July 10, 2012 | By: Cathy Gordon
"For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." -- Robert Louis Stevenson
My husband and I just returned from a trip to the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia. Before we left, my dad (a mountain man, Navy veteran, world traveler and true relic of a by-gone era of exploration) suggested that we use a road map, rather than a GPS, to guide our travels. To which I said, “Like…a map map? That folds out?” All he could do was smile. He handed me a five-dollar bill and told us to pick one up on our way out of town.
The closest gas station sold us its only map on hand. It was covered in dust and already splitting at the seams with age. Apparently we aren’t the only people who aren’t investing in maps.
We quickly traced our route to Lexington – not with MapQuest, or Google Maps, or my iPhone’s GPS or the GPS in the car – but with this archaic looking piece of paper that required both of our college degrees to unfold and refold.
And then something unexpected happened. From the very beginning, our trip became an adventure. Most of our car rides up to this point began with plugging in our “end destination” to the GPS and allowing it to tell us when and where to turn and how to get there. We focused solely on how to get to point B from point A and waited impatiently to be "there" already.
But without the GPS calling the shots, we opened our eyes to a million tangential possibilities – and the power to make our own way.
After looking at the map, my husband soon realized that our route would take us near a small historic town featured in a book he is currently reading. So we carefully navigated our way off our path and toward this quaint Virginia town with the help of road signs (and a bit of trial and error). We stopped to see whatever was to be seen in that sleepy town and happened across an impressive historical museum and a delicious lunch at a little mom-and-pop diner.
Without the confines of the GPS’ “expected time of arrival," we felt free to stop on every whim along the road. We paid attention to signs along the way for unique country stores, mountain overlooks, historical markers and other sights.
It took us twice as long as we were expecting to arrive in Lexington, but we considered our day’s worth of travel to be all part of the fun.
When it came time to leave Lexington and head back toward Durham, instead of feeling down, we were excited at the possibility of what we might discover on our way. We changed course early on after realizing that a ramp for 501 off the Blue Ridge Parkway would lead us on a direct (and scenic) tour home. Once again, we made several spontaneous stops when the opportunity presented itself, my favorite being a charming coffee shop in downtown Lynchburg.
And when we did pull back into our driveway, we were proud that we'd served as our own navigation system. We felt empowered. And curious.
What might we discover if we let go of things like preconceived notions and stringent goals and give ourselves the freedom to truly explore our surroundings? What opportunities exist for us off the beaten path?
Even though we unpacked our suitcases that day, we realized this adventure had nestled into our minds and spirits and would be with us for quite some time.