Road tripping is one of the most American things you can do. Quite honestly, there’s nothing more American than the open road. The two-lane highways with their yellow divider and plains or hills rolling on each side. The occasional tractor, farmhouse, and cattle ranches. The lone house or trading post. These are all symbols of the American experience.
Protest also symbolizes the American experience. During election week, one of my best friends and I decided to hit the open road. As we titled it, The Great Self-Actualization Tour was done in protest of the election to escape the political turmoil.
On the other hand, The Great Self Actualization Tour was also a search for purpose and meaning in both of our lives. To find healing in what has been a treacherous year of loss and heartbreak.
For the road trip, we rented a camper van. The destinations ranged from various detours, such as the Salton Sea in California and Cannon Beach in Oregon, to exploring our great National Parks, such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Tetons. Akin to the counterculture of the 1960s, I guess you can say we were just a couple of hippies in a camper van on the open road.
It wasn’t our first road trip during a political uneasy time.
The first one was in 2017 when I decided to move back home to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C. The road trip that year also happened to be during the same week of the Charlottesville protest. We decided to drive the southern route to California, primarily for the cuisine, passing through Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. But unlike The Great Self Actualization Tour, we weren’t driving away from the turmoil but through it.
You learn a lot about our country and its people by driving its roads when the different factions of the idea of America are warring with each other. You also learn a lot about yourself in the process. If there was any truth in the lessons learned from The Great Self-Actualization Tour, it is there isn’t much that separates us as individuals.
Our ideals or ideologies keep us separated, barriers themselves. Still, they also provide us with comfort and safety, which is why we hold onto them. Yet, it’s only without judgment that we can strip them away and see our humanity within each other.
To see things clearly, as they are, and not as they are perceived to be, one has to quiet one’s mind. On the road, your mind has nothing to do but be quiet, present, simply observing. While driving through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and back down to California, I did a lot of observing of America, and in turn, of myself. Through my constant gaze, either from the driver or passenger side window, I was able to gain perspective without judgment.
One of the lessons that I learned is that America is larger than our liberal city bubbles. Land may not vote, but many people on that land have a vested interest that the government, or our systems, don’t f*ck up their way of life. I can understand how a rancher in Wyoming can vote for Donald Trump without any hesitation.
His vote may not imply that he’s necessarily racist. Truth is, most of the social rhetoric and policies we hold close to us in our liberal cities isn’t a part of his day to day reality. The only thing that matters is his ranch, cattle, horses, and the conservative platform that protects him from government intervention into his way of life. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, per se, although the person he voted for is. His primary objective is survival, and politics is about survival.
Although this may be true, while hiking in the various National Parks, there was a realization that there are no politics on the trail.
One of the things that stuck out to us, especially during such a politically turbulent time, was people’s humanity and how friendly everyone was. Most of the people that we encountered in the National Parks were as nice and warm as can be. There was a certain camaraderie. Always a passing hello or hi. For me, it took some time to get used to, as my first reactions were defensive, a form of survival. But before long, I too was saying howdy with a smile directed back at the passing hiker.
A testament to this is the hike that we did on election day in Bryce Canyon, Utah. It was particularly special, being out in nature without a care in the world. In many different ways, most hikers we passed said the same thing, “What a great day to be on the trail.” We were no longer Democrats or Republicans but Americans, humans, enjoying nature. There were no party affiliations or biases toward one another.
That’s the beauty of nature; it strips us of our identity.
In the end, on the road to self-actualization, I guess you can say we found out about ourselves through others. Whatever conflict we had within ourselves at the beginning of the trip was no longer there. We both learned there isn’t a dividing line that separates us as people.
This left a certain sense of solace during a time of division.
We may have just been a couple of hippies on the open road, but the lessons we learned on the way will last a lifetime.