The alarm starts chiming, but it feels like I just laid my head down only minutes ago. It can’t be daybreak yet. I must have set the alarm incorrectly. I pick up the phone to turn off the now blaring Alice in Chains’ “Rooster” and the clock reads 5:15am. Ugh. The bird hunters’ alarm doesn’t lie.
It’s time to get back on the road. We’ve got four days to get from Portland, Oregon back to my nephew’s Northeast Ohio high school for the bell tolling the end of Spring Break. Just a few short hours ago we were on the left coast watching the sunset and casting Wyatt the retriever into the Pacific surf of Cape Lookout to fetch one bumper after another.
But the entire trip has gone this way: quickly soak up as much of one location as we can before the schedule pushes us back to the pavement and on to the next destination.
Technology and the media try their level best to convince everyone that the world is shrinking. But it’s not a small world, I assure you. Not by a longshot. Today most people’s understanding of the size of the country is directly correlated to the length of a feature film; hop on a plane, watch the screen light up, fall asleep and wake as the credits roll and flight attendant announces that descent to the opposite shore has begun.
And this magical transport covering massive distances serves one end, a distortion of scale. People forget just how small they are.
As I roll over to jostle Zach back to the world of the living, Wyatt groans disapproval at the intrusion of my shifting feet in the sleeping bag he’s draped across. I do a quick assessment of the route to get us home. We are 2,500 miles as the crow flies, according to that same technology attempting to convince me of a shrinking world.
And I am fully aware how tiny we are.
I think that by now Zach has a good idea too. If endless driving across the great plains, weaving through the pass of Glenwood Canyon, bouldering over massive crimson rock formations in Arches NP, or looking into the abyss of Crater Lake from atop 8′ snowpack haven’t calibrated his psyche, then the upcoming drive should finish the job.
Initially, other than spending some quality time with my teenage nephew who is quickly becoming a man, I was unsure at the outset of this Off-Season Odyssey what exactly would be accomplished. But I now know.
All of my days hunting and enjoying the outdoors are what keep me sane. I just assumed the reason was a general dislike of crowded spaces, people and development. But when I take a closer look, that’s not true. I get along well enough with people. I can even appreciate culture and refined society. The reason I love the outdoors and wide-open spaces is because they give me perspective, the ability to contrast and balance what’s happening around me. It’s that perspective that keeps me out of rubber rooms, and allows me to cope with life when I’m not chasing birds.
Driving these infinite hours allows lots of time to reflect. I’ve determined that souls are like water, they assume the shape of the vessel in which they are contained. Small minds leave very little room for the soul to grow. Expand that mind, make the vessel larger, and room for thought — belief in potential grows as well.
And that’s what we’re doing on this cross-country road trip. We are stretching the container to make room for potential. We are putting life in perspective, and it feels good.
But by this seventh day of the trip, a mainline of caffeine likely isn’t enough to account for just how tiring covering these distances has become. Gaining perspective comes at a cost; sleep deprivation.
Thoughts of visiting the many sights that lie before us on the return trip are what get us moving this morning. Yellowstone, Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and more rounds of sporting clays await.
But Zach and I also learn another valuable lesson on this journey; much of the country isn’t even close to experiencing the spring we’ve grown accustomed to back east. As we approach the western edge of Yellowstone we’re met with whiteout snows and closed entrances. Though we get to see some bison, elk and the peaks and vistas that make this part of the country so beautiful, we elect to press onward around the blizzard.
But it’s not about a specific location, it’s about the experiences we have. New experiences. Chances to makes decisions and errors which just increase the ability to cope with life’s curveballs in the future. And Mother Nature is the master of forcing adaptation.
The original thought when planning the trip was that we would be camping and surviving in the wild. It’s clear the real survival under this timeline is the sheer mileage. Another miscalculation. And the right-sizing of egos continues as the GPS can’t count down the miles fast enough. The days and nights are a blur. The states tic down and the sensory overload compounds.
We drag into my sister’s driveway at 2am on Monday morning after shooting clays across and seeing much of the country first hand. Zach has to get on the school bus in five hours. And I don’t even have the energy to go inside to sleep. According to the odometer we covered 6,900 miles in the ten days we’ve been gone. I crawl in the back of the truck, stretch my bedroll and crash.
Wyatt rouses at the sound of Zach knocking on the truck cap as he waits for the bus to arrive. I pry open my eyes and pop open the gate. He thanks me for the awesome spring break, strides to the waiting bus and heads back to civilization and structure. He appears taller to me. And I feel accomplished.