Mountains became the workable solution for me. That move is not so readily available for the young people of today, especially in California. The property has become too expensive for most young families, and the commute times have increased drastically because of so much gummy traffic. I feel awfully lucky to have been able to pick and choose a lifestyle at a time and place in history when life was abundant with choice.
Driving to the desert this past three weeks and watching a home and dogs for friends was not, in my mind, travel, but the performing of a favor. Now I plan my real travel, a road trip with truck and camper, before this month is done. I look forward to the trip, some 2500 miles of driving, with the eagerness I had when young and looking for a flight pattern away from civilization. Now that I am retired I feel no need to flee from anything, so am planning the trip with the idea of simply enjoying the sights and wonders of the wild, grabbing a small snatch of the life I looked for and never quite found in my younger days.
In the same way that I feel lucky enough to have made a choice and found an agreeable life years ago by living within an hour commute of the urban or suburban life, a similar sense comes to me about being able to take a truck and camper trip to the Idaho Rockies in the middle of the summer. I’ve learned from other road trips in the past few years that most people don’t do this sort of thing. Some I suppose are stuck in their homes and lives and don’t have the freedom to go and explore the remote, unspoiled and pretty places in America, while others simply have no desire to go see.
As cities continue to grow and spread and bedroom communities adjacent to the cities awaken, put on their slippers, and come to life, finding those pretty and remote places becomes more of an effort. I find that if I want to spontaneously go summertime camping in the Sierra Nevadas some 200 miles east of here, where there are large state and national parks and forests, the trip will often become quite exasperating because it is within a one-day drive of this massive and swelling population of northern California. No, to get away and really feel like I’m away from it all, requires a solid two days of driving. But then I have to ask myself whether the purpose of my trip is that same old sense of fleeing from the city that I felt when young, or am I truly making a long trip to enjoy and commune with unadulterated nature?