After nearly 8,000 miles of travel over 7 mountain ranges, four time zones, and 20 states, I am through with my latest trip to and around the edge. Since beginning, I have been from Venice, Louisiana on the Gulf Coast, to the Straits of Juan de Fuca at the northwest corner, to Grand Forks, North Dakota, just south of the border from Winnipeg Canada — the long way around, as they say. It has taken three trips from Atlanta to cover this much of the edge. My most recent was the most ambitious, and covered the most mileage, included the most diverse terrain, and took the longest time.
This is the part where one wonders what the heck one is doing. I’m exhausted and a bit overwhelmed by the nature of being on the road, living out of the truck, for almost a month. I’m also a little off kilter from having essentially been alone, processing all this experience, for so long. So it helped to have a little over a thousand miles from Grand Forks to Atlanta, blitzing down the interstates, to try and get a rational assessment of the edge trek, where I am on it, and what it means to me.
I’ve covered the natural aspects of the trek — the exceptional beauty, diversity and just sheer wow factor of how much there is to see — in the daily posts. And, I’ve tried to cover the cultural aspects of what is like to live on the edge in the various regions, and how different it is as you work your way around. What I don’t think I’ve done particularly well, is step back and take a more general look at what this trip is doing towards the original impetus for it: assessing the relationship of the edge to some definition of America.
The first thing is that there is a big difference between the natural edges (Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean) and the political ones (Mexican-American and Canadian-American). I know this sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but it feels very important when you are on the ground riding along. The natural edges are places where people look over the side and think about what they can do to survive, profit, or otherwise benefit from their relationship to the edge. On the political edges, there is historical evidence that the same was once the case, but today there is more a sense of tension there. Even on the Canadian border. The result is that there is a stronger sense of difference, this is America, that is not; which makes the edge more defining. It seems like more a feature of America where it is a natural edge, not a defining characteristic. If that makes any sense at all.
The second thing is that I am absolutely convinced, totally, that those of us in major urban centers, replete with communications and accessible comforts, are completely and utterly full of ourselves. The amount of time we spend gnashing our teeth over the state of things (or wandering around the country and writing blogs about it!) is very, very different than that of the folks living on the edges. For the most part (there are some large urban centers on the edge). Everywhere I have been, people are busy. I only ran into one instance of ranting about politics and that was on the northern border in a bar, and the offending patron was in distinct violation of the bar’s rules for drinking in the bar. Now, I’m not naive, I realize there is plenty of bitching and moaning going on out here, but here is the thing: it doesn’t define them and consume them. The edge means putting important stuff first — like dealing with the weather, or the local economy, or the broken truck, or your neighbor 20 miles away who needs a helping hand. Whatever. The land and people and work immediately around you on the edge is what occupies your attention first, second and maybe even third; before you get to anything else at all. I saw this same sort of ethos crossing the country to get to the edge and to return from it.
I tried to think about the different reactions I see at home and in the major urban centers with the ones I see out on the edge, and in the rural crossings back and forth. I think it boils down to folks who know that a great deal of what they have to deal with can not be fixed by anyone or anything. It’s too hot, or too cold, or too wet, or too dry, or too stormy. The storms blew something down, or washed something away. The mineral vein ran out, or the oil dried up. The fire burned through the forest and burned up the hay field. The power is out. The well is dry. The satellite is out. You can blame someone or something and be angry about this stuff, sure; but out here on the edge it also has to be dealt with. So they deal with it. Sometimes they need help dealing with it, and their neighbors help. In the end, I think this self-determinative, independent, pioneering, if you will, attitude is very much in keeping with what defines America. This is not to say everyone out on the edge is conservative, Christian, and wants to return to the good old days. They embrace technology, many are pining not for the olden times so much as Woodstock, and I saw more legal marijuana and assorted chill communities than I ever thought I would. It’s a diverse group out on the edge — but uniformly and fiercely independent. And, honestly, very nice. I suspect folks may be putting on their best when they talk to me — they seem interested in what I am doing — but everyone is nice. Seems like at least once around this trek I’d run into someone having a real bad day, but I haven’t yet.
The remainder of the edge trek with be on natural borders, save for a small section of Northern New York, northern Vermont, and all of western and northern Maine. But, it will be a lot closer to people and urban centers. It will be interesting to see if this makes any difference. I will return the edge, probably in the fall, at the northern Minnesota/North Dakota border and head east around the Great Lakes. The geography seems a lot closer, but the edge is probably longer — if you could straighten it out — for the rest of the way around. I’m hoping three more trips will have me back in Venice, Louisiana where it all started. I look forward to all of them.
I can’t miss a chance to talk about my partner in all this wandering around — a 2002 Toyota Landcruiser. It is a remarkable vehicle without which I couldn’t be doing this. The confidence it gives me to be out here, alone, is a testament to its legendary reliability. The attention to regular maintenance, and the additions I’ve made to it, allow me to know that I can go anywhere, in any conditions, get set up and comfortable, and get back. It is equally happy crashing along the old Mojave Road or down the interstate. I won’t make any changes to the truck for future trips.
I may adjust gear a little. I’m not happy with my camp table, or my stove. And, I think it’s time to figure out a fridge/freezer solution that will expand my culinary options. Storing food in a cooler is a hassle that turns into a mess, that turns into a bad day. Coolers are for beer. And backpacker freeze-dried meals, as good as mine are – get boring after a week or so.
Finally, I had a friend join for a few days of this trek and it was awesome. He flew out to a an airport along the route, I picked him up and he just road along for a few days. I hope more will do so in the future. It’s one thing to have me blather on about this, and another entirely to see for yourself.
If you’ve been reading along since the beginning, thanks for the indulgence. And feel free to share your comments here, or via email, at email@example.com. I’d be surprised if I haven’t said something in these blogs that was upsetting to someone and I hope if that was the case, he or she stopped reading.
Till I head out next, have a great life and go out and find your edge.