Destinations By Josh Doorenbos and Iam Dudley

During spring break in March, we drove from Orange City to the coast of Maine and back as the experiential part of a course in pilgrimage writing. Purposefully meandering with no particular destination in mind, we explored the off-the-expressway towns we’re usually too hurried to notice, recording our reflections and insights along the way.

We drove through towns like Reading, Pa., and Ohio City, N.Y.; we drove through mountains and forests and plains. We saw barns decorated with painted quilt patterns and a town that was clinging to one last bar for life. We wrote about sunsets and rain storms and rundown buildings and silos. We met people we never would have met—in coffee shops we never would have stopped at—had we not taken this journey.

Nothing extraordinary happened. We expected extraordinary. We expected awe-inspiring, life-changing occurrences, and all we got were a couple of seemingly forgettable conversations. We wanted eye-opening exploration of the uncharted, and all we got were gas stations and country roads.

Around day seven we came to a realization: This is all there is. We caught ourselves trying to set destinations for our meandering trip—not physical or geographical, maybe, but intellectual, psychological. We’d set our sights on insights and ways in which our lives should change when all we were ever meant to learn was to see the ordinary.

Driving home, we found ourselves surrounded by the frenzy of interstate driving, caught in the current, streaming toward a destination. On both sides we watched neighboring drivers down coffee as if it were the antidote to the poison they called sleep. Headlights staring like eyes and flickering like twin lamps, shuttered and aimed straight ahead, lighting a path before them and only before them. The destination seemed to be all that mattered.

And then it happened: We were the same. We were guilty of passing through miles upon miles of countryside without a glance to either side. The speed limit was 65, and yet the cars around us were going 75. We accelerated, boosting our speed to match theirs.

Is the journey so miserable that all we care about is ending it?  

What happened to our conscious effort to meander—to take the time to see what is missed in our 65-mile-per-hour lifestyle, to breathe the country air, to examine every drop of water, every leaf, every hole in every tree?

We built, on those back roads and rundown highways, a new philosophy, one that allows for—nurtures, even—an appreciation of the moment. It was a philosophy not so much about speed and distances and destinations as it was about people and places and observations. The interstate bypassed that philosophy, took the soul of the journey away, and gave us our two lamps, shuttered and staring straight ahead. The journey was lost in the destination.

The living journey, the one that deals in steps and minutes as opposed to miles and hours, is never lacking for destinations. Grocery lists, to-do lists, guest lists, contact lists, reading lists, programs, goals, calendars, agendas—all are destinations. In 65-mile-per-hour living, one can get tired of the blurred roadside as the only view.

“And so we walk,” Ian writes now. “Everywhere our feet touch ground—that is our destination.  Everywhere asphalt reaches up to kiss the tires of our vehicle—that is our destination.”

Wanderers and wonderers, Josh Doorenbos and Ian Dudley are junior writing and rhetoric majors. Josh, from Boyden, Iowa, is also studying literature. Ian, from Barnstead, N.H., is also pursuing an art major.

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