Friday, December 21, 2007

Wanderlust, Woman on the Road

Posts will probably be sketchy through Wednesday as I'll be spending every waking moment on sewing last-minute presents before I head out to Detroit to spend Christmas with the family. We'll have our traditional Christmas dinner of gumbo and bread pudding, open the presents, and then there'll be the post-holiday let down. All the work poured into making gifts, worrying about who I'm forgetting, worrying about whether or not people like it, resenting the obligation of saving presents for a certain day when my friends and I give each other gifts throughout the year for no reason at all. When it's done and over with and things are exchanged, I'm left with the neglected house full of dust and dishes and dirty clothes I didn't have time to wash in the rush.

I know then that the "flight" will hit me. An overwhelming urge to run, escape, drive until I run out of landmarks. I'll wake up one morning, grab a change of clothes, turn off my cell phone and hit the road. Luckily, I've managed to keep the presence of mind to get back before I have to work. Last year I started driving north on a sunny warmer-than-usual weekend and ended up in the Michigan UP. I was aiming vaguely for Marquette, but a blizzard caught me somewhere up highway 94.

It was already dark in the way only an area without cities and street lights can be, when the snow started flying so hard that I could barely see beyond the hood of my car. Of course I didn't have warm clothes, boots, gloves or snow chains with me. I crept along at 15 miles per hour, cursing the stupidity of getting caught on a January night in a place where even the major hotel chains shut down in the off-season. I was running out of gas, and there wasn't a spot to pull off where I couldn't be sure I wouldn't find myself buried in a drift by morning. I finally reached a cheap, open motel on the outskirts of Munising with a parking lot full of snowmobiles. After a brief struggle to get unstuck when I pulled into the parking lot with its drifting foot or so of snow, I holed up for the night and listened to the snowmobiles race through the parking lot outside. In the winter, in the UP, the biker gangs still ride. They just switch their Harleys for sleds. I barely slept, and about 5am, woke up for good. I debated, while waiting for the motel office to open so I could check out, whether to turn around or to keep driving. I knew I couldn't make Marquette, but I needed a destination to mark, an apex to touch before climbing back down to the reality of my every day life. I headed for Lake Superior. I fishtailed up an unplowed trail to Pictured Rocks and watched the sun rise over Superior from the top of the cliffs. The silence was almost absolute, but I could hear the water washing against the shore below me. I felt the rightness of this as the end of my trail, and pulled out the leather travel journal I keep in my glove compartment.

In my group of friends we call it automatic writing, but I believe the more educated have labeled it prose poetry. It's a form of meditation where you simply write without thinking or editing, even if the result is nonsense. It often reveals instincts and trains of thought you weren't aware of having. You start with a thought and tangent into others by way of words that trigger and images that inspire, all without the conscious censor that wonders how it will be received.

Cleaned up a bit, this is what I ended up with:

"I am a woman on the road alone. A mean dream in my hippie skirt and lace, and multi-colored fingernails; my bulk tucked tight behind the wheel of a glorified station wagon with delusions of SUV. I don't think these yoopers in half-tied boots quite know what to make of me. Thoreau meets Kesey, maybe, in an off-kilter distillation of the same American Dream. A fling of spontaneity on this day of days of ice and snow and the same old, same old. The Flight hits me like clawing at walls on a cellular level until my fingers bleed and my brain dies a little down inside. I hit the road without anything but forty stolen stories of punk in alphabetical order from Arctic Monkeys to Violent Femmes, and a pair of summer keds in camouflage to hide me from recognition as another person's definition. The chipper country desk clerk looks concerned as I ask for a room for one. She thought I was a convict, a fool, another victim waiting to happen. But I was just a mean dream in a hippie skirt heading north into "ain't from aroon' here," where the men are men and the women are too, and long dark winter nights plant seeds of crazy in the mind to be fertilized by endless black and white until they sprout and spore one long grey February day and they reach for the axe…but I am not afraid. For I am a tough chick, nobody's gonna fuck with. Even though I am a woman on the road alone. "

I did manage to get home, even though I found out they don't actually plow the roads in the U.P. They dump sand on them for traction, but people can generally get around by snowmobile or cross-country skis more easily than driving. So my balding tires and I made our careful way back south to the frustration of the 4x4 trucks with snow tires that came barreling up behind me on occasion.

I don't regret it, because it's often the trips where something goes wrong that stand out in the mind and provide the best stories down the road. I will probably hesitate to head north again (or at least check the weather first, even if that takes some of the spontaneity out), but I dreamed last night of being in a car full of people, saying "I think we can make the Smokey Mountains before dark." When I picked up one of my friends a few weeks back to hang out on a Friday night, I greeted him with "You know, if we started now we could be in Chicago by midnight..."

I think the flight is back, and its claws are beginning to dig.


Tari said...

I had a similar experience in the Appalachians once. Nothing like an ice storm in the mountains, creeping at 30 mph on the freeway in between semis, and camping out back of a deserted gas station in a Plymouth Sundance, waiting for them to open while the ice piled up on the windshield, praying they stocked wiper fluid that won't freeze.

Sometimes I think my brain confuses the words "wanderlust" and "home."

Great entry.

JoGeek said... win! I have real acrophobia and the thought of slippery roads in the mountains with the ground allllll the way down just makes me go numb!

Breanna said...

Road trip!! You know I am feeling that same thing. I know part of mine is the call for some kind of adventure away from home. Something to come smack me in the face that I didn't get earlier in the year. Some call to see something that the highers want me to see. To get in touch with part of me I pack away around Samhain and don't seem to find again till march. sigh.... I hate cold wet nasty weather and I'm sure that has a lot to do with it as well. Not to mention. when your on the road its seems you can be your silly self and no one cares. I always feel like everyone cares until I'm on the road. I know makes no sense.