Since I bought my new vehicle and covered it in stickers and magnets from the wondrous places I’ve traveled, one of the questions I’ve started to receive is, “Have you been to all those places?” Of course, I answer. As one of my social media platforms reads, “ …traveling flows through me and calls me like a sweet addiction. Whenever possible, I succumb to its temptations…” Likewise true. When people discover I’ve seen all fifty states, a common inquiry is, “Which one is your favorite?” While this may be akin to asking a mother which child is her favorite, there is a small smattering I can immediately push to the bottom of the list, but a favorite? I attempt a response, but that query goes unanswered.
When I consider all these questions, a more apt proposition to pose to me ought to be, “Why do you travel?” In response, I obviously answer in reference to all the beauty the United States possesses. Indeed, another true fact. Yet, like many with itchy feet, prone to wanderlust, and ready to hit the open road, my inspiration doesn’t stem from just checking boxes on an atlas (see “Traveling With Boys,” November 2011), but discovering the unexpected between point A and point Z. Yes, I count the National Parks I have seen (nearly forty), and yes, there are states I have visited for less than an hour (I see you Delaware) yet they still make the tally, but the visual you didn’t expect, the person you meet on the trail, or the site left off the map truly exhilarates me.
Stopping For Accelerant
One of my curious, accidental finds required a stop in the Nevada wilderness (see “The Idiot Tree,” December 2011). Once I wandered behind a waterfall. Of course there was the time I stopped to purchase honey from a wooden crate (see “Honey,” August 2014). Don’t even ask me how many times I’ve been late arriving at my final destination due to time spent photographing rocks, rivers, flowers, and clouds. My most common stop on any road trip, naturally, is refueling. As a seasoned travel, I warn you, don’t overlook these curious points. Of course, I’d rather not have to spend precious time quenching my vehicle’s thirst, but then on this day I would not have been aptly cautioned.
I pull off the highway en route to Mammoth Cave National Park (arriving after dark, as usual) to snag a tank full of petrol, and I see a road sign by the convenience store entrance forewarning me Caution: Man On Fire, not more than a few feet from the exterior-mounted extinguisher. Seated next to the orange diamond, either unaware, or completely at ease with his preparations, a local performer strums his way through one of many songs, a couple of which keep me company as I fuel. What prompts him to be at this location, what is the name of the song he plays, and when will he combust? So many questions ignite my curiosity, all queries which go unanswered. Accept that something burns in all of us.