A long trip last summer became another pilgrimage for me, in a way I could not have anticipated. We helped our younger daughter and her husband move to Duluth, where Adam had landed a teaching position with the U of MN at Duluth. So, along with their dog (my traveling companion in the U-Haul truck) and two other vehicles, we drove from south Texas to the northern terminus of Intersate 35 in Duluth.
The drive up to Duluth took three days. Adam and Sally’s dog lay with her ears near the speakers so I kept the radio turned off. What I noticed driving along was that I really wasn’t noticing much. When we travel along our high-speed highways we don’t notice that they are laid out along uninteresting paths. From time to time, I would glimpse a possibly beautiful or compelling sight; but by the time I noticed it, I had already put it in the rear- view mirror. So all the unexamined “now” moments became “then” moments before I even pondered them. What a metaphor for modern life in America!
Thus, when Sandy and I left Duluth to return home, we took the long way. On our first day we spent the entire day driving the southern reach of Lake Superior. We stopped at a wayside and walked down to the lake and enjoyed being in the setting rather than seeing it pass by. Crossing the Upper Peninsula (the UP) of Michigan, we took time to soak in the scenery. In mid-afternoon we stopped at a roadside cafe named “UP Chucks” (how could you pass THAT one up?) and had great burgers next to some Harley tourists. That night we camped in the Sault Ste. Marie Forest area.
Over the next several days we poked along through the small towns and little-traveled roadways of middle America. We ate lunch in the City Cafe in Alma, MI, where the waitress hollered across the dining area to a couple of men: “How is George gonna pay for that new truck when he don’t even have a job?” I’ll never know the answer to that one.
Our trip home lasted 11 days. We slept in state parks and motels. We drove on freeways only when we couldn’t find an interesting side route. We explored a small section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which was hardly marked. Driving along the dirt road, we watched white-tailed deer bounding through the cornfields and saw 15 or so wild young turkeys scurry across the road. We sat and observed them for as long as we could see them moving through the brush. We learned again that breakfast is better in the only cafe in Black Rock, Arkansas, than it is in a “big box” restaurant along the freeway. We reveled in the little flowers blooming beside a farm-to-market road, which we would never have noticed driving by at 70 MPH.
In the Nicene creed, we Christians acknowledge that God created “all things visible and invisible.” The invisible is not only the universe beyond our senses; it is also all the places and people and things we miss as we hurry to get somewhere that we often don’t even want to be.
Maybe that’s the most compelling reason to walk El Camino.