Refuge of the Roads

Just about a year ago, I went camping a few weeks before I departed for my three month stint of traveling through the Balkans. I remember that weekend really giving Joni Mitchell’s Hejira a good listening, and was really struck by the mood of the album. She said of it: “I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it… The sweet loneliness of solitary travel.” The last song on the album is “Refuge of the Roads,” with the lines:

There was spring along the ditches

There were good times in the cities

Oh, radiant happiness

It was all so light and easy

Till I started analyzing

And I brought on my old ways

A thunderhead of judgment was

Gathering in my gaze

And it made most people nervous

They just didn’t want to know

What I was seeing in the refuge of the roads

I listened to quite a bit of that album and also Blue on my trip last fall. (Which she wrote during a trip across Europe after a breakup, and of which she said: “The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”) It’s such great solo wandering music – the melancholy, the insecurity, but at the same time, the appeal and joy of being solo with an open road in front of you, not really knowing where you’re going and at the same time, no need to know where you’re going.

Well, here I am on the eve of another departure, thinking about all this again. In just a few short hours I will be arriving in Istanbul to teach English. On my previous trips to Istanbul I’ve been blown away, and am excited for the opportunity to see what it will be like spending a long term stay in the Greatest City in the World.

I spent just over a month at home this summer, desperately trying to replenish my funds that were depleted after months of wanderings. Most of my time at home was spent at the Speed Merchants Bike Shop, which is the coolest bike shop on the planet. Where else can you go to experience the Grill of Glory, the Futon of Glory, and hang out and drink beer with the Speed Merchants themselves who make your bicycle work better than ever before? Nowhere but the Speed Merchants.

It was a good stint at home. Often when I come home I get stressed and worried that I won’t be able to get out and go wandering again, but this time I knew when I was leaving, which allowed for a different mindset about being back. As always, with imminent departures on nomadic travels, there’s a hint of melancholy in the air. Here I am, leaving my friends, family and poor Scooter dog, off on another journey by myself.

Just why do I keep jumping off on these adventures?After all of this transience, wouldn’t it be nice to have something lasting? I’m not naïve enough to believe I’ll find contentment on my adventures; I know that those same questions will continue to haunt me that have always haunted everyone from Gilgamesh, to Rumi, to Stavrogin: Where am I, how did I get here, and where am I going?

But I can’t have it both ways. Were I to stay put, I’d have worries and frustrations of other sorts, and I keep wandering because I love it. Armed with a dense library, a chess set and my boots, I depart again for the refuge of the roads. What adventures await me this time around? Istanbul beckons!

Some closing thoughts from the Highwaymen:

I’ll fly a starship across the Universe divide

And when I reach the other side

I’ll find a place to rest my spirit if I can

Perhaps I may become a highwayman again

Or I may simply be a single drop of rain

But I will remain

And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again…

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