It feels different this time.
I’ve done a ton of car traveling during my lifetime, but this feels different.
Bev and I have road-tripped a few times but, again, this has a different hue to it.
I felt it during the anticipatory phase, leading up to departure, like the time, way back when I was twenty, entering the room where my father died, a room I had entered thousands of times previously, but that first time, after the heart attack, felt different.
Not to cast a sinister veil over this missive; that’s not the point. I’m simply saying I have never felt this way prior to a road trip, and certainly not during one.
I believe, and I’m still sorting things out a bit, it’s because this trip marks the beginning of a brand new chapter, a goodbye to suburbia and hello to the unknown chapter, and that’s disconcerting, but not necessarily in a negative way. You see, suburbia really is all I’ve known for most of my life, minus that fateful year in Alaska and a couple other outliers sprinkled in, and one would think, and I suppose expect, that at 74 years of age, that is what I would embrace in my golden years.
And yet here I am, driving down the backroads in a ’99 shorty bus, looking for one more great adventure and, perhaps, one more place to plant my roots. The long-suppressed wanderlust, the muffled voice of discontent, is bursting free, no longer to be detained, contained, or enchained. There is, in truth, in a very literal sense, no home to return to. My “new home” has yet to be determined, but hopefully it makes itself known in a climatic ah-ha moment somewhere along this journey.
I don’t know what I’m going to find on this trip, but I know I need to find it, for my sanity, for my peace of mind, and for my happiness.
And that’s just the real of it!
There is a moment, heading east on Hwy 26 out of Mt. Hood, as the fir trees magically turn to pines, and the western clouds of doom give way to scattered clouds of hope, just before the city of Madras, Oregon, high on a bluff, overlooking the high desert, when a sense of awe and, for lack of a better word, awareness of just how vast this country is descends upon you. Mile after mile after mile of open space, un-sullied by the hand of man, or so it seems, and as that vista opens for our enjoyment, one cannot help but understands one’s importance in the universe.
Significant and yet, pardon the slap in the face, insignificant.
If you ever have one of those moments, when you think you are vitally important to the advancement of civilization, or to the betterment of the universe, I suggest you stand on that bluff, take a deep breath of reality, and enjoy the view.
The jewel of that high desert area is Bend. It’s as though, and this might be a large stretch, the city planners of Bend understood the gift they were given, and they did everything in their power to enhance that gift and not sully it.
Bend is stunning!
It’s as though the high desert allowed humans to inhabit this area, but only if they designed the city in such a way that it enhances the environment rather than infringes upon it.
Bicycles share the road with vehicles, without fear. Joggers could run for years and probably not cover all of the city’s trails. A lazy river pierces the heart of downtown, so lazy that it is filled with inner-tubers and rafters during the hot, summer months. Dog parks are numerous, many with river access. There are so many vehicle roundabouts it is practically impossible to speed above thirty mph, if you wanted to, but you wouldn’t because slower speeds means more time to enjoy the visuals as you pass. Toss in a pinch of tasteful architecture, a spoonful of turn-of-the-century residences, and an overall vibe that if it isn’t good for the city’s image, it isn’t good enough to actually do.
I am in love with Bend, but I am not in love with its high desert climate. Hot summers would melt me and make me cranky. Cold desert winters, although dry for the most part, would freeze my old bones. But oh my goodness, the Cascades loom above the city, a backdrop which would never grow old, and the pace of life is worthy of consideration and certainly praise.
Twenty miles north of Bend is the city of Redmond, a city which did not receive the same planning memo. Twenty miles separates the worst of city planning from the best of city planning, and it’s remarkable to see. The worst, and the best, of city planning, for all to see, within easy driving distance of each other.