“Breathtaking” gets thrown around a lot, and for many experiences which do not, in fact, literally take one’s breath away. It’s the first word that comes to mind to describe my driving 4000 miles from Saratoga Springs, NY to Seattle Washington over a span of 12 days with my friend Rachel, but it’s not quite the right one... For one, with the exception of the several seconds immediately after hooking a cutthroat trout in Glacier National Park, my breath remained unmistakably with me. For another, it didn’t so much get “taken away” as it did altered. Smoothed, like freshly washed sheets spread out on a mattress.
There’s a lot of air between the coasts of this country, and on this trip I was lucky enough to sample a kaleidoscopic buffet of what’s out there: from rainbow-splashed mists off Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls to bone-dry breezes scouring through the Black Hills. Smelling earthy hemlock-stained rivers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and savoring the immaculate purity of Montana mountain air. Slipping into lakes welling with glacial runoff and feeling the subsequent involuntary gasp pull my lungs open to their fullest capacity. Running fingers along my sunburned nose in the dusky cool of Wind Cave National Park. You get the idea...
All that beauty, all that space, all that exploration reinvigorated my breath. Work’s great, and I’m tremendously grateful for past and upcoming opportunities for applying myself as a designer, but for me it’s vital to punctuate that with the sweetness of extended adventure every once and awhile. There’s something different about the quality of an inhale taken slowly in the glow of campfire, days removed from my most recent check of social media.
Left to routine and day-to-day stress, my breath tends toward shallowness. As John Muir wrote,
“Most people are on the world, not in it — have no conscious sympathy or relationship to anything about them — undiffused, separate, and rigidly alone like marbles of polished stone, touching but separate.”
This trip felt like getting kneaded into richer participation.
The ostensible goal of this trip was transporting me from one side of the USA to the other to start a new life chapter in the Pacific Northwest, but the stuff that happened in between is hard for me to relegate as less important. Pragmatism runs strong through my veins and mostly serves me well, but sometimes it inhibits wonder. Strolling through an alpine meadow, it turns out, is a highly effective means of restoring my sense of sighing delight– something hard to neatly and logically encapsulate with an accomplishment bullet-point.
Our last day in Glacier National Park, the seasonal Going-To-The-Sun had its snow cleared and the road opened, allowing us wind our way up past carved panoramas and their cobalts and ceruleans and roses and peaches to the 6646’ elevation continental divide. To call on another hackneyed expression: the photos don’t do it justice. Being there in person draws you into the expanse; field of vision restricts to focusing on only a fraction of the masterpiece and leaving the rest to spin off alluringly into the periphery. As this trip kept the nose of our vehicle pointed firmly West for the majority of the time, I like Rachel’s claiming that as a tagline for the whole trip: Going-To-The-Sun.
So if you ask me how the road trip was and I say "breathtaking", know that the above is closer to what I really mean. I’d use “breath altering”, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely and brings to mind something your physician would advise against and / or a New Age wellness practice.
And if you get the chance to drive across the country, do it. Take the scenic route.