I'm a road hugger. I've gotten to love roads like never before. My commute now is not to home and work, but to life.
Roads don't get the credit they deserve. The grid they form maps our towns and cities and show the shape of human civilization and expansion. Roads connect all of us, and they changed humanity from nomadic outposts to a massive interconnected grid where we all flow like electrical impulses on a circuit board. The Internet might have connected our minds, but roads connected our bodies and made the human machine possible. Roads ignore countries and borders and connect us all indiscriminately and universally. Roads carry all our goods, legal and illegal, including refugees seeking to be on the right side of the road. Roads reflect several important metaphors in our lives.
It is very likely you have intense memories of the the roads that encapsulated the periphery of your house as a kid. This radius of freedom expanded each year as you got older, and whether you did this by foot or bike you did it with the same spirit as Marco Polo when he was exploring China.
My first memories of childhood roads were on the streets of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Every day after school I explored my neighborhood on my bike, using the broken sidewalks from the big trees as ramps, discovering every dead-end and unknown street with fascination. There was nothing particularly special about them, but the taste of freedom was delicious, the simple fact that I didn’t know what was around the corner on every corner made me feel alive. I loved it and I still do.
Traveling a road is one of the most ancient and potent medicines of the mind. For hundreds of years, religious pilgrimages (Like the famous Camino de Compostela in Spain which can take over a month to complete and spans several hundred kilometers) have been ambulated by believers of all faiths as a means of elevating spiritual awareness through the exercise and sacrifice of walking, forcing the mind to trance into an intense meditation through the simple experience of going on a long journey.
In 2009 Nicolas Rapp quit his job in NYC bought an old Toyota Landcruiser and drove south on an amazing around-the-world trip that took him through all of South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Nick told me that when he was driving massive long stretches of road his mind would go deep and dig far in his past, reminding him of things long forgotten. Exploring can lead to long stretches of quiet alone time that helps us burrow internally and dig up things about ourselves that perhaps we had shelved away. The road is good therapy and helps us reset.
When we travel in company, the road helps us form intense bonds with our co-travelers. Experiencing memories together is like glue for friendships and relationships. Strangers can become life-long friends in days, simply because we experienced something with them that we’ll never forget. When we are there for each other’s best times in life we form unbreakable bridges to each other.
When we ride a road, when we travel, whether it is by car or bike or foot or plane something special gets triggered. Our minds enter a higher state of mind. Some people attest that we think more clearly when we are in motion. Traveling allows us to look back at many aspects of our lives; from our commuting to our routines and stationery lives, just like an astronaut from space peeking from his porthole at the blue pearl. This perspective makes us better understand what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong.
Do you recall being in a car on a long road trip and having had important, honest and deep conversations with family, friends or lovers? It’s not just because you are forced to be with them in a small space for many hours but because what we are doing is nothing short of miraculous. Take away the metal sheets of the car, make the automotive invisible and what do you have left? Two humans floating a few feet above the earth hovering at speeds faster than they can run for thousands and thousands of kilometers, through rain or shine,through snow or hot, with a 360-degree view of the world. Imagine going back a few hundred years in time and giving someone a ride in a car. What a brain-breaker of an experience it would be! When two people are in a car traveling you are not just moving, more specifically, you are physically moving forward towards an unknown future. Both driver and passenger are talking to each other while their eyes are facing forward. This is the reason why so many ‘carversations’ are about hopes and dreams.
When I drive through remote destinations the road reminds me that it is always possible to re-start your life over at any time in any place. It might not be easy, but if I wanted to, I could go live in any town, city or remote outpost I drive by. The road teaches me that I can re-incarnate myself in a million ways, in a million places. Why live one life when I can taste thousands? Drop by a fishing village for a week and live like a fisherman. Stop near a college town and study something new. Pass by a remote destination and hide out in a cottage to write that novel you wanted to get out of your system. You can do anything you want. Freedom isn't freedom if you don't use it. It's like having a gift certificate card on a magnet on your fridge that you forget to use and expired.
How you ride the road changes the road. Drive a route in your car and take in the scenery, then drive the same route backwards and you'll see things you didn't notice. Then, get off your car and bike that route and it will feel like a new road. You'll be able to slow down and and go close to things you couldn't in the car. The feeling of the wind on your face, and the road pushing against your muscles will add to a unique experience. Now get off your bike and walk this same road and it will allow a difference experience in which you’ll be able to see every detail in every house, tree and corner while giving you the feeling of what it would be like to live on that road. The vehicle you ride on will change what you see and how you see it, something not dissimilar from watching a movie, and then reading the book of the movie, followed by the movie script, the trailer and the original short story. It's the same but it’s completely different.
When we revisit a road we often traveled in our youth we experience a very powerful and intense feeling of nostalgia. The realization that the rich moments and memories of our past which happened on that road are now gone and done serves us a reminder for the transitory state of everything in our life.
Cities are based on very rigid grids. The roads and sidewalks inside these grids are also straight, and in general, everything in our city life, from signs to doors and windows is square giving the illusion that life is rigid, mathematical and orderly, but that’s for from the truth. Life is absolutely messy and unpredictable. We get married and we get divorced, we get fired and we get hired, people die and people are born. The stories of us on the roads we live in are not really written by us, but by the world around us, by people we know and don't know, and the roads will usually outlive not just us, but our problems, hopes and dreams. Every single time I drive by a cemetery the thought that goes through my head is how incredible it is that every single thing that all those cadavers buried there worried about is also dead and gone with them. Every road we drive by is heavy with the weight of the love, tears, hopes and dreams of all the many people that lived on them.
Roads remind us that the unknown scares us. A hidden road that doesn't appear on a map now feels no different than a big dark cave. Even when we walk in nature in national parks our minds are trained to stay on the clearly marked paths. This is a simple, but important observation because it proves that few of us are willing to take big risks and carve new roads. We have become ants, deciding only to go left or right on the roads carved and paved by others. The faster we go in life, the more breaking the rules seems impossible. Staying in the fast lane in the middle of the highway becomes the safest thing, but unfortunately it only goes where everyone else has already been.
This life is literary the trip of your lifetime. Are you going too fast and not taking the scenic drive? Are you in traffic with everyone else and getting antsy? Or has your life become a senseless commute? Perhaps it's time to get the courage to take a road leading somewhere you don't know. Once you do, if what you see is beautiful and surprising you will experience the small satisfaction of freedom, of understanding that it is safe to take as Robert Frost said, 'the road less travelled' Play Jazz with the steering wheel. Getting lost will immediately awaken your senses. We take it all in and everything affects us. Next time you drive somewhere, let go, release the route and let the roads take you somewhere else, somewhere new. By getting lost you might ironically find you.
As you think of where your life is at now, take a few minutes to look down at the street in front of you and feel its energy. A million possibilities and routes are awaiting you, like a powerful wave that wants you to surf it. Where are you going to go?