About an hour before sundown I crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa to Illinois on I-80. My cooler with three roast beef sandwiches and a bag of grapes was on the floor on the passenger side. On the seat beside me, a basket holding another three sandwiches — peanut butter and jelly — two plastic containers of carrot sticks, a bag of pretzels, a Tupperware canister of gorp and a package of some intensely mediocre store bought snickerdoodles.
Everything was in easy reach and a snap to eat cleanly with no sticky fingers. My headphones were plugged into my phone, loaded with an audio book long enough to get me through 24 hours of driving. When I got bored of following the plot, I could brush up on all the pop music I’ve been missing in my life.
I was fully self-contained and stocked with enough proteins, carbs and veggies to fuel my solo drive home to New Hampshire. My longest break would be at the edge of a rest stop parking lot to catch a few hours shut eye. Just plop the seat back, sleep, wake, snap the seat up and get back on I-80.
In the course of one full spin of the earth, I needed only pay nominal attention to the traffic and stay in tune with myself. Within a very limited range of options, what I felt determined what I would do. When I needed coffee, when I needed sleep, when I needed a jolt of protein, when I needed a drink of water, when I needed to rock out, when I needed silence.
I discovered that a long drive is a useful lesson in noticing where your mind and body are at that exact moment. It is pointless to think about the distance traveled or the distance remaining. Well, OK; it’s fine to be human and check those things but when the only driver is you, the time is the time. You can only drive the speed you choose and the miles and hours flow relentlessly from that.
The drive was peaceful. Its outward dullness left plenty of room for accepting that this is where I was and this was what I was doing and it was clean and uncomplicated and refreshing.