This past Christmas, we left our RV in Pahrump, Nevada and flew back to Delaware to spend time with family and friends.
[Many thanks to my brother and his wife, and Ed and Linda Aiken who graciously housed us during our stay!]
During our time in the cold, grey "Diamond" state, we went to lunch with my brother-in-law. After talking about all the events that had transpired over the past year, he asked us something which gave Lorraine and I a moment of pause. He questioned:
"How has traveling changed you?"
This is something we've never been asked, nor even contemplated, before.
How has twenty-four months of a bohemian lifestyle, with the experiences it has afforded, changed us on a personal level?
I found myself unable to formulate a clear and concise answer. For the next few weeks, my mind pulled at this question like a taffy-maker pulling at his malleable confectioneries .
One thing I can say with certainty, we aren't the same people as when we left. We have adapted, grown, felt, marveled, breathed, hiked, read, learned, mourned, gazed, laughed, heard, met, as never before. An overwhelming majority of our experiences have been good, and that has been wonderful, a few have been painful, and from those we have grown.
After much contemplation and deliberation, I think I have distilled two years worth of new experiences into seven personal proverbs.
Change removes rust
Accumulating less has allowed us to enjoy life more.
Appreciate every experience.
Try to limit our "no's".
"Caution is the father of security".
The truth doesn't sell.
Everyone has a story.
1) Removed the rust: Traveling has flooded our mind with new experiences. It has stretched us, challenged us, and rewarded us in ways we never expected. It has created new pathways in our brains. Given us new perspectives. And, hopefully, kept our grey matter from completely crusting over.
I was starting to feel very complacent in the lifestyle in which I was living. But I knew, I didn't want to spend the latter part of my life the same way I had spent the former.. trapped behind the four walls of Delaware. Traveling has refreshed our view on life, politics, religion, people, America etc.. It has allowed us to see life (ours and others) through a different lens.
I suppose, one of the greatest things I've learned is this: change can be painful; it can also be good (and sometimes, great). But it is always necessary for personal growth.
2) Accumulation of "stuff": Accumulating goods in and of itself is not bad. Did we love our former 3,600 sq foot home? Oh yes, we did. But we've come to realize that each and every possession came not only with a financial price tag but a hidden one as well: a price tag on our time. Every room needed to be painted and later, repainted. Then comes the furnishings and trinkets. And even though they may be pretty, every belonging needs dusting, polishing, re-positioning, and maintenance. And like the old Dunkin' Donuts commercial, just when you finish everything, it's time to do it all again!
More goods = less personal time.
3) Appreciate every experience: Some days, like a visit to the Grand Canyon, its easy to find things to appreciate, but other days it takes some digging.
For example, a few months back, we pulled into a small, depressed town in Colorado named Limon. It has a population of less than 2,000 people. Founded in 1909 as a railroad stop, prosperity had waved good bye to this hamlet decades earlier.
Our initial impression was to pull out as soon as we pulled in! But, reminding ourselves that we are on this journey for the "experiences" --whether good or bad-- we dropped anchor and began exploring. We strolled the streets (at least the ones that looked safe), visited the local diner (a converted rail car), toured the town's museum, and went to their Friday-night cook out. Long story short, hidden beneath its crumbling, rusty facade was a town with its own unique history..
..and filled with many warm and friendly people.
Here we are at the local diner where everybody knew everybody.
Among the people we met during our five days stay was a 95 year old WWII vet, a waitress who's niece was engaged to a Delaware fireman (we couldn't make a connection), and someone who invited us out to visit their 25,000 acre cattle ranch!
The more we familiarized ourselves with this town the more we came to find many things to appreciate. And this appreciation is what fuels our fire and makes us say, "I wonder what surprises the next town will bring!"
4) Try to limit our "No's": Within reason, of course. I am talking about the smaller (safer) opportunities that cross our paths. A dusty unpaved road that begs to be explored, stopping for a drink at a seedy bar that oozes history, inviting random neighbors to share our campfire or visiting small out of the way wacky museums, has never disappointed.
Many of our most enjoyable experiences have begun with the words, "I wonder where this road leads?"
For instance, a while back, we were driving to Traverse City, Michigan when we spotted a field of dazzling, golden sunflowers in the distance.
We pulled off the highway and drove down a series of deserted farm roads until we found it. It was a beautiful sight. Acre after acre of bright, cheery flowers.
After taking about 100 pictures, we climbed into the truck and headed back towards the highway. For some unknown reason, at one intersection, one of us said..
.."let's see what's down this road", so off we drove.
After bumping along for about four miles, we stumbled upon a large regional equestrian festival!
We spent a memorable afternoon watching talented adults, adolescents, and children competing in various equestrian events!
And it all began with a turn of the steering wheel!
5) Slow and Steady: This one may seem pretty obvious but sometimes "slow really is fast".
We've come to appreciate the value of moving slowly when dealing with important things: regular pro-active maintenance checks of the RV [thank you Vivian for all your helpful tips!], methodically following a pre-travel routine, driving about ten miles per hour under the speed limit while towing, and, during set-up and tear-down, checking and double checking each other's work (without taking offense). By not rushing through these important items we've managed to have a relatively headache free journey.
