“I’m going to take a lap.”
“What do you mean, take a lap?”
“A lap around the country. On the edge, like right on the border, all the way around.”
That’s how this all got started. The setting, though not particularly important, was a regular evening of a regular day over a regular cocktail with my wife of 27 years. The idea, however, came from something decidedly irregular. I was basically lost, and getting more lost under the guise of some grander, unifying objective was my last best hope to regain the sort of motivation, the passionate commitment to one thing, that I need to make things meaningful.
Life, for me, is basically a series of events in support of something, or things, one really believes in. Early on, it was a sense of obligation to my parents. Later, a genuine pursuit of knowledge. Then a firm belief that I had to make my own way. Then a blind and unshakable love for a woman. Then a relentless commitment to success on her, and our children’s behalf. All of this driven by a passion for whatever I was doing at the time — I never did one thing that I wasn’t, however briefly, passionate about. But really, I rarely did any of it because it was something I consciously decided I wanted to do. I simply couldn’t do anything else — I was emotionally and physically incapable of doing anything else at that moment. I remember that being my answer to a good friend who was curious about my decision to get married when I did. “I can’t do anything else,” I said, “I can’t exist without doing this.” That sort of carried over everyday at work; whatever the job, I did that which I could not exist without doing.
Somewhere there is a psychiatrist who can do a thorough analysis of all this, I’m sure, but I don’t have a lot of interest in it. Like Ramblin’ Jack said, “Mistakes are only horses in disguise/Ain’t no need to ride ‘em over/‘cause you could not ride ‘em different if you tried.” In other words, I’m not out to figure anything out, I’m just searching for the passion to be wholly committed to something again — and other than my wife and family, without a job, there isn’t much. I tried volunteer public service and spent two years trying to create meaningful public education reform in my community. Failed. Frustrated and feeling like it was a result of my missteps in the process, passion for the topic turned to disgust for the process and intransigence, and I just shut it off and moved on. But there was nothing to move to.
Having spent several long trips overlanding to National Parks with my son — a replacement for the kind of father-son bonding I got from hunting — I sort of stumbled on a deep passion for being on the ground seeing a country I’d been merely occupying for my entire life. For me, travel — real travel — almost always involved some grand destination in a faraway land, rather than around America. In these camping trips with a few specific rules — no interstates, no stress over where we got when — my son and I wandered into something amazing to both of us. We wandered into America; good, bad, ugly, stunning, confusing, boring, loving, touching, hateful, soaring America. Schedule-wise, these trips took some time. Driving slows you down, avoiding interstates slows you down more; and my son was entering high school and his ability to just be gone for a while was taxing the planning. I think we both realized this when we were on our way home from Black Canyon of the Gunnison one day and started talking about our trips and what they mean.
I’ll spare you most of it, but at some point we were carried away with the notion that we were really seeing America, and that led to a discussion of what America is. In most cases, that question leads to a fight — such is the power of individualism enabled by our system of government based on liberty, that most people have a real serious perspective on America and they probably have one that is, at a minimum, slightly different than yours. And each can be correct. Ever the stickler for something to stand on, I ended up finding what I think may be the only generalized definition that is inarguable — America is everything inside its border. The edges define America as an entity, everything inside demonstrates it as an idea.
And so, a bit later on, with the kids moved out and my mind still searching for a passion to pursue, the old subconscious, helped only moderately by the second bourbon of the evening, bubbled to the surface in the form of the declaration at the top of the page. I was going to take a lap. On the ground. As close to the edge as I could legally get, and see what it was all about. Nothing grander than that. An adventure. An activity around which I could organize an otherwise empty mind.
Having settled on the idea, I had to deal with the practical issues. To start with, I had to be prepared to do this alone. Certainly my son would be along when he could be, but college schedules are even more challenging than high school, and besides, he has his own passions and he needs those. Additionally, not many people can just say, “I’ll see you in a few weeks” and head out. Secondly, I needed to avoid turning this into something more complicated. I could disappear into a rat hole of perfecting every approach to every gadget for such a journey and never come out. I could succumb to societal pressure to make this about something “profitable” or “acceptable.” I could make it about doing it so I could say I did it. All of this would, in my mind, interrupt the thing I was actually passionate about — finding the edge of the country and riding around it with no preconceptions or expectations. To see if I could actually just recapture the sheer joy of being, I guess. Everyone has an opinion about why I’m doing it, it seems, but I really don’t have anything more than the sentence: “I’m going to take a lap.”
