Appalachian Trail, Virginia
Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
It's early. The night has just given way to a grey, overcast dawn. It had been raining when we arrived the night before, not a heavy downpour, but that kind of steady, patient fall that always seems to murmur, "Relax. I'm gonna be here awhile."
We had come east from Colorado to spend a few days with family, the part of which we left behind when that heavy steel door marked "retirement" closed behind me with that heavy, hollow boom of finality. My wife is what is called a travel nurse, a contractor working 13-week assignments before moving on to the next one. The stay is Colorado is done. Now, we will head for a town south of Phoenix to endure the brutal heat of an Arizona summer. We don't know what experiences lie in wait, though admittedly, that is part of the adventure.
My life long, I've always been anchored by the idea of "home." In my case, a structure wherein resided my family; where I could relax and be myself. Where I felt safe. It was a place to leave, and a place to which to return, a place I could say I was from. But within me has always been a restless streak; a strange desire to live on the road, going where my whims directed, staying only as long as I wanted to, and hitting the road again. It's a life that has fascinated me; to drift along from place to place, the only direction given by the capricious winds. In my mind's eye, we did this on the back of a horse, or a motorcycle, loping along through plain, prairie, and desert. That romantic tableau only somewhat altered to the comforts of an SUV, the wilderness trails swapped for highway asphalt.
Despite this wild urging, my life has always been framed by a safe predictability. While the long-term future remained ever fuzzy, the short-term view seemed to provide a clear path and a life anchored by a career, a home, bills -- the dragging anchor of obligation. While stultifyingly mundane, that structure gave me a sense of security to those passing moments we all know as the "now." The environment in which we now find ourselves is completely different. A lot of hard work and sacrifice has eliminated almost all of our debt. We now enjoy that wonderful sense of freedom of not being weighed down, or even smothered, being forced to delay or even abandon dreams to the steel cage of revolving payments. In that process, we've learned how to say "no" to ourselves, trying to limit our possessions to what can fit in the back of the vehicle.
We know at some point, we'll settle down somewhere. But we really don't know the location of that somewhere. It remains a kind of mythical unreality of which we remain largely untroubled. We both have a serious case of itchy feet, a malady which strikes at the point when we sense we've been someplace too long. It does dovetail nicely with our current state of affairs. We're not so militant as to backpack and hostel our way around. After all we're in our 60's and unwilling to part with all the creature comforts. So we'll be vagabonds for now, looking always to the horizon with a speculative
Chateau de Coucy, Auffrique, Picardy, France
This is manifestly not a life for everybody. Many people, after calling it a career prefer anchors and roots. For them, a machine shop in the basement, a garden in the yard, and occasional trips fill the bill nicely. I respect that. But I also know that to submit us to that kind of existence would be a prison of sorts. This is a wide, wide world, full of wonders yet to be seen, and we have so little time left.
Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail, Oahu, Hawaii
The time will come when, either by choice or compelled by (probably) medical circumstance, we will have to plant ourselves in one place; the last place. Our bones will become too fragile, our muscles too weak, our minds a constant display of "Error 404: File not found."
But for now, this is our dream, and we will be living it for all we're worth.