Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 14 Oct 2006 03:47:29 -0400

Terrible Tourist


(rerun from October 1998 RC)

Travel can be instructional, and you can learn as much about yourself from the road as about where you go. What I learned about myself on a recent driving trip wasn't pretty. I tried to travel with a runner's mindset -- that is, to cover ground quickly -- and this is no way to go through country so scenic.

The trip was my idea. It shocked my wife Barbara when I proposed it, because it's so out of character. We rarely travel together outside the running circuit.

"Let's drive to Idaho and Montana," I said. "Those are two of the six states I've never visited." The others (all in New England) are far beyond our driving range.

"How long do you want to take?" she asked. She's the great tourist in the family, having visited more countries (all but three without me) than I have added up states.

"Oh, three or four days," I said, pulling out the map and tracking the most direct route across Idaho and barely touching the nearest point in Montana.

I was thinking like a racing runner: hurry to a turnaround point and hightail back. This is how I've traveled since age 15: to do a job and reach a goal, not to dawdle and sightsee along the way.

"No, no," Barbara protested. "We can't go all that distance and not see Yellowstone and the Tetons. We have to spend at least a week."

She thinks any trip lasting less than a week is hardly worth taking, though she'll go along with me to some races just so we'll have some time away together. By hurrying, she doesn't see enough to satisfy her exploratory leanings.

We compromised between travel styles. Barbara agreed to limit our time on the road to one week. I agreed to stay off the Interstates and to take close looks at the two national parks.

I freely admit here that my wife was right. The sights were spectacular and not to be missed.

But I also freely confess to what were the best and worst parts of the trip for me. They tell what I learned on the road -- which is that much of the baggage from life at home traveled along with me.

The best parts of each day were two: (1) the usual morning run, only now in a new place each day, and (2) settling into a motel each evening and plugging in the laptop for some of the usual writing.

The worst part of a day: finding no phone that would link me to the umbilical cord of home by way of the message machine and e-mail. [This was pre-cell-phones for us and before wireless internet blanketed the country.]

This trip taught me that I'm a terrible tourist, which tells me I feel little urge to be one at all. I'm happy with home and all that goes on there, and don't need to leave it except when duty calls elsewhere. My idea of a perfect "vacation" is a weekend with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

The least attractive trait that the trip mirrored back to me was a strong streak of workaholism. The workaholic's theme is, "Thank God it's Monday." My reaction at journey's end was, "Ah, it's over and I can finally get back to work."

Or maybe it's back home to the permanent vacation that my everyday life resembles -- with little to do but run and write [and now teaching/coaching running], and all day to do it.

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