As poet Mary Oliver asks, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” In our (almost) post-pandemic lives, the question presses us for an answer. What will we do now that we faced the fact that our days are finite and fleeting? The remedy for a year of loss is a new season of action, and even daring.
“Daring” is a relative concept. My ancestors never went west of the Hudson River. My dream is to go west, traveling across the country in the steps of the pioneers of the 1800s who headed for free land, independence and a new life in the wide-open spaces. I know I’m romanticizing the harrowing journey that could take up to a year and suck the life out of the voyagers. They raced west at 2 miles per hour, covering 20 miles a day — if they didn’t encounter an impassable river or hostiles hoping to raid their party.
Some 250 years ago, a covered wagon was the cheapest way to move a household west, and there was strength in the numbers of wagons trundling across the prairies.
For our Boomer trip, we plan to fly to Denver (skipping the flat parts) and then drive to California, about 16 hours. A wagon train is out of the question, so we booked an airplane and a rental car and will dine on fast food instead of jerky. In the old days, many of the westward travelers brought their cows and pigs along to keep them fed along the way. We will bring Lillybee the dog, who requires a reverse process in which we
must feed her
to keep her going. We have been to Komodo Island in Indonesia, the Arctic Circle in Norway and Table Mountain in South Africa, but this year, driving even partly across our own country feels thrilling.
In some ways we are old school, or possibly just old. We bought an oversized road atlas that bumps the font up to something that is readable for us. My husband spends hours poring over the primary, secondary and scenic byways that could get us from Point A to Point B. I know we can use MapQuest and several other digital trip planners and maps, but this is way more fun. And anyway, on my computer the AAA maps keep zooming in and out of control. One minute I’m looking at the road from Denver to Laramie and the next minute I’m in a hill town outside Bangkok.
Along the way, we may not face Sitting Bull, who rightfully suspected that the emigrating hordes would kill his people and trash his world, but I expect we will be edified by the culture and politics of the places between the coasts. Read “edified” any way you like.
Our first real challenge was booking plane tickets. Apparently, everyone is on the road. No exaggeration, the wait time to talk to a Delta agent was 3½ hours.
Next, we needed a rental car. Very quickly we discovered that a reasonable car would cost way more than our flights. The pioneers didn’t even ride in their wagons because the terrain was a nightmare of ditches and holes and broken wheels. And while the western voyagers pushed ahead fearlessly, we piled on the insurance. Wagon train journeys cost as much as $1,000 for a family of four. Today, some rental car companies are charging that per day for large SUVs.
Then we booked a rental house up in a mountain town where wildfires are a constant threat over the summer and autumn. It may seem knuckle-headed to choose a fire zone for vacation, but it seems to run in the family. Our kids live there.
At least we won’t face the pioneers’ hardships of limited diet and the threats of cholera, flu, dysentery, measles, mumps, tuberculosis and typhoid fever. Not that bouncing from McDonald’s to Burger King is a healthy regimen. We trust that our recent Covid-19 vaccines will still be effective in the coming months as we drive through areas where some folks don’t believe in either the disease or the inoculation.
Our drive will take us from Denver through Wyoming and Nevada, into California. Part of me thinks we need not just a plan but also a plan B and a plan C. What if we get to Denver and we can’t get a rental car? What if we get to California but don’t feel like making the drive back to Denver for our flight home? What if we need to evacuate our rental house in the middle of the night?
But the better part of me says westward ho.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.