The practical realities of taking a trip like this start and end with one thing: you are on your own. Responsible for your own choices, accountable for your own mistakes. No one tells you where to go, what to do, or how to do it. While that sounds pretty freeing when you read it on the page, it gets a little lonely eight hours down an empty road. But it is freeing. You end up balancing, on a daily basis, the promise of something spectacular with the risk of something potentially tragic, and while that’s being a tad dramatic, it is not wholly untrue. By yourself in a wilderness – which you often are on the edge — mistakes have a lot larger consequences. So preparation and judgment are at a premium. I’ve missed somethings I think I wish I’d visited because I just decided I wasn’t willing to risk the trail by myself. On the other hand, I’ve seen countless amazing things because I did decide to pull out of the driveway and do this thing.
It’s not always math/probabilities; sometimes it’s biology. I’ve found that, on a completely solo drive, I can comfortably do 8 hours behind the wheel. Regardless of terrain, that’s about the max. On occasion, I stretch that, but I almost always end up accommodating for it on subsequent days by shortening the ride. So, depending on the road/trail I’m on, eight hours can mean almost 500 miles, or less than 100. This makes route planning pretty important, and self-sufficiency even more so.
The way I’m set up is very dependable, but not really over the top in terms of outfitting an overland vehicle. The Toyota Landcruiser comes out of the box pretty much ready for this sort of thing, and I have added some support to give me confidence and a degree of insurance. My 100 series was built in 2002 and I’ve owned it since then. I took it from my daughter when she moved to NYC in 2015 with 130,000 miles on it and built it from there. I have new bumpers front and rear — the front is designed to survive animal strikes (which I’ve had before) and house a winch that will pull me out of pretty much any trouble I might get into; the rear is designed to provide external racks for spare tire and three five gallon gas/water cans. This frees up space inside the truck and also improves geometry on ascent/descent in addition to providing better recovery points. Underneath, there is a much better suspension providing some improved clearance and greatly improved handling/load capacity; as well as improved protection plates so I don’t break stuff when I make poor driving choices. I’ve added an extra battery for insurance and to offer opportunity for additional power accessories and an internal air compressor to help with the task of raising and lowering tire pressures. And the tires are larger, with higher load ratings and better grip. Finally, I added a flat roof rack to mount my roof top tent. This tent is the real secret to a solo trip. Made in Italy, it is a hard shell that self-opens when unlatched and holds a queen sized mattress which I can leave made up. It is completely weather tight when up or down, and has pretty good wind resistance when moving at highway speeds. I drive this rig everyday around town and if you saw it you would probably think “hey that land cruiser looks different,” but I don’t think you would think it is some sort of Zombie Apocalypse vehicle. What it means for me is that I can go anywhere and if I have to stop in the middle of nowhere, I can sleep, eat, drink and be comfortable. And I can operate and set-up/take-down everything alone.
I committed to recording my adventure in words and pictures, but not to make that the reason for the trip. I can’t not talk about it. Not because I want to claim it, but because I want to preserve it. If for nothing else, then so the aforementioned psychiatrist can get me assigned to the proper ward later on. Each night, I spend a half hour or so jotting down my thoughts from the day and maybe adding in a few photos. Sometimes I get more philosophical than others, sometimes I have a sense of humor, sometimes I am obviously so tired that I sort of mail it in. Such is life alone on the edge.
So here it is. Take a lap with me, but, at some, point, take a “lap” of some kind of your own.
A loose organization is a creation of rational man. Doing something with no purpose is as foreign to us as a concept as a calculator is to a dog. So in a quest to “forget my ankle-ring and snap my picket-stake,” I like to drive through and to places I’ve never been with no more idea of what I’m doing than the going. But because I’m a rational man, I loosely organize these efforts. It is among my many failings. In the case of the edge trek, the loose organizational principle is a lap around the country, on the edge. As close as I can get to being actually on the border, all the way around the lower 48 states. Everything else is up for grabs. I go in sections, picking up where I left off. Along the way, I watch and listen, and learn and forget. I take pictures and write about stuff.