Fierce Green Fire: Breathing the air of adventure-part one
Editor’s note: The following is the first in a three-part series.
By Jonathan Hicks
It would seem that the coming of the New Year inspires in me the need to wander. Last year, I struck out alone, heading west on what I referred to as my Vision Questóa Native American concept in which one travels alone in hopes of finding new perspective. I would travel again this year; but if my 2009 trip was inspired by stories of unknown origin passed down over centuries, this 2010 trip was encouraged by the words of authors Edward Abbey and Jack Kerouac.
In Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Kerouac’s On The Road, the authors struck out in search of adventure, but found so much more. Desert Solitaire is the story of Abbey’s summers spent as a ranger in what was at the time Arches National Monument (now National Park). He ponders the inherent beauty of the red desert and reflects on the impacts humans have on natural landscapes. Kerouac’s seminal work was published in the late 1950s, roughly at the same time Abbey had taken up residence in Arches. A vastly different book, On The Road is the primarily autobiographical summary of a series of road trips with a varied cast of characters.
So, I set out with a pretty girl, and like Kerouac, spent long stretches on Route 66not really planning any details of the excursion. Like Abbey, I knew I needed to spend time in Arches. Those were the obvious themes. Less obvious in those texts was that though authors’ respective propensities for reflection and individualism were prominent, they were actually rarely alone. Indeed, each had a small cast of characters that accompanied them virtually wherever they roamed. When they did have solitude, they generally left those details out of the manuscript. This led me to believe that if a story was less worthy of telling when they were alone, then having a partner in crime could only be a good thing. With that in mind, I would not embark on a solo voyage. Instead, I recruited my girlfriend to take the ride with me.
Such an excursion is a test of any young relationship, and though we departed in the face of powerful winter weather and with only a skeleton of a plan, I was confident that our love of adventure and knack for improvisation would guide us over whatever obstacles the road might present.
This confidence would be tested early on. The voices of skeptical friends and family members warning us about the horrific weather were loud and persistent in the days prior to our departure. Sure enough, literally dozens of cars and trucks lined the ditches of Iowa’s stretch of Interstate 80 on the first day of our journey. Despite the seemingly obvious warning signs encouraging us to turn around and go back, I refused to believe that these vehicles were anything more than the carcasses of those who simply didn’t want adventure as much as us. We pressed on.
There is something about the air one breathes when embarking on a trip such as this. Iowa is far from my favorite state; indeed, the topography and scenery leave me feeling quite mundane. However, when the open road in front of you seems infinite, even Iowa air is invigorating. Kerouac wrote that the only people for him were “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.” On that first day, I quickly realized that I was mad to breathe. Not only mad to breathe, but made to breathe…deeply. This was where I should be. This trip would be just fine.
From the Feb. 10-16, 2010 issue
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