We emerged from the train station onto a busy Chicago Street, the sky scrapers looming overhead and the clouds threatening rain. People were dashing home from work along the narrow pavements, holding coffee-on-the-go and trying to cheat the pedestrian crossings. The architecture was incredible and there was a buzz to the place. That’s the thing about a city – it’s alive, exciting, inspiring.
But our minds were elsewhere. We were headed off down Route 66 the next day – the open road, full of hope and promise, and not a hint of hurry. And that’s the thing about the road. Freedom! No reminders of the life you’ve left behind you, only the unknown ahead. What will we see? Who will we meet? As Jack Kerouac said in his road-tripping masterpiece, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me. As is ever so on the road.” The possibilities stretched out ahead of us as far as the road itself, and we were filled with anticipation – our only direction, ‘West’.
There really is nothing quite like a road trip in the USA. And Route 66 offers the epitome of freedom – leaving the Interstate behind where your journey is dictated to by mileage signs and junction numbers – it’s just us, the car and mile upon mile of empty space, long ribbons of tarmac cutting the landscape into two and threading around the mountains. Every now and then, the road offers up some light refreshment in the form of a small town with great people, or a welcome café where you can rest and gather your thoughts (and ingest some much needed caffeine of course). Service is slow but friendly – there’s nothing to rush for. Stop, rest awhile, reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going next. It is so liberating.
At times on the road, you’re almost on autopilot. The path is so straight, the surroundings so uniform – and then suddenly a gorge, a huge lake, a quirky roadside attraction stirs up your imagination and you stop off, spontaneously. Because you can. Because you’re free. There’s no schedule, there are no ties.
When you stop, you can fully engage in the beauty of a place, immerse yourself in the history, meet people you have never met before and will never see again. You are at complete liberty to be who you really are. No one to impress, no one to seek approval from. You’re fully present because there’s no pressure to think about that next meeting, or the expectations of your boss. And that allows others to be fully present too. It’s amazing how open people are when they realise you’re not in a hurry. You’re free to hear their story and they are free to tell it. And when you’re ready to move on, get back on the road – you can – no sadness or feelings of loss or obligation. There will be more gorges and lakes and roadside attractions. There will be more people with their stories to tell, more opportunities to be inspired and heartened by the lives of those so distant from your own.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” How true that is. Our ultimate aim was Santa Monica Pier, the official end of Route 66. We stood on the end of the board walk looking out over the Pacific Ocean as the sun set, satisfied that we had reached our goal. Over two thousand miles of the Mother Road lay behind us, and whilst this moment was so precious – the colours in the sky, the smell of the ocean, the incredible sense of completion – it was the journey that had changed us. We were a little wiser, a little more aware of the small yet significant part we play in the world, a little more in tune with the people that we were. A little more free.
About the Author:
I’m a Brit who loves travelling in the US taking photographs and writing stories as I go. I have a passion for adventure, and have had the privilege of travelling thousands of miles across the USA. My goal is to one day visit every single State – 12 down, 38 to go!
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