Crossing the burnt-brown desert leg of Route 66, I asked myself, Why am I doing this? At 70 mph, opening my helmet visor was like sticking my face in a convection oven set somewhere between 110°F and 115°F. The answer was the same as it has been when riding in the cold and wet and on perfect days: to discover and learn about new nouns—people, places, and things.
Three weeks later, while caressing the sensuous green curves of Nebraska’s Sandhills, I asked myself an equally important question. Unchallenged by traffic or wandering livestock, why was I not fully appreciating the undulating landscape that surrounded me? Why did I not see the cattle surrounding the windmill fed stock pond that would have been a good photo? And why did I not turn back to capture that image?
It became clear that I needed to include the personal pronoun in the quest for new knowledge.
Only a few days into this epic journey, I began an intracranial spanking for not posting the highlights of that day’s new nouns. Obsessed with my failings, my mind didn’t fully see the surrounding world and the unexpected experiences it displayed.
When you’re self-employed, the realization that you work for an uncompromising taskmaster really hurts. I started Small Town Traveler to further my professional development and to exhibit my abilities to potential clients. By demanding a daily post I was not only depriving myself of new noun knowledge, I was eviscerating my original goal.
Really, can any word merchant compose and revise a piece of writing, to reflect on word choice, syntax, and organization, in the time it takes to smoke a nice cigar? (For those who do not reward themselves for a productive day’s work in such a manner, a good cigar lasts me, on average, 90 minutes when I’m smoking and writing.)
There may be a few, but at this stage of my life and career, I’m not one of them. After riding 300 miles, I do not have the intellectual and physical stamina to download and caption the day’s photos, decipher and pound my handwritten notes (and their associated memories) into the computer, and then compose a clear, concise, coherent, and (I hope) interesting story about the day.
So, stretching my legs at the roadside, I asked the cattle trimming the grass on the other side of the barbwire fence what I should do. A few raised their heads when I posed the question, but not one offered as little as a snuff, a grunt, or a moo, before dropping their heads toward their grassy green brunch.
Looking down the road, I found the solution at its vanishing point, where the Sandhills met the clotted gray overcast. Professional development is Small Town Traveler’s primary reason for being. But when I’m on a journey, it tells family and friends (and readers who care) that I’m not someone’s hood ornament.
This became clear to me on this journey, when a friend posted a Facebook query about my wellbeing two days after my last STT post. I responded with a couple of the day’s most interesting photos and let everyone know that all was well.
At that moment, my solution was clear, so why did it take me three weeks to realize it? And how many new nouns had I missed while I obsessed about my self-inflicted distraction?
Instead of watering this seed of a new obsession, I congratulated myself on an unconsciously correct decision to continue my daily Facebook photo posts. Fulfilling my societal responsibilities freed me from the anal-retentive dominatrix that lives between my ears. By waiting until I returned home to convey my new noun discoveries, I would have the time and stamina—and desire—to give them the attention they deserved. This decision was an intoxicating high of creative freedom that has not yet worn off.
Still, from the back corner of my mind, a muted voice asks about the new nouns I’d passed and not fully appreciated. With more than 20,000 words of notes and 1,200 photos, I surely didn’t miss that many. And there will be more journeys in the future. But crossing any desert—in August—will not be one of them.