Reflections on the Road: A Journey Begins (Part 1)

Filed in Gather Travel Essential by on June 6, 2007 0 Comments










(This is the first in a four-part installment recounting the start of my 14-month journey across Asia, which began in October 2003.)


I stood in the drop-off zone at the Atlanta airport and reached into the trunk of a friend’s car to pull out my backpack.  I hoisted it onto my shoulders and adjusted the straps.  The weight of the backpack felt right, as though it were already shaping me.  But it was not the weight of clothes, books, and toiletries that sparked this feeling.  It was the weight of commitment.

Already, even though the journey had only begun, I was tired.  The prospect of traveling overland through the world’s largest continent, of traveling alone, of traveling while the lives of my friends went on without me — all these things bore upon my mind.  I had traveled enough to know that when one is alone on the road for many months, he brings back memories that quickly turn ghostly.  This is because they were not shared experiences.  The day comes when the traveler looks back on his journey and asks, Is my life a series of events that never really happened?  Traveling alone across the world’s largest continent, then, was not to travel lightheartedly.

But neither was it to travel somberly.  As I said goodbye to my friend, my ears listened keenly to the roar of jet engines.  The sound beckoned me to stand tall, to step aboard an Asia-bound flight and see what would follow.  The thunderous reverberations rekindled fond, life-shaping memories of people and places I had known well but which were now far away.  The roar was the sound of movement-and all the possibilities that such movement holds.

The sliding doors opened and I walked into the terminal, the backpack snug against my body.  An hour later, the Northwest Airbus pulled up its wheels and turned toward Minneapolis.  I was sitting in seat 3A — first class — because the flight had been overbooked and I was the last one on.

Preparing to enter a world I didn’t know, I found myself looking out the window and living in a world I did-a world of memories.   Over Chattanooga, I thought back to a college fieldtrip to the Tennessee Aquarium.  I remembered how our ecology class stopped at Cracker Barrel for dinner and sat at the table closest to the fireplace.  I thought of warmth, friends, youth.

Minutes later, the plane passed near Nashville.  Four years and a month had passed since that night, but I remembered it well: after thirty-five hours of straight driving from Phoenix, I pulled into Beth’s apartment complex at 10:00 p.m.  Still in mild shock at the 1700 miles I had just covered, I patted the hood of my car and then walked to Beth’s front door.  I had a crush on that young woman who I had met while working in Yellowstone earlier in the summer, and I enjoyed the hug at her front door.  I slept like a rock on her couch that night.

There were other memories, relived as I viewed the cities and highways below.  I thought too of Johnny Cash’s death earlier in the year.  I had recently developed a kinship with him through his music, even through his gaunt appearance.  I was moved by his determination to express himself even as sickness and death tugged at his body.  He knew his days were numbered and so he sang in a way few others could.  Somewhere over southern Minnesota I missed him most.


My backpack one year after the journey began, sitting on a Pakistani highway while I looked for a car to hitch a ride with to the Chinese border. 



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Joel Carillet, Gather Travel Correspondent

Joel’s column, “Reflections on the Road,” is published every other Thursday to Gather Essentials: Travel.

His articles, based on extensive travels in Asia and the Middle East, seek to shed light on humanity, both our own and that of others.   They aim not merely to entertain and inform but also to develop a sense of connection between the reader and the world.

Joel’s writing and photography have appeared in several magazines and newspapers, including the Kansas City Star and Christian Science Monitor.  Currently he is seeking an agent for a book manuscript entitled Sixty-One Weeks: A Journey across Asia.

When not on the road, he happily calls Tennessee home.

Keep up with Joel’s article series by joining his network, or subscribