Thursday, March 07, 2002

Zenpriest #66 - Guy Stuff: Traveling Hard, Fast, and Light


Road Trip!

Those two words conjure up many romantic images of days gone by – Route 66, the “freedom of the open road”, and maybe even a memory or two of the Pony Express.
One huge advantage that guys have is that our needs are simple and  the list of “requirements” we have for comfort is fairly short.  Unlike a woman I knew many years ago whose idea of “roughing it” was “no reservations”, we as men can easily travel hard, fast, and light

There is so much of traditional manhood shown in that Pony Express poster – male ability, and freedom, and disposability.   “Must be willing to risk death daily.”  Men without family ties, “orphans”, were preferred.  Not only would no one really miss them, but their lack of interpersonal ties left them completely free to do what men, and only men, could do when set free.

Riders changed horses every 10 miles – the maximum distance a horse could travel at full gallop – and when the riders themselves were ridden out, they handed off the mail satchel to another man just like them.

It’s interesting that the only major “road trip/buddy” movie of the past few years has been about women – Thelma and Louise.  It’s popularity among women seems to indicate that some women, at least, envy the kinds of freedoms and mobility that men have always had.

Some of the authors and readers here are motorcycle enthusiasts.   Those with the pluck and grit to climb on their own “Iron Horse” can carry just about everything they need for a decently comfortable existence in their saddlebags.  A one-burner camp stove, day’s worth of rations, light sleeping bag, and a bivvy sack are all that is needed to cast an eye to the horizon and say to oneself  “I wonder what is over there?  I think I will go see.”

Some of the most powerful and pleasant memories of my life are experiences I had on motorcycle road trips. Many years ago a buddy of mine and I stood under a tree at Vail Pass eating french onion soup into which a passing thunderstorm had dumped a few hailstones while it was heating.  More than 25 years later we still get a laugh out of eating “Hailstone Soup” at Vail Pass.

He’s all settled down, now – with a wife, and a daughter, and a big mortgage, and a membership in the local Kiwanis Club.  He and I are cut from different cloth, and we have always known that.  Several years ago, he said to me that he had always envied me my freedom.  I told him that my life was as good a definition of hell as he would ever need.  He is a guy who needs comfort, and security, and someone to take care of him.  When we would have any sort of breakdown on one of our two-up trips,  he would go find some shade and patiently wait while I fixed whatever would need to be fixed.  He is the same type of  guy as many who have approached me on one of my road trips and said wistfully “Well, I used to have a bike, but my wife made me sell it.”

On  the last road trip we took together, and I am sure the last one we ever will take together, he made the comment that he realized that if I died on one of those twisting mountain roads I love so much to travel, that it would be “right”… that I would simply be dying the way I had lived.  He knows me really well, and has known me a long time, and he was right.

There has  always been a subset of men with itchy feet. We’re not the guys who coach your little league teams, or keep the florists and jewelry stores in business, or settle down like good betas and do what our wives tell us and sell our motorcycles when they tell us to. We don’t make very good husbands, or dads for that matter, but a lot of kids love to have us as crazy uncles that keep the family entertained by allowing them live vicariously through our exploits.  We are the kind of yahoos who climb on ships and sail toward what everyone else knows is the edge of the world and we are going to certainly fall off.  Or climb into experimental airplanes not knowing whether we are going to blow up or break the sound barrier.

We ain’t got a lick of sense, we are wilder than March hares, and as Burt Munro (a Kiwi from Invercargill, Julie) says in “The World’s Fastest Indian”, we often live more in 10 seconds on the edge than some people live in a lifetime.  And, that works out for everyone – because we want to, and they don’t.  We do crazy shit, and we love it.

We are gluttons for intensity – believing that life is best savored by taking BIG bites.   Yeah, we seldom do what we “should” do, which is why we are neither boring nor bored.  We never sustain a civilization, but we end up doing those things which a civilization cannot do without – carrying its mail, pushing its limits, and reminding people that he who is not busy being born is busy dying.

We travel fast, hard, and light, and for that reason travel mostly alone, sometimes in the company of other hard men, but seldom in the company of women.  You don’t want to be us, but you benefit from having us around.  We don’t want to be you, and we will fight like hell if you try to make us into clones of you.

We are the ones who have benefited most from feminism.  Women no longer need us, so we are now free to see what is over that next horizon, eat hail-stone soup, and sit by the ocean feeling the waves hit the shore and meditating for days on end.  Women have forced us to learn how to live without a woman’s love, and we learned while that can be painful for a man, it is not fatal.  We are “orphans” who are now free to make the lives we choose.

Facing death makes a man appreciate life in a unique way.  No longer is it worth wasting even one minute of this miraculous experience called “life” slaving away in some corporate cube so that a government can confiscate what we make by doing so.  Every minute of life passed is a minute we will never have again, and one gone out of a too small allotment we are given in the first place.

Related: EOTM: Road Trip '97

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