The sun was setting over pooling water in dry fields in southern Illinois, reflecting the journey ahead of me, the road, the trees, the diffused reds and oranges. And I saw it as finite. There will be an end. The end.
In August I weaved my way through the Midwest towards New England. In September I hopped from small state to small state until Virginia when I made the 15 and a half hour haul to westernmost Wisconsin. October had me crossing the northern plains and diving into the mountains of the West; the number of states I touched in a month lowered dramatically. Leaving out of Las Vegas at the beginning of November, I drove up the coast of California and into the upper Northeast, only to come back down to the southwest and Texas. In December I finished the Midwest and then bee-lined to Florida for Christmas in Disney World. And then January was spent making a loop throughout the southeast
I ended up parked on the left side of the driveway of my parent’s home in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, just as I had started.
It’s perplexing that my six-month, 48-state drive can be technically summed up in six sentences… Because that half a year became the longest moment of my life.
The days and weeks and months seemed to drag on.
Although drag doesn’t seem like the right word, because of its negative connotations, as if I finished the trip only out of sheer will to say I did it. But it wasn’t that. I would love to be back on the road, three months removed from pulling into the drive.
When looking through the synonyms for “drag on,” though, nothing seems quite right.
Endure. Persist. Draw out. Stretch out. Maybe that last one.
The quest, Moneytripping, stretched out over the country, across so many different groups of people defined by sex, race, socioeconomic status and the kicker here in the States, political affiliation. It crossed lines people don’t usually broach and traversed sensitive subjects to understand.
Driving and smoking and philosophizing. Driving and smoking and philosophizing. Day after day. It’s so simple, so routine, yet somehow so variable.
I felt it, often. That moment: ‘How is it only September?’ ‘How is it still October?’ ‘Is November a longer month than usual?’
I lived longer than the banker or the barista, because my life was not routine; I could not participate on autopilot. And there’s studies that back this up. A lack of fresh experiences or memorable events has been blamed for the feeling of time flying by as we move into adulthood.
And not only was the scenery always changing pushing me to be present, but there was a sense of respect in knowing how every step of the past months had led to the next.
I decided to stop for a late lunch an hour outside of Bozeman, Montana in Big Timber, a town of a little more than 1,600 people. I ordered a cider. I struck up a conversation with the good-looking bartender and sat back listening as the conversations around me mixed together.
After a salad–knowing I didn’t have to be in Bozeman till 6 pm–I ordered another cider.
Out of the corner of my eye, a cowboy a few seats down ordered his third whiskey shot. And as I sipped, that cowboy scooted one chair closer and one chair closer, until only one chair divided us. And he started up a conversation.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t know. I have to go to Bozeman for a bit, but after that I don’t know.”
“I have a jacuzzi at the ranch.”
And so I went to Bozeman for a meeting and then drove back to Big Timber to see the “real Montana” cowboy said he had in his palm.
After that night and morning hiking through the 4,000 acres of ranch he lived on, I drove off towards Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We kept in touch, and in Portland, Oregon he arranged for me to stay with his friend. And then later, I stayed with cowboy again in El Paso, Texas.
And laying in a guest bed staring at the ceiling on morning a month later, I was able to see how my universe had worked. And how it could have been so much different had I not met that one cowboy.
Had the coffee shop I first went into in Big Timber had more than just scones and muffins, had the barista not sent me to that bar, had I not ordered a cider that tasted like champagne and wanted another… All of these small moments led to this.