Our aim is to avoid disasters like the one below..
Btw, if you're planning on RVing, we highly recommend the Rand McNally Motor Carriers' Road Atlas.
It clearly marks all the roads that can accommodate a 13'6" tall "big rig", and we never divert from the orange lines.
This $20 paper atlas has been so valuable to us that we ended up selling our $400 electronic "trucker's GPS"!
6) Sensationalism Sells:
When I embarked on this journey, I expected to find the country filled with angry, xenophobic, racist, horn-blowing, banjo-playing, rabid extremists. What we've found has been a sharp (and refreshing) contrast. We have found most everyone to be incredibly peaceful, open-minded, kind and friendly.
After contemplating this contrast, I've come to the conclusion that I had let television distort my view of America.
This seems especially true with our news channels that interview those who scream the loudest or who commit the most brutal acts. The extremists. I suppose that's because news channels (liberal and conservative, alike), are a business, and they are in business --not to purely dispense truth-- but to make a profit. And truth, which isn't always exciting, doesn't sell; sensationalism does. Those networks that "TMZ-it" up the most, attract the most eye-balls and hence, generate the greatest profits. And, they all want to come out on top.
I can share from a personal experience we had in Detroit, MI. While walking around the city on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we saw a group of people congregating in the distance. As we got closer we saw that they were bitterly protesting President Trump's border policies with Mexico. I had seen many of these protests on the nightly news, but had never encountered one in person. We hung around for awhile talking to some of the protestors and listening to a few of the speakers.
It left an indelible impression on me. If people 1,600 miles from the Mexican border were this upset what were we going to encounter as we headed further south?
Over the next few months our travels took us along a 850 mile path from Corpus Christi, Texas to El Paso, New Mexico.
At times we passed so close to the border that our cell phones connected to a Mexican provider!
As is our wont, whenever we stopped we would strike up conversations with shop keepers, baristas, bar patrons, locals, waitresses and waiters etc..
Sooner or later, someone would bring up the issue of the border. Being so close to the epicenter, where many people had family members on both sides of the border, I expected a wave of fierce partisanship as seen so many times on television..
Much to our surprise, most people just threw up their shoulders and said, "something needs to be done". No screaming. No yelling. No demonstrations. Just pleasant conversation over a cold drink. Responses not exciting enough to attract the press.
Not that my hands are totally clean on this matter, but it seems like those furthest from the issue, scream the loudest and that seems to attract the greatest press coverage.
So what have we learned? Listen more, yell less.
Here's an interesting side story, at one stop in Sanderson, Texas (about 15 miles from the border) we struck up a conversation with a shop owner.
He had grown up here and when he was a child, migrants would frequently stop at his house to ask for a drink of water. It was customary for locals to offer assistance when requested. But over the past few decades they've seen a change in the type of people crossing the border (those not using an official entry point). A majority are now involved with the drug trade and cross with criminal intentions. And, he said, his beloved hometown has become more dangerous because of it.
To punctuate his statement, he directed us to stop in at the local diner. And this is what we found:
All the waitstaff are packing and trained in firearm usage! I'm not sure if it's just a gimmick or truly because of self preservation, but we left a very good tip!
7) Everyone has a story: And we love to hear them. This is why we love campfires, it's why we love coffee shops, it's why we love watering holes, we love places where people hang out. Places where people feel free to open up and share. It's where we meet America. And what have we found?
A mother who had located the daughter she gave up for adoption forty years ago through Facebook (her daughter was living in Delaware, of all places):
An elderly gentleman who, as a teenager in 1956, bid farewell to his parents then escaped into West Germany from East Germany; never to see his family again.
Carnies! Carnival workers with stories of mayhem (probably all made up) that I can't publish!
A member of the Suquamish Indian tribe of Washington State.
The mayor of Greenville, Mississippi.
People who bravely quit their full-time jobs to pursue their passion for cooking.
Two young women we met in Florida who lived in lower Delaware and were also traveling the country in an old RV.
A woman who's 9x Great Grandmother was Mary Towne Easty, a defendant in the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts who was executed by hanging in 1692!
And a woman who has a goal of walking across all 48 lower states while praying for America.
These are just a few of the many interesting and fascinating people we have met. This has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding aspects of our trip and has left us with new friends and new memories that will comfort us long after we've left the road.
In conclusion, if you've followed my blog for any period of time, you've seen pictures from the many sights we've visited. And one thing I've learned is that pictures and words can never fully embrace the true aesthetics of what we've seen. To actually hike on the deep-red rocks of Sedona, scan the depths of the Grand Canyon, touch the flowing sand walls of Antelope Canyon, walk upon the sparkling white sands of Alamogordo, NM, gaze upon the chiseled features of Mt. Rushmore, run from a roaming herd of buffalo in Yellowstone NP, and to look down at the world from Pikes Peak, Colorado are truly indescribable experiences. America is remarkably beautiful and so are her people.
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
--Hans Christian Andersen