A Road Trip, A Pilgrimage.

Via on Aug 30, 2010

I have been traveling across the United States for the past eight days via car, which is admittedly ironic considering my last article on driver’s guilt. With this in mind, I will say that the American road trip is something I am constantly intrigued by. The coast-to-coast journey plays a truly romantic role in our history and culture. I am interested in the literature and cinema of road tripping and in how these depictions of seeking figure into how we view ourselves as individuals and citizens. Think about it: hundreds of years after the first European settlers traversed this continent, we are still striking out and heading West, searching for sun, freedom, adventure. Where does this impulse originate? Where does it lead us physically, mentally, spiritually? These aren’t questions I can answer here, but they are certainly questions to consider.

A road trip can be like a pilgrimage, depending on how you approach it. The pilgrimage is usually defined as a long journey that is imbued and embedded with moral or spiritual significance. It is typically undertaken by the devout. But the modern pilgrimage, I believe, does not necessarily need to center around a religious cause. A pilgrimage can mean many things. It can take the shape of a healing journey. It can be rooted in curiosity and a passion for life and movement. It can center around love for a country, for the people and the land.

I took a trip similar to this one last summer, and it landed me in Portland, Oregon for one year. Now I am headed back East for an indeterminate amount of time, and this two-week road trip is serving as a transitional phase, both literally and figuratively. Last summer’s expedition was all about exploring, but this time around it’s all about returning. Throughout the past eight days, I have been reminded repeatedly why I have made the decision to move back East and spend some time closer to family and friends in my place of origin. I am being driven by a deep desire to nurture and cultivate a newfound sense of wonder in relation to the people I’ve grown up with and the places I’ve grown up in, and it is this desire that has set the tone for my rambling.

My traveling companion and I drove down through California, over to Las Vegas, through Arizona towards New Mexico, then on to Texas, where we have spent the past three days. We leave tomorrow morning for Louisiana, after which we head up North through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, etc., until we hit New York. What I have rediscovered in the past week is that there is ample opportunity for wonder everywhere you go. The small towns, big cities, lush landscapes, and barren wilderness – all astounding expressions of life force. The canyons north of Malibu, the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and the plains of northwest Texas make you feel blissfully small. And one of the best parts of this experience is the surprise inherent in every moment. I had no idea I would love Los Angeles as much as I did, and I was nearly as incorrect when it came to how grotesque I thought Las Vegas would be (I underestimated). Arizona is much more beautiful than expected, and central New Mexico didn’t blow my mind the way I thought it would (though I am determined to spend more time there).

The average road trip can be exhilarating, stressful, disruptive, and liberating. There are, of course, the basic inconveniences: lack of fresh food, incomplete sleep cycles, and infrequent opportunities to bathe. Beyond these small details, there lies a varied landscape of mountains, plains, deserts, cities, couch-hopping, tent-pitching, friends, family, enthusiasm, energy, and spontaneity. It’s important to strike a balance between being alert and savvy, and learning when to let go of that which you cannot control. Things are going to happen whether you like it or not. You will run into problems, complications, unforeseen conflicts. You are dealing with time, space, motion, weather, mechanics, body, and mind, and all of these things have a tendency to converge when you least expect it. This isn’t merely the nature of the road trip – this, if I may be so bold, is the nature of everything.

The spirit of the road trip is something I would like to carry with me into the rest of my life: this sense that the whole world exists as a wilderness to traverse, in which to get lost, in which to seek and find and rediscover. Many of us are wandering, but not necessarily in the aimless sense. In the asana practice, for example, we are using our physical bodies to arrive at a place of mental and spiritual stillness. And once we find that stillness, the process begins all over again. Travel, just like yoga, just like everything, requires practice. My road trip of summer 2010 has thus far presented radically different challenges and joys than my road trip of summer 2009. Yet in both instances, the spark for further understanding and experience has been ignited.

In Yoga the Iyengar Way, Silva Mehta writes, “Practice should be for its own sake.” This statement is akin to Sri K Pattabhi Jois’s assurance, “Practice and all is coming.” The same can be said for traveling. You don’t even have to leave your town, city or state. You only have to approach your environment, familiar or strange, with openness and fascination. The pilgrim finds the spiritual in everything.

However, if you are able to take a road trip, whether it be regional, cross-country, or international, here is a brief list of critical items to stock up on:

Camera

Notebook, pens

Books (at least one novel, one nonfiction work, one book of poetry, one guidebook)

Clothing (underwear, shirts, pants, skirts, sandals, hiking shoes, etc.)

Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, Dr. Bronner’s)

Sleeping bag(s)

Tent

Cookware (small stove, percolator, pots and pans, small propane tanks)

Food (nut butter, crackers, a good loaf of bread, raw breakfast bars, dried fruit, rice, dry lentils, granola, whole oats, trail mix, miso soup packets, dried seaweed, honey sticks, assorted teas)

Water, water bottles (to be filled up at rest stops and gas stations)

Blankets & pillows

Maps

CDs or iPod (I recommend calculating the number of hours you will be traveling and make sure you have as many hours of music or more)

Yoga mat(s)

Sunglasses, bandannas, headbands, sunhats

Cell phone(s), cell phone charger

Emergency kit/First Aid kit

Quick-dry towels

Jerky (vegan for me, meaty for others)

Sunscreen

All-natural bug spray

Playing cards

Thank-you cards, stamps

Cash for farm stands

AAA Roadside Assistance

The national co-op directory

This is an incomplete and disorderly list, and everyone has their staples and can’t-live-withouts. These are the things I find useful. Not to mention, laughter is crucial. Water, food, sleep, and vitamins are all highly important. But above all: be creative, have heart, take heed, and go further.

About Melanie Jane Parker

Melanie Jane Parker is a freelance writer, bibliophile, and yogini. A recent graduate of Hampshire College, she writes short fiction, essays and poetry. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently studying towards her 200-hour teaching certification at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Manhattan.

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5 Responses to “A Road Trip, A Pilgrimage.”

  1. Melanie, can I ask you a couple of quick questions about how you use the National Co-op Directory? We're exploring ways to make it more useful to travelers including possibly an ebook version. (Sorry this is a comment to your post, I couldn't find your contact info easily off of this site.)

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