For the first time since retirement 10 months ago, I’m struggling with a sense of aimlessness. It’s a foreign feeling. The last time I remember feeling this unfocused was … well, actually, I don’t ever remember feeling this unfocused.
My last day at The Dallas Morning News was Friday, Feb. 2. That weekend didn’t really feel much different from any of the other weekends during my 38 years as a journalist. And two days later, I felt the familiar Monday morning sense of purpose as we flung ourselves full-speed into the final preparations for our Year on the Edges of America travel-trailer adventure around the perimeter of the United States.
Before we knew it, our March 1 departure date arrived and we hit the road. So excited were we that we pulled out of the garage more than an hour ahead of schedule. Our days have been full and focused ever since.
What road shall we take today? Which map is better? What sights should we see?
Where’s the best bike path? Is there a good hiking trail around here? Should we take this scenic route or that?
Is there a farmers market nearby? Do we want to stay here tonight or go there? Shall we make dinner on the stove or over the campfire?
What can we discover tomorrow that nobody else knows about?
Every day has been a new adventure as we puttered our way along the perimeter of the United States – Dallas to South Texas, around the Gulf Coast, down and then up the coasts of Florida, along the Atlantic seaboard, into Canada, out to Cape Breton, back through Quebec and Ontario, down and around the Great Lakes, across the northern tier, back into Canada, then down the Pacific Coast….
Our typical stays were two and three nights along the way, sometimes four or five. Only in Charleston, Pawcatuck (Connecticut) and Catawba Island (Ohio) did we stay longer, and then only a little.
Now, more than 21,449 miles later, we are in Tucson. We arrived before Thanksgiving, stashing our Casita for a few weeks to stay in our vacation home here. We won’t be resuming our travel eastward until sometime after the first of the year.
That elongated stay sounded like ecstasy when we planned it. A welcome few weeks of stillness – no more washing dishes in a sink the size of a shoebox, no more struggling with spotty internet service, no more having to learn a new laundromat protocol (tokens or time cards, cash or credit)….
But now that we’re here?
Not so much.
Less ecstasy; more exasperation.
The first couple of weeks were grand. Friends to visit, family to enjoy, sights to see.
But soon I felt an internal clock ticking, like it was time to leave, to move on. Mentally, I was already looking over the dashboard to the next adventure on the road.
Apparently, I’ve acquired the attention span of a gnat.
Exacerbating this sense of discombobulation were all those Act-Like-Adult chores. There’s nothing like paying bills, wrestling with government programs like Social Security and Medicare and dealing with banks and other financial institutions to take the bloom off a rose. And receiving notice this month that the Canadian Border Services Agency rejected our appeal of the $500 fine a power-tripping border slapped us with last summer pretty much picked off the last of the petals.
Can’t we just hit the road and skip all those gotta-do chores and responsibilities?
Our house here is lovely. It’s a small vacation home we’ve had for more than a decade, furnished with ramshackle hand-me-downs that are perfectly tolerable for one-week stopovers a couple times a year but seem starkly less satisfying over the course of an extended two-month stay. It offers plenty of house projects.
Where to start? I feel like an ant before a Mount Everest of fix-its. The garage is a mess. The bathroom needs work. The pictures on the wall are placeholders, the TV temporary. We need a kitchen table.
And what do you know? Georges and I have differing ideas about how to prioritize these projects – even what the projects should be.
As Gomer Pyle used to say: “Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise!”
Time to hit the pause button. So we re-engaged with the Southern Arizona Hiking Club.
G has been a member of this club, believed to be the oldest and quite possibly the largest in the nation, for some 30 years. (We’ll be attending the celebration of its 60th anniversary later this month; G has an early four-digit membership number in a club with a membership now well into five digits.) The club offers dozens of guided hikes each month in, up and around the mountains and canyons of southern Arizona. Degree of difficulty ranges from easy to strenuous with plenty of options in the middle.
Looking for a rejuvenating reset, we signed up for a moderate five-mile hike at dawn across the bajada of the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson. Gee, I wonder why they call it “A Walk Through the Cactus Forest.”
We met some fascinating people along the way, spied three mule deer and shared the trail at one point with this four-legged hiker.
A few days later, we hiked in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains on the north side of town. Here’s a view looking back down the trail from partway up.
The sights along the lower Sabino Canyon are lovely.
My happy honey was in his hiking element as we took a short snack break.
Another day we watched a dramatic sunrise on a stroll through the Sweetwater Preserve County Park on the west side of town.
Tucson also has a great system of bike paths. You can actually pedal some 131 miles on shared-use bike paths (no motorized vehicles allowed) on “The Loop” all the way around Tucson. G and I have done parts of The Loop; we’re eager to experience the new connecting sections.
So it’s clear there’s plenty to do here. That’s not the problem. It’s more a matter of where to start, of establishing new expectations and finding a new rhythm.
I used to wake up each morning and go to work with an agenda in mind. No matter what else happens amid today’s news and chaos, I’d think, it’s important to accomplish at least This One Thing.
Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. But I always had a focus, a clear sense of mission.
Life on the road the last nearly nine months has had a similar telescoped view.
These days, I wake up each morning with myriad options before me. The difference is that none of them is truly urgent. It doesn’t really matter to anybody else if I succeed or fail in tackling the day’s challenges, nobody’s livelihood is dependent on my choices or actions.
I’m no longer part of an organization whose very structure forces prioritization and defines achievement. Nor am I (for the next several weeks) riding shotgun – maps and binoculars in hand – on a concentrated driving adventure around the country, our nose always pointed down the road or over the next hill.
All my life, I’ve worked for somebody else – 45 years of working for a museum, a gift shop, a wire service, two major newspapers. G is just the opposite. He’s worked for himself all his life, in multiple countries with multiple languages – always setting his own priorities, making his own agenda, establishing his own expectations. It’s one of the things I admire most about him.
So my New Adventure this month isn’t a new national park to explore, a new sea to sail or another mountain to scale.
It will be searching out a new equilibrium, developing a new rhythm. It’s about learning to tame the adrenaline rush of new experiences and transforming moments of bliss into elongated hours of peace, tranquility and satisfaction.
I haven’t mastered this art. But I’m working on it.