Wander Lust


Longtime readers of this blog and the conscientious historians will know how it began. For my last sabbatical year, in 2008, Julia and I bought a thirty-seven foot Class A, Tiffin Allegro Bay motor home (which I named Obelisk), attached a hydraulic lift on which to carry two Yamaha C-3 motor scooters, moved all our belongings into storage, rented out our home, and drove around the country for a year. We spent most of the year visiting Indian reservations and other Native communities as we began researching our book Native Now, on which work continues. The first year of this blog concentrated mostly on our experience of travel and in Indian Country.

Two years earlier, we had driven the length of Route 66 and covered the history of it, in prose and photography, for Doubletake. We’ve driven around a chunk of Europe together and we fly wherever we can get to in the world through the travel workshops of Julia’s school, The Julia Dean Photo Workshops. We have various dreams for the future – North to South from Canada to Patagonia and from China through the Malay Peninsula to Singapore, for instance – and we have made it a tradition always to travel, both far and near, for New Years.

Even earlier, my first trip away from home on my own, with my best friend, at 17, was to fly from New York to California, and hitch hike up the Pacific Coast Highway, making all the scenes from the Sunset Strip and Santa Barbara to Big Sur and Berkeley. In those days, when air travel was still exotic, and treated that way by the airlines, any international airport smelled to me of Alpha Centauri. I longed to go places.

I offer these few highlights just to make the point – I love travel, and the older I get, the more I live for it. When our year on the road was over and other responsibilities called, we needed to sell the Allegro Bay.  I told everyone then, and do still – I’ve never had a clearer feeling in my life – that having to sell the motor home made me feel like a cowboy forced to give up his horse. The freedom to pull up stakes, literally, any moment I chose, and the work of doing it, and then to travel and sink them in again almost anywhere I wanted had become an intoxicant. The music played, the dogs were at our feet, that wide window was a world Cinerama, a constant moving picture, and life felt lived every day, not for any purpose (though, in fact, we had more than one), but just for the wondrous pleasure of living it.

As the years continue in addition and subtraction, I think more about what it is – what it means exactly – to “stay young,” not in any artificial physical or superficial manner, not in self-delusive pretense, but in response to the world. If one is lucky enough not to age too severely or prematurely in body, there is still that weariness of the world that accumulated experience inflicts. When you’ve seen and done it all, you feel, what’s the point?

What occurs to me is that this weariness has two components. One is in the actual blows one takes in life and how they chip away at our resilience and capacity for renewed joy. The other is in the conclusive thinking we do about the nature of experience, based upon our own – however wide it may be – still only individual experience. The generalizations we make about the world and the course of our lives in it – that wisdom we accumulate, like the blows, and sometimes presume to pass on to others – does one thing, certainly, badly. It abstracts. To generalize is to abstract. Good sometimes, bad others. Why meet another human being? Haven’t you met some already? Why another culture, another town, another feature of the earth?

One thing that travel does is stop the abstraction. Every culture and every village you enter, every person you meet who is a product of that culture and village, once you stop abstracting, can surprise you with a new individuality.

There is, for me, no greater joy than driving down a road and knowing that the town rising up ahead of me, the street, that building with its history unknown, that clump of earth with a chip of stone on it is one I have never seen before, never before a part of my world, until now.

All of this is by way of introduction to Gunther Holtorf’s 23 Year Road Trip, a trip that did not begin until he was in his 50s. Gunther Holtorf – today’s inductee into the Wanderluster’s Hall of Fame. (H/T Dan at Smogranch)


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3 thoughts on “Wander Lust

  1. 23 years on the road! Amazing experiences in that video.

    Wonderful read, Jay. Your and Julia’s travels always give me the itch to get going. My hope is to get to Australia and back to Africa.

  2. Inspired and inspiring. Thank you. Lisa and I are looking for ways to do something like this. A good boilerplate, the melding if your and Julia’s experiences and G.H.’s. Will share it with Lisa, without loosening too much the reins on both our wanderlusting hearts for now.

    Again, thanks, peace,

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