Guaranteed for Life: An 825 Mile Investment
September 09, 2013
“The most interesting part of your trip will be the people you meet along the way,” my daughter suggested as I disclosed the plans for my adventure.
Last summer she had resisted the idea, but this year she had supported me once she realized opposing my plans would prove to be moot.
The day before she met me at the Colorado border, she asked a question that gave me pause: “Are you ready to be back in civilization?”
I paused for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t fully agree that I had ever separated myself from civilization. I had enjoyed more intimate, meaningful conversations along the trip than I had the entire two years I had spent in Chicago, enjoying the hospitality of strangers who had shared their lives with me as freely as I had shared my stories with them, developing the fast, secure and lasting relationships that come with candid vulnerability.
“Thank you for being so nice,” one of my newfound friends texted the day after opening his home to me, adding, “After I left for work, I realized you could have taken anything you wanted.”
He had been kind enough not only to open his home to a stranger, but he had also encouraged me to sleep late, a luxury I didn’t indulge often when I had camped along the way. Only afterward did he realize he had invited a stranger into his home, and left her sleeping in his empty house after leaving for work early in the morning, a gesture two of my hosts had extended throughout my trip.
Their kindness, as well as their trusting natures, touched me deeply.
My daughter’s question, though, in addition to pointing out that I had seemingly isolated myself from society, made me realize to an extent that no, I wasn’t truly ready to end what turned out to be the best travel vacation I have ever had.
Yes, I have walked the halls of aristocrats, artists and popes, feeling the worn spots on the marble steps of Versailles, Uffizi, the Louvre and the Vatican. Yes, I have visited the gravestone memorials of Dante, Da Vinci and Keats, and I have watched the sun rise upon nearly unmarked graves of slaves in the South. Yes, I have climbed the mountains of New Mexico, seen the hallowed halls created by America’s forefathers, wandered through Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. Yes, I have walked the streets of Paris, Florence and Rome, each time combing the walkways, galleries and beaches for ghosts of American expatriates and European artists.
And I have found nothing, nothing to inspire me to take the risk to create rather than evaluate.
Jacob Lawrence once noted that in art, “The Human subject is the most important thing.” On my trip, I learned to fully appreciate the human spirit: its drive to survive, thrive, and unite with other kindred spirits, a lesson I could have never fully learned, fully experienced through deceased artists, authors, rulers, popes or even slaves.
“A typical pair of tennis shoes lasts 500 miles,” the sales associate informed me as he handed me my Birkenstock a few weeks ago.
After 825 miles, my once-new tennis shoes had the familiar smell of dead things. I had worn them well, and after my six-week journey, I knew it was time to retire them.
I am not sure where I will leave this pair, but I realize I have left bits of them all along Highways 20 and 30, marks in the dirt, grass and sand upon which my girl and I have travelled, gathering memories, stories and friends along the way.
As the sales associate reassured me that Birkenstocks are guaranteed for life, I was saddened a bit that I had chosen them over a new pair of tennis shoes. After all, I am always ready for a new adventure, and open toes just aren’t as safe for walking. Or riding, for that matter. I smiled, though, knowing that I had made friends that would last a lifetime wearing my limited warranty tennis shoes, a guarantee that was more valuable than any investment I could ever hope to make, regardless of the purchase, including that of my pricey experience at the second highest ranked art institute in the nation.
Thanks for joining me along the way, and thanks for allowing me to leave behind bits of my tennis shoes with every push of my pedal.