Here and There

A Honda Element parked in the desert
What truths lie out there, on the road and off?

We were eating breakfast at a bakery this weekend when a plus-sized, gleaming, silver Mercedes Sprinter camper—a creation that resided somewhere on the vehicular spectrum between van and RV—glided past.

“Check out the road-trip mobile,” I said to my wife, impressed. The aproned girl busing the table next to us looked wistfully out through the plate-glass façade and said, “I want one so bad.”

As I climber, I sort of wanted one, too. Or something like it, at least—something that would let me roll to destinations unknown and leave my life and responsibilities behind, all the while taking a little bubble of comfort and familiarity with me.

It turns out this is a common desire, as evidenced by the nearly 84,000 Instagram images tagged #vanlife; blogs about folks who gave up the office for the road, like Our Open Road and Desk to Dirtbag; the Overlandia series on Adventure Journal; Kickstarters like Home is Where You Park It; and numerous articles in Outside Magazine and other publications.

Stickers circulate: “Work Less. Climb More” and “Quit Your Job.” We want to listen to them. They are a siren call. Companies and magazines tap into this thirst for new vistas with hashtags like #neverstopexploring (The North Face) or #daysyouremember (Mountain Hardwear). I can only take that to mean that days spent in less adventurous ways—working in an office, reading a book, tending to chores—are days we won’t remember. I see this as a missed opportunity. We should (must!) strive to make something of our too-small allotment of moments in this life, no matter where they transpire.

The question is, what do we hope to find on our travels? Do we truly believe there is some answer hidden like a geocache in far-flung spots? How many of us in our Ultimate Road Trip Mobiles are driving away from, instead of towards, something? How much more challenging is it to appreciate the inexhaustible newness of the world amidst a routine? I suggest that what really makes the adventure, on the road or off, isn’t what happens to us, but how we experience what happens. A beautiful sunset over strange lands is good medicine, sure, but it’s no panacea. To put it another way, there’s probably nothing wrong with where you are, just with your perspective.

The great poet and Zen practitioner Gary Snyder considered the idea of exploration, both externally and internally, in his essay On the Path, Off the Trail. In it, he offers a seldom-heard wisdom: “Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick—don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits.”

On July 20, 1969, the day of the Apollo II moon landing, the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki spoke to a group of students in California. “The first one to arrive on the moon may be very proud of his achievement, but I do not think he is a great hero,” he said, likely in an attempt to jar his pupils from their attachment to goal chasing, patriotism, and pride. “Instead of seeking for some success in the objective world, we try to experience the everyday moments of life more deeply.”

As Robert M. Pirsig wrote in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.” Then again, sometimes we have to drive 20 miles on a rutted-out dirt road, cross a stream that almost stalls the engine, park, and walk half a day to climb up a big piece of rock to find the Zen we already had inside us.

So you can take that for whatever it’s worth.

Published by

Justin Roth

A busy mind that aspires to be still.

8 thoughts on “Here and There”

  1. Traveling around in the WeighMyRack travel trailer (our 104sq ft home) lots of folks stare in awe and tell us we’re living the dream. Often they assume that we don’t work and are just on a big road trip. In reality, we work more hours than at our old corporate jobs…for far less money.

    The sunsets are definitely a big plus, and choosing to climb in the morning and work in the evening is most certainly rad. But perhaps the most important part of living on the road has been: the constant reminder to slow down. To actually enjoy what our surroundings have to offer. That has always been biggest challenge of the 9-5 for us, the gogogo push, and inability to escape all the forced momentum and over-rated deadlines; it’s all too easy to skip the fantastic moments each day presents.

    Evading the fast-paced culture is definitely what keeps us motivated to stay on the road as long as possible.

    1. “The most important part of living on the road has been: the constant reminder to slow down”

      Love this!

      Great point :)

    1. Ah yes, a great book! Brendan Leonard is a buddy of mine and he sent me a copy upon its release. Have been reading it on and off and am loving the perspective. Thanks for sharing; I’ll tell Brendan you liked it :)

  2. You raise some really important points here, Justin. I think so many of us fall into the sort of daydream, or “If Only” trap… By which I mean we often tell ourselves something like if only I made $xx,xxx dollars more, I’d be happy. Or just “I wish (or can’t wait) until I quite my job and can travel around the world/country…” Then I’ll be happy!

    Reality is we tend to be remain the same or maintain the same sort of thoughts/dreams/if only’s even when we attain what it was that we previously thought we wanted. It might make you momentarily happier, but in the long run you are probably the same.

    It’s a whole other ball game to really be present, content, happy, and maximizing what you get out of every day. I think Alison raises a great point as well, if anything, getting away from the corporate, rat-race lifestyle, it allows you to step back, slow down, look around and maybe hopefully appreciate more.

    It’s one of the things I love most about camping. It’s so simple. You’re happy at the end of the day to be dry, warm, have a hot meal, and maybe just sit by a campfire.

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