Downstairs, sulking a bit in the garage, is magnificent old 2002 gray Landcruiser. Scratched and dirty and, I’m sure, dripping a bit of something from somewhere, it is a monument to reliability, to confidence-inspiring capability, and it made my trek around the edge not only possible, but relatively comfortable. Thousands of miles — some easy, some frighteningly treacherous — and it never, not once, let me down.
Across the country and around the edge I ran into people and saw businesses that depended on machinery. I saw machinery being used, repaired, sold and scrapped. I ate food planted and harvested by it, I used roads built by it, stayed in places graded by it, and choked on air polluted by it. And now, oddly, after a trek all the way around the edge of the country, I am consumed by just how much I have taken the industrial partnership between man and machine for granted. Sitting in one, using one, begging one to get me through one more time, changed that. And it, turns out, that industrial partnership changed the country I just circled as well.
It moved the practical “edge” to the actual political boundary. What I mean is, before I you could efficiently get from one place to another, the edge for you was basically the edge of town, or the edge of the farm, or whatever. The fact that, as a nation, we had agreed to or fought for a line on a map (that was probably only a rough estimate) denoting the edge of America, was wholly irrelevant to you. Once we began to develop efficient transportation, drilling, harvesting, mining, pumping, and all manner of other horizon expanding tools, we had a choice: stay in the lines, or keep pushing and conquer more. Now, I realize, we expanded the borders a great deal from the first landing and organization of the country up to the advent of modern machinery. My point is, once we had real power, backed by what we then knew were exceptional natural resources, we began to understand just what we were capable of. And we stayed inside our edge — by choice. We gave aid to others when the world desperately needed it, we gave treasure and we gave blood. But we didn’t take anything.
I said earlier in this trip that the edge defines America as an entity, and everything inside the edge demonstrates it as an idea. I agree with that still. And as an idea, it has, over time bulged and stretched and occasionally seemed as if it were about to break. But every time, not without pain, the power of the central themes of that idea — liberty and equality — have risen and held. It is as if our edge is just right; big enough to satisfy our need for individual pursuit, small enough to keep us together and aware of our mutual dependence. Our own development and use of industry and technology mean you can no longer hide within our broad boundaries (though there are some places you can go unnoticed for a while), and they also mean that you can accomplish whatever you can dream within our broad boundaries.
It is this loose, but no less binding, form of union that displays itself across the nation and around its edge. As varied as the ecology and geology and geography of the land itself, are the people and places that lie upon it. And yet all of it is America. Somehow, despite differences of all sorts, we maintain a commonality. We share a place. We find ourselves just close enough to be aware of each other, yet free enough to be ourselves.
I certainly became aware of people and things about which I had known little or nothing before this journey. And in the learning, became aware of things about myself. I’d like to think that I experienced some of the same things as those folks who plodded west to new lands and found new things before a thing such as my old Landcruiser existed. I’d like to think they had the same sense of wonder at the countryside, and intrigue at the different people and cultures. I’d like to think they wondered about the edge, where it was and whether it was different or somehow better than where they were. What I suspect is that they focused on finding food and shelter and safety — those things being much more at risk for them than me. What I know, is that as a part of the collective union, they never lost sight of the idea of America. Because it survives and thrives today. From edge to edge. Ugly in places, stunningly beautiful in places, confusing in places, overbuilt in places, thriving in places, struggling in places. Pushed and pulled, beaten and battered, polished and gleaming, but always, always, America.
I am going to try and pull all these musings and pictures from the edge together into a single book. As I said, the doctors are going to need to know which ward to put me in someday and there may be diagnostic evidence here. But also because somewhere along the way this adventure became much bigger than a drive around the edge of the country. It became a love story.
Speaking of which, I owe the opportunity to take off and ride around the country to a number of things, the single most important of which is my wife. She is the foundation of my life, a partner in every sense of the word, and a willing enabler of this journey. I love her. I need her. And this will be true always, no matter where I am, what I see, or how I get there.
So, the trek is complete, but the journey is not over. As I cobble it all together, I may revisit some places. I will certainly do more research and add to the thoughts I first penned in real time — and I hope some of you will offer thoughts about it all along the way. It will be an earnest effort, incomplete but honest, and it will allow me the privilege of giving back a tiny token of life on the edge.