My family and I recently took a 10 hour road trip to see family in Oklahoma. An old habit that I picked up long before cellular phones were the norm is to pay close attention to the mile markers and out-of-the-ordinary landmarks along the roads that I travel. This was the case on this trip as it is on any other. Keep in mind that there is nothing special about a mile marker. They are a plain reflective green color with white numbers in vertical fashion. Horizontally along the top is a simple ‘mile’ in smaller letters, yet still as plain as the rest of the sign. You see them every day that you make your way past the ‘city limit’ signs on the outskirts of your town, but very rarely do people even pay any attention.
On this trip, I had full intentions of taking as many pictures as possible and recording audio notes to develop new content for an electronic magazine (e-zine), I was considering. After a few hours into the journey, I had already snapped several shots of the mountains and quite a few often-overlooked structures and objects such as old wooden windmills, cargo trains and rock formations. Things were very relaxed and there were inspirational views in every direction.
We had just left a small town in New Mexico and were driving through a two to three mile basin in the desert. The typical vegetation grew en mass along the sides of the road and spread for what seemed like forever into the horizon. Truly a beautiful thing to behold at least once in your lifetime if you haven’t seen it and even more beautiful if you have lived in the middle of it for long enough to stop seeing it, one day ‘stopping to smell the roses’ so-to-speak and actually paying attention to it’s grandeur. We began the ascent on the opposing wall of the basin. My curiosity began to build, wondering what lay in store for our eyes on the other side.
As we crested the hill, I saw it: to my right stood mile marker 138, to my left and attached to the fence line waved an American flag. Essentially, there was nothing else around for miles. Nowhere short of sporadic cities had the flag on display. The red, white and blue colors that stand for so many things in our lives were the only break from the grays, tans, and loams in the desolate backdrop. The sight was more than an inspirational vision, it was a calling; an explanation to an unasked question. This snapshot was the depiction of the American dream. Not quite a Norman Rockwell painting, but very much the epitome of what we as inherently adventurous Americans used to do regularly: we went, we saw, we took that lesser traveled path and we just let the road come to us. Something happened along the way, though. We began to forget; we let the information superhighway get paved directly on top of the site of old Route 66. We traded in the old, worn and discolored leather seats in our convertibles for faux leather ‘convertible’ office chairs and just began to sit in front of the computer screen, no longer looking into the distance beyond the windshield, but at the force fed depictions of sights that we gradually began to get further from with every click of the mouse. Even worse, we began talking about these places with our companions as if we had been there before, accepting an online picture taken by someone else or short video clip on YouTube as our travel logs and old scrapbooks and coffee table photo albums. Sometimes we even utter: ‘we should go there sometime’ or ‘I have always wanted to see…’ knowing that there will inevitably be a slurry of excuses and ‘better things to do’ that will negate any good intended trip planning.
Mile marker 138 will forever serve as my inspiration to travel more and see everything that I can. Responsibility and obligations, not excuses, will be the only hurdles to conquer in order to fulfill an age old need to go and see and do. Mile marker 138 stands as a silent call to leave our lives behind, even for a short time, and just live. The open road is still there, my friends. It holds along its route a treasure trove. It holds along its route… America. We just have to discover it.