On a cool, crisp spring morning in early April, it was time to set out on another epic adventure. I packed up my truck with all of my essentials and eagerly set out from Seattle on an epic five-day journey back home to Chattanooga. This journey would prove to be a test of patience and perseverance, but also of beauty, reflection, and redemption. My travel nursing assignment in Seattle had come to its just conclusion and I would once again find myself on the open road, lost in the drudging whir of my truck’s engine and the endless motion of a vast expanse of land.
I was finally heading home, in the midst of a pandemic no less! Having been alone in a big city 2,500 miles from home in the middle of a pandemic, the draw and gravity of home were ever more powerful. Nevertheless, my time in Seattle was rewarding and transformative in so many ways I never could have imagined. I had fallen in love with the city, and with the Pacific Northwest in general. But now, as I started up my truck engine on that fateful spring morning, the thoughts and feelings of a long journey ahead, ultimately ending in the warm embrace of family, filled me with a palpable elation.
The thing about a road trip of this scale is that its experience is a paradox, as it both thrills the spirit as well as drowns it in an inevitable aching monotony. Paradoxes are a thing that have been on my mind recently. For instance, I have been thinking about how it’s both a small and big world. It’s a small world in the sense that wherever I have drifted, I am greeted with the same familiar kindness and good intentions of people, and my faith in humanity is restored with every new friendship I cultivate. But it’s also a big world, not just culturally, politically, and historically but geographically, as I know all too well simply traveling across the southern portion of one continent. It is a ginormous, seemingly endless stretch of land.
On a long trip like this, the road drones on and the concept of time eventually bleeds out of your perception. Caught in an almost dream-like state, thought dissipates and reality becomes detached in a sense. The road eventually numbs the mind, as you become static, almost hypnotized by the swirling of lights and colors. It’s so large an expanse, so incalculable that your mind simply lets go of trying to quantify it and is almost sedated by its scale. I suppose in a way I find this kind of venture peaceful, almost like life is blissfully simplified for the briefest of moments, caught in the purgatory between leaving and arriving.
Driving across country, especially out West, is a revealing experience. There is a certain aesthetic and attitude about the West that is cultivated in American society. Oftentimes barren and hostile, these seemingly unclaimed, unoccupied lands have been sanctified and mythologized by the many wandering travelers who have trekked across these terrains. Hollywood has created legends of this realm as unoccupied and untamed and has painted a seamless collage of wilderness and danger for our imaginations.
Of course, these tales are largely unfounded. For one, it has hardly ever been barren. Thousands upon thousands of people have occupied these lands for thousands of years, nevermind the countless species that call these lands home. But even as I started driving hundreds of miles after hundreds of miles through seeming nothingness, I could just as easily have been fooled into believing these tales. And yet my mind began to wander on the road, resisting the urge to simplify the world around me. I thought about how within every square foot of this earth that I roll past there are worlds within worlds of life and energy upon closer inspection. A single drop of dew is its own ecosystem. A single blade of grass is its own world to the lifeforms that call it home. And yet, like grains of sand strewn about a coastal way, you get lost in the abundance. Your mind simply fails to truly understand the complexity. It is within the gaps of this ultimate knowledge and nuance of life and energy that my spirit and imagination soar. Imagine a world far beyond the capacities of an infinite mind. This is what intrigued me rolling down these enchanted roads. And so it begins….
The first day of driving would see me through Washington state, the Northern skinny portion of Idaho, and Western Montana. The volcanic giants of the Cascade Range of Western Washington and the lush forests surrounding them slowly transformed into the dry, desolate, flatter landscape of Eastern Washington. It always amazes me how two hours’ worth of driving can completely change the landscape and climate you are submerged in. I assume the Cascade Mountains create a rain shadow on the Eastern side of the state. As rainfall comes in from the West Coast, it gets dumped on the mountains and the mountains block any further passage of rain eastward, thus transforming the eastern side of the state into a dry, almost desert like climate. The Sierra Nevada Range does the same thing to Nevada.
I fell in love with geology while I was out exploring the Pacific Northwest so my mind wondered about these kinds of things as I drove onwards. It’s always intriguing how the aesthetics of a land and its flora and fauna can so dramatically shift in no time at all. Just like an extremely slow-moving river in our eyes, the land’s dramatic and dynamic nature comes forth the more you move through it. It is constantly shifting, rising, eroding, colliding, and erupting and we as meager lifeforms are the fleas on the back of the dog of this world, adjusting and adapting to its turbulent force.
I-90 passed through Eastern Washington, then into Idaho, which turned into Montana by late afternoon. Montana has a distinct feel about it. The south-western part of the state I like to think of as the “Sacred Valley between the Mountains”. The long, eastward road of I-90 is situated perfectly between a series of beautiful peaks. These snowy, jagged walls of rock were piercing up towards the heavens, almost seeming to protect the wandering traveler from the dangers beyond. There is a sense that I was in some sort of hallowed cradle there. It felt like I was being protected on all sides by these giant snowy fortresses. It was like sitting peacefully in the eye of a hurricane of mesmerizing beauty and power, like being engulfed by sleeping giants whose daunting slumber seemed to block the path of anything or anyone that would do me harm. Montana feels like the warm center of an unfettered, unclaimed wilderness. Isolated and rugged, yet piercingly alluring, I can feel the mountains calling me back now even as I write this. I rested my head in Bozeman, surrounded by snowy giants on all sides after a long but satisfying first day drive.