My Dad and I squinted ahead to Highway 6 before us. The rest of the family asleep, I was alert as a co-pilot should be, a map spread over my knees. The route held no options, no chance of being lost–just keep going on route 6–but I was needed, if for no other reason than to inform Dad that we were in the Ralston Valley and the range ahead of us was the Monitor.
It was simple, unremarkable, low-tech by today’s standards: A station wagon pulling a trailer, a baking black asphalt line, center-striped with a dashed line of paint, ruler straight to the next range across the Great Basin in Nevada, disappearing over Saulsbury Summit, elevation 6522. Yet this was new to me, it was not what I saw yesterday, and not what I would see tomorrow, nor even what I would see that evening when we pulled into Ward Mtn Campground near Ely and trade the valley scrub for an outcropping of piñon pine on a mid-desert ridge.
I realize that I behaved then, and still do now, like I just time-traveled from an era when people hardly saw anything different. It was not that long ago that most people stayed within 50 miles of their homes over their entire lifetimes. As much as we traveled, you’d think I would get used to it by now, but I still regard each turn as providing something new to see. And I’m still impressed that we can actually go there to see it in just hours or days.
This is the background to a love of maps, camping and travel in general. It was during these years that I would mark up US maps with proposed routes across the US. We lived in Southern California, in Hermosa Beach, and I wanted to go across to other beaches, at the other end of US geography and history. I am not sure how many maps I marked, probably fewer than my memory glorifies about the time, but each showed a wavy, wide and crude mark to just, well, see stuff.
To live in LA is to view the Pacific Ocean as a beauty and a chance to play. In terms of directions, it is also a westward hard-stop that heightened my interest in the other directions. When I interpret this symbolically, with more analysis than I ever considered at the time, I think about how the flow of US history was ever westward. Perhaps I wanted to understand how we got here, to examine the flow, to marvel that a soldier stood in this spot or an explorer crested a ridge at another. And somehow all those pasts combined in a flow that included me, who now sat in my house, walked to school, lived my life.
Travel can be a history lesson and a re-assessment of direction. For a west coast boy of European extraction, understanding how we got here is a matter of north, east and south. (Acknowledging that I am looking at just a few of several valid directional histories; that there are those who came from the Orient, including native Americans). These are trails I have always wanted to savor on the ground. And then on the return from the Atlantic, perhaps symbolically, we will have a chance to appreciate the movement of history by re-tracing west again.