Recently, I returned from a road trip with my four-year old son. We flew back to Iowa and then drove across country to San Francisco. Ever since I learned to drive, I have loved road trips. As I’ve become older, I realize that road trips can be quite existential, which is part of my attraction. This road trip, however, was unique. It contained much of the classic road trip, but was quite special since my middle son was with me, and I connected with so many people who are important in my life.
The Value of Isolation. This is changing more and more with technology; however, there is still a component of isolation part of a road trip. My son and I were on the road for 4½ days. While driving, I could not check Facebook or check email, and was relatively inaccessible to my work. Although my son and I played many games of imagination along the way, there was also a great deal of time where I was primarily alone with my thoughts. Distraction has its place. Sometimes we need to tune out. However, distraction has become a way of life for too many of us. When it comes to really living, even work can be a distraction. But on that open road, there is not so much to distract and overwhelm us.
Vastness, Smallness, and Humility. We saw so much vastness on our trip. In Iowa and Nebraska, we saw cornfields that stretched further than we could see. In Nebraska, we watched enormous thunderclouds stacked up into the sky. In Colorado, we saw mountains that dwarfed us. Then in Utah and Nevada, we saw deserts and sand extended to the horizon. How could one not be reminded of just how small we are when experiencing such vastness? When I lived in Colorado, I could step outside to our porch and see Pikes Peak in the distance. This was very powerful to me. It always calmed me, just gazing at its beauty.
But Pikes Peak did something more. As I gazed at its enormity, I was able to connect with my own humility. It seems today so many people are jostling for power, trying to prove that they are important. So many people are trying to be mountains. When people become focused on their own self-promotion and seeking their own power, harm almost inevitably occurs. We all have potential for such harm. For me, just gazing upon and recognizing this vastness has a peaceful, humbling component to it. As we drove so many vast spaces, I could feel myself peacefully re-centering in my own smallness.
Finding Beauty. Having grown up in the great Midwest, I’ve long been awed by its beauty. I’d be surprised when I’d hear from so many about how boring it was to drive through these Midwestern states. Hearing this, I’d always feel sad for them that they could not recognize the beauty. But this also taught me a lesson: Whether we find beauty is not about whether beauty exists out there. Rather, it is about whether we are able to cultivate the ability to see it. In Colorado and Tahoe, few miss the beauty. But my son and I were able to find beauty in the cornfields and deserts as well as the mountains. The eyes of a child are often so much better at seeing such things.
Relationship. It always seems to come back to relationships in the end, and the same is true on a road trip. On this particular road trip, the biggest relationship was the one with my middle son. In many ways, I found myself profoundly sad when the road trip was over. There were many reasons for this, but the biggest was that this special time with my son had come to an end. We were both ready to be home, but I also was not ready for this time to end.
I have been quite blessed to have developed good friends strewn across the United States and, to a large degree, the world. Along the trip, my son and I were nourished by these relationships. In Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado, these relationships restored and blessed us. It was my first time returning to Colorado since having moved from this place our family loved and called home for many years. It was amazing how quickly again it felt like home—the town, the place, but even more, the people.
The relationships with those who were not on the road trip was striking, too. I am often aware of this as I travel. I love to travel and am blessed with many opportunities to follow this passion. Yet, increasingly over time, I recognize how meaning is always greater when my wife and my sons are part of it. In the end, the road trip reminded me in so many ways of the relational blessings in my life.
That amazing open road seems to do so much for my soul. It deepens my relationship with nature, with myself, with my friends, and with my family. For some, a road trip is a vacation or a party or what we must do to get to our destination. Yet, for me, when cultivated well, a road trip is a revitalizing spiritual experience.
-- Louis Hoffman