The Northwest Pacific Ocean was freezing, rough, and full of sand. I made it there in mid-October, nine weeks after leaving Connecticut. There were close to 6,000 new miles on my car, and she was running like a champ, save for a belt squealing, especially when it was wet out.
After a weekend on the ocean, I went to Seattle for a week, then south to Portland. That’s when I finally earned a speeding ticket, on Route 101, Washington and Oregon’s version of the Pacific Coast Highway, where the 55 mph speed limit likely snares countless joyriding drivers marked with out-of-state plates. That road is gorgeous, and I hit it just as the sun was going down.
Seattle is a lush city, a nexus of neighborhoods that often feels more suburban than urban. It’s packed with culture and art and food. It’s progressive – minimum wage within city limits will be $15 an hour within the next few years, marijuana is legal throughout the state, and the city provides its residents with compost bins. I drove up to Seattle from Portland for Halloween, the first time I had backtracked in my travels.
Exhaustion set in the next day, for both me and my car. Everything had caught up to me, the pace of my trip, the too many beers, the celebratory meals, the inconsistent exercise. Though I was technically living and working on the road, my travels were more vacation-like than day-to-day-life-like, and my body and mind were taxed. I planned to be in California in early November, but the thought of driving any further was unfathomable. I headed back to a friend’s apartment to chill out, and on the way that squealing belt got louder and more consistent. Smoke poured from under the hood. The belt popped. The alternator light went on. But good old Dusty has a habit of breaking down in the most opportune places. She had plenty of juice left in the battery to get to my friend’s place a mile away.
Trip’s over, I thought. I needed to be stationary. Car needed rehabilitation. I liked Seattle, didn’t mind the rain, had a few friends there, and imagined an easy assimilation into the local writing scene. But a month later, after I got Dusty back on the road and took some time to rest, I found myself spinning my wheels. I didn’t get any responses to the pitches I sent out, and the copywriting gigs I applied for were dead ends. The rooms and apartments in my budget were snapped up fast. When Thanksgiving rolled around, all I wanted was to be back home.
Now I am back home, in Connecticut. I flew here. My car is still in Seattle, and I’m not sure what the next step is. Maybe I need to keep going. Maybe I need to meet California. I could use the beach, and the sun. But for now it feels good to be home. I’ve missed my family and friends, and I’m not so sure I’m cut out for being thousands of miles away from them. Maybe the townie life I was trying to leave behind isn’t so bad, even though things are different now. Maybe it’s good that things are different. Maybe I can find a way to travel more consistently without always being on the go.
For awhile I thought I could travel forever, but I’ve found I lack the self-sufficiency and comforts I need to keep my wandering sustainable. I have a car, I have a tent. Backseat sleeping was a novelty at first, but very uncomfortable soon enough. I could rough it from campsite to campsite, find coffee shops and libraries to work in, shower at gyms, restock my cooler with ice every few days. But the full-time travelers I know of make cocktails in their Airstreams. They might travel with tents, but they also have a bus or a trailer to stay dry in when it downpours. They have the means to settle down somewhere for weeks at a time – to rest. They have access to electricity, and a version of a work station. They travel with their home. They travel with other people, or if not other people, a dog, cat, or some kind of crony.
I am on my own, without a home, traveling from couch to guest room to campsite to couch. I have to keep moving all the time in order not to overstay my welcome, and the energy and resilience required of constant movement is finite. If I’m going to keep traveling, I have to refigure my method, and rediscover the zeal for wandering I had back in August.
But I need to get my car, and I’ll need to drive it somewhere. And if I come back home, that’s 3,000 miles that can’t be wasted.