In my final post on the Road Trip of Passage, some perspective:
13,500 miles driven—From New York to San Francisco, 5 times.
35 states—in my entire life, I’ve been to 38.
Three countries—I’m counting that half hour in Canada.
105 days of travel—fifty five alone, sixty with a group or my family and friends.
41,000 words—the equivalent of a 150 page book.
50 state license plates—I found Hawaii!
How is what I did any different from an extended vacation? With just a few words before this project comes to an end, I’ll try and identify what I learned in my travels.
I set out on May 21st with the phrase in mind: “I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” It is a line from the Great Gatsby, and one that seemed to perfectly explain what I hoped to do.
When I left Richmond, I was unhappy. I wanted to change a lot about myself, but feared that if I stayed in the comfortable environment that Richmond provided, I never would. Life would need to begin again so that I could remake myself, as it does for plants in the spring, so it would for me in the summer.
My list of initial goals were hard to specify:
- Become more confident, outgoing, and charismatic
- Become stronger, physically and mentally
- Become better at making friends
- Become more self reliant
- Learn to seek happiness from life on my own terms
- Test my resourcefulness
Itself (in my opinion) a worthy pursuit, but the concept of the Road Trip was a selfish one. Leave your friends, family, and loved ones behind then have them worry for three months. Having gotten the contract with USA Today College to write, I had to figure out what it was I could write that might actually help somebody. I ran across a quote: “Once you have hitchhiked across Africa with 10 bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn’t seem too intimidating.” Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix who took a grudge against Blockbuster late fees to the extreme, said this.
Thus, the trip was to be an adventure of the spirit, a test of the body and mind, and a building block for my future, whatever it might hold. Other college age students who had a lust for adventure but didn’t want to fall behind their friends with internships would hopefully be persuaded that a solo trip could be as potent as working in an office in terms of self development—and therefore, in Reed Hasting’s opinion, professional development as well.
In the end, ideally I’d learn to find happiness even when times were hard, become self reliant enough to be able to do whatever it is I set my heart on, and truly become the man I wanted to be—one who can talk to anyone, of any type, anywhere and be at ease.
The question is, did I succeed? And if I did, will it last when I re-enter a familiar situation?
I’ve come up with several ways to answer this, so I’ll try all of them.
In the first method, the Road Trip can be divided into four parts:
The Father-Son trip
Each had a different focus and taught me different lessons.
In the South, I got the hang of sleeping in my car and living alone. These days were the hardest ones, because I had to fight the urge to lean on the people I loved at home. It was just as exciting though, to finally be out on my own. After fifteen days, I was exhausted. Three pieces stand out to me in retrospect: a deeper understanding of my southern heritage and the racial stigma that accompanies it, an expansion of my journalism skills while covering the Country Music Festival, and the first of the two moments of social butterflying I had during the summer. It was I think the most cerebral of the four parts, and I spent a lot of time thinking about values.
Out West, my perilous adventures in Glacier and on the Canadian border built a measure of self reliant behavior I had never really witnessed in myself before. That, paired with a trip to meet the aunt and uncle of a friend in Wyoming who lived almost entirely self sufficiently, gave me an example I couldn’t forget. It was in Wyoming too, that I first heard the words “Let Life Happen” which added a spiritual aspect to my trip and pushed me to go further and try as many different things as I could.
In Peru, my time was divided between the turbine project and my solo backpacking. By in large I was unable, after a month and a half alone, to work with the same people everyday so I struggled socially. My time in the workshop however, did force me to overcome my weakness in technical and manual tasks, and taught me that instead of shrugging when things broke, I could actually fix them. On my own I discovered that the world has roles for people I had never imagined, and that the life I had been living at College was one of many I could pick from. Socially I alternated between gregarious and reclusive.
During my drive with my dad, I learned much more about where I came from. We visited three relatives I had rarely seen, and got to know sides of my family I never knew existed. Spending seventy-five hours in the car with my Dad also supplied ample time to talk. It also cemented the tough decision I have ahead.
The second way of figuring out what I’ve learned is a list I made sitting in the airport waiting to come home from Peru, with some additions:
The Road Trip of Passage…
…Opened my eyes to the possibility of what’s possible, the options available in life.
…Taught me to accept my values, even if the society at large does not.
…Improved my writing, reading, thinking, and talking skills, and arguably made me wiser.
…Taught me how to survive on my alone, mentally and physically.
…Gave me the courage to do things differently.
…Helped me grow less shy, and more open, even with strangers.
…Taught me about where I came from.
…Inspired a possible career (journalism.)
…Showed me places in the world with secrets undiscovered and adventures left to have.
…Taught me how to use my hands.
So arguably, I accomplished a lot of my goals. I became much more outgoing—or at least I can turn it on if I need it. I learned how to extract excitement and happiness from loneliness and danger. I learned to live on my own if need be. In effect, I built a safety net of skills and ideas, so that if things don’t turn out, I’ll have something to fall back on.
The final way I have been able to explain my goals and accomplishments is through six pieces of wisdom I got from six of the people I met. Adults whose respect (I hope) I earned, and whose impressive qualities stood out to me. I refer to them as badges of wisdom, because in a certain sense they were earned. They were either explicitly given, or observed.
Mike, Trujillo, Peru- Even if you don’t always do good, always know good.
Caroline, Trujillo, Peru (but also everywhere)- There is no right or wrong way to do anything.
Linda, Sheridan, Wyoming- Let Life Happen.
Geoff, Sheridan, Wyoming- Live Simply and trust yourself.
Roberto, Ica, Peru- It does not matter what you do, so long as you do good while doing it.
Todd, Trujillo, Peru- Life is about the experience.
They often seem simple, but each person provided keys to figuring out whatever I was struggling with at the time. Whomever can give me a nugget of wisdom for my current dilemma (see the last post) can get themselves added, too. I made plenty of other friends and received plenty of other great advice, but these six stood out to me in a way others did not. The idea is that they are adults—not family members—whose badge of wisdom I “earned.” Their words and actions helped me come to tough decisions, or figure out that one needed to be made.
My last contribution to the blogosphere, for a while anyways, is a list of the unusual animals I encountered and the books I managed to read. Most are pictured in the blog somewhere, if you are interested in seeing one you might have missed.
So that’s the end. Maybe it was amazing, or perhaps a group of ordinary experiences strung together to sound amazing. I certainly didn’t achieve the arrogant goal of “Restoring the Road Trip” as an American Rite of Passage, but I do hope I encouraged people who feel stuck in the situations they are in to save up their money and break out.
All things considered, the Road Trip of Passage accomplished what its name denotes. It was a Rite of Passage. I believe I am better prepared now to meet the world, and although things will never be entirely within my control, nor should they be, I will be able to handle whatever I come across. The good and the bad, the terrifying and temple-rubbing, the miserable and joyous, will all be manageable. Thanks for being here with me. On the loneliest nights, having someone to write for made all the difference. Now, on to the next adventure, maybe you’ll join me there, too.
Pacific Sea Lion
Incan hairless dog
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Of Love and Shadows
A Stranger in a Strange Land
Shop Class as Soulcraft
The Screwtape Letters
100 years of Solitude