The Seafaring Life
A young woman continues on her solo cross-country road trip across America, reflecting on the first-leg of her journey — the Southeast.
This story was originally published on jessicamichellecastillo.com on May 5, 2018.
Hello from Washington, DC! It’s been two weeks since I started this cross-country adventure. I arrived here on Tuesday and being back in the DC Metro Area has been a welcome second-homecoming of sorts. I lived in DC for five years and my dad recently started a job here so he moved back up and my mom will soon follow from Miami. It’s nice to rest, hang with my dad and see friends and old haunts. Plus, you almost can’t beat the diversity of museums, sights and food options in DC.
My friend Robert recently told me about The Seafarer, an Old English poem by Ezra Pound about the seafaring life that has undergone many a disparate interpretation. He explained that “on certain levels, The Seafarer touches on the ‘addiction’ and perhaps almost the lonely lament that can develop from traveling. ‘The Road’ becomes the traveler’s ‘home’ and a person can become accustomed to that and never quite get comfortable in one place for too long. They aren’t truly comfortable unless they are on a journey. As you hang out with ‘non-travelers’ on your journey, you’ll start to feel how different you are.”
I’ve long felt that feeling. A very deep, defining feeling. That insatiability for newness. That feeling of being addicted to novelty, and of feeling uncomfortable being in one place for too long, needing a journey and to see and do new things all the time. I wonder if that feeling will go away, if it should or if I want it to. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one to have felt this way. I’m in the same boat (ha) as Pound’s Seafarer.
Time has warped on this trip. I’ve seen and done a lot in the past two weeks and yet it’s only been two weeks. I didn’t realize I would be so exhausted — sightseeing and having long drives almost every day takes its toll. Also, experiencing so much newness, though soul satisfying, can be overstimulating. I now know I need to factor in rest and time to process everything.
Just during the first two weeks of this trip, I’m recognizing and remembering that whatever is presented to me, I’m prepared to handle. I feel like everything up until this point in my life has been a preparation for this journey: getting all my stuff stolen out of the trunk of my car at an Airbnb in Palm Desert the night before the Coachella Music Festival, left with essentially the clothes on my back; traveling to and hiking alone in the Grand Canyon; feeling terrified driving alone at night from the Grand Canyon back to Flagstaff; navigating Paris alone at 19 with no knowledge of French during study abroad, including taking the bus to the end of the line and ending up in a rough neighborhood in the banlieu at dusk and figuring out my way back home; my near fatal car accident in high school with my friend Veronica and the deep dark abyss of loneliness and depression that that elicited, and the lessening of these terrible emotions over time as a sign that nothing is permanent and even the awful will subside; being hyperaware of my surroundings as I stayed in an €8-a-night hostel in a shady part of Athens, where there were needles with dried blood tossed casually on the street and a woman hunched over in a doorway with a syringe still in her arm, imperceptibly breathing; plus countless other experiences in my life, both big and small, memorable and forgettable.
It all feels like I’m transitioning to Part 2 of my life. I’m reminded of my favorite Jack Kerouac quote from On the Road:
I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line of the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon.
Robert also recently told me about how Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters said that, halfway through the 1972 Dark Side of the Moon tour, “he realized, quite poignantly at a specific moment on the tour, that he was no longer rehearsing for some future great something in his life. At that moment, ‘on the road,’ it dawned on him that he was no longer ‘preparing’ for something but actually presently ‘living’ it.”
That really struck me. That same feeling has definitely been hitting me. And it’s such a beautifully strange feeling. To be living in it all. There’s no more preparing, this is the living part.
I’ll be driving, figuring out my way to one of the places on my list of sights to see, and it randomly hits me. Oh my god, this is it, I can’t believe I’m actually doing it, doing my dream. I did it, I made it happen. The “it” is not necessarily the completion of the whole journey, but it’s the fact that I even started, that I’m even trying and doing it. And then I’ll cry from the overwhelming emotion of it all.
I’ve felt like I’m in some kind of Amazing Race of life. Needing to sometimes navigate cities and directions with Google Maps in Airplane Mode or with a physical road atlas and map, finding the location of wherever I’m sleeping for that night — an Airbnb, campsite, friend’s apartment — coordinating transfers of keys, maneuvering maze-like apartment complexes, unlocking Airbnb doors with lockboxes and sometimes faulty keypad codes.
It all feels like a test of sorts, with continual good feelings that I’m passing because I’m recognizing that life has been preparing me for this test all along. ◊