The Road is a Place of Frontiers

October 2, 2013 by TOMS

 

“I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

- Meriwether Lewis

We’re halfway there. Eight weeks of frontiers are in the rearview mirror, with seven more weeks ahead of us on that bending asphalt.

I’m in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is stop fourteen in this chapter of the TOMS story. A few miles away from my temporary confines lies a large hall, leftover from the colonial ages. It’s not just any hall. A man was chosen to write a document here -- defiant words on parchment. Penned by Thomas Jefferson, this Declaration of Independence changed history.

 

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Years later, Thomas Jefferson, then the president, had frontiers on his mind. Enter Meriweather Lewis and William Clark. The president commissioned them to make a transcontinental trek, charting the West. They were the first to venture into these most American frontiers. Perhaps, it was then that the spark of exploration was lit inside of us.

Time has passed though. Modernity has brought more certainty into our surroundings. We don’t travel by horseback. In fact, we rarely use physical maps. Many of us are city folk. We work. The grocery store is down the block. Everything is easily accessible. Traffic greets us promptly when we least want it. Figuratively and literally, we want to get where we are going. To finish. To arrive. To be done with the road and the chaos it brings. And trust me, when you’ve been on the road for as long as we have, reaching a final destination begins to look quite appealing.

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While there are few blank portions of the American map today -- thanks to the aforementioned explorers -- the wilderness, those unknown settings, are still out there. The road has become the vessel carrying us into these frontiers, into the wild.

Weeks ago, we hurtled across the highways between California and Colorado. Out our windows was a place of sand, sun, and wind. There was no tinsel. No billboards. No buildings built there, pointing to the heavens. Neither were there mobs of people. In fact, the desert is not a place of construction, but rather deconstruction. To many people, it is a land of decay. For me, the desert is a place of welcomed solitude, a place of peace, and a place of the reconstructed self. Watching it roll past my window felt right. It’s life simplified, deconstructed down to it’s basic elements. I rolled down the barrier of the window, and let the wind wash over my outstretched hand.

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In the northernmost corner of the country, we wound through Adirondack switchbacks on a two lane highway. The mountains flanked us, the rain struck our windshield, and the black boulder filled Bouquet River raced at our side. It was cold when we stopped for lunch at the only place we had seen for miles. The thought of running out of gas was looming, but was a misplaced fear, in hindsight. It was the first rain I had seen in months, as I had returned to a land of seasons. It was pure and eternal and seemed to cleanse everything it touched.

Not one week ago, I felt another breeze. This time, it was more gentle. I found it in a forest. Trees stood all around me, as I walked along a small sidewalk. It led underneath a small cobblestone bridge. Birds and squirrels toyed with each other  above and on the ground. In a pond, scattered row boats with glossy eyed lovers were strewn about. On it’s banks, a mother spoke to her child. About what, I do not know. All of this, and I almost forgot I was standing in the middle of the city that never sleeps. I was in Central Park, for the first time. New York City wrapped it’s arms around me and the park. But there it was, right in front of me -- a frontier, resting in the middle of Manhattan.

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I return now to the beginning: we’re halfway there. Eight weeks completed. Seven more to go. But, I ask myself, where is ‘there’? Is ‘there’ a place? A destination? A state of being? Being away from home is tough. Living temporarily has become all too much of a routine. Today, when a man asked if I was tired of traveling, I replied “I have my road legs now. We’re halfway done.” But, what is done? Some nights I want to be back -- crammed in my far too small apartment. I want to hear my roommate in the other room, watching reruns of teen dramas for the hundredth time. Instead, we’re out here on the road. We’ve committed to the road and to sharing a story that is bigger than ourselves. It’s a story about transforming the lives of a few, in hopes that this few will be equipped to change the lives of many. One for One.

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As I’ve written before, the road is a place dear to me. Let me suggest something about the road. Something I have discovered. It may be new to you, or something you’ve heard many times. It’s a realization that is becoming more concrete for me everyday. Perhaps, this road and this life, two inseparably linked forces, are not about destinations. Maybe, they are not about getting ‘there’. Let us not so desperately seek to be done. To be finished. To arrive. Instead, let us capture more adequately the perspective of the explorers -- our comrades Lewis & Clark. Instead, let us desperately explore the frontiers presented to us. As they come. In due time.

We will reach our destination. We will arrive. But, we’re only halfway there.

Thanks for wandering around with me,

Nolan

“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.”

- Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse

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