Magazine article The Christian Century

Road Trips

Magazine article The Christian Century

Road Trips

Article excerpt

ONE DAY in January, my son Jacob and his college roommate Ben were busy packing our family's 11-year-old Subaru wagon. One of their professors had approved their independent project for January term credit. Loosely put, the project was to involve extensive car travel out West to meet and interview creative people for video clips. I read through their proposal; it sounded a bit like Charles Kuralt, only more amateurish--and based on a $500 budget.

Where would they go? Who would they interview? All that I could tell from some penciled-out destinations was that this 21-year-old Lewis and 23-year-old Clark hoped to meet their interviewees near ski resorts. Did I say that snowboards were strapped to the top of the car?

As with most trips, half the fun is the anticipation and the preparation--that's when dreams are launched and tales imagined. The homemade wooden shelf in the Subaru would allow these two partially shaven men to sleep in the car beneath their luggage. (I remember the text they sent from North Platte, Nebraska, on their first night: it was four degrees above zero.)

In an effort to help with the preparation, I rummaged through bins of backpacking equipment in our basement. Finding a few usable items would be invaluable to a collegian's strained budget. The best part was rummaging together, though Jacob had to listen to a lot of 33-and 34-year-old memories popping out of my mouth. I couldn't keep quiet. "This is awesome," I said as I pulled out a half roll of toilet paper in a Ziploc bag from 1978. "Oh man, look at this! My camping food list, still typed from my college typewriter." I pulled out a stuff sack with pine needles stuck in the bottom. Were they from Bryce Canyon, or maybe the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? All I knew is they were too precious to shake out and throw away.

We looked at old topographical maps of Colorado, including routes where Jacob happened to have hiked just a couple of years ago. I talked about why I thought that plastic coffee cup was better than a metal one for backpacking. I could smell 12,000-foot air in our basement closet. There was even an unopened bag of Ramen noodles. I probably should have sent it off to the Smithsonian--it's that close to being fossilized.

We disrupted the packing long enough to try out the camp stove on the front porch. With one of us holding a flashlight to guide the other, Jacob and I cooked up a tasty pasta dinner in the frigid air of a January night in Iowa.

Rainer Maria Rilke said that poetry should be composed not of sentiments but of life experiences. …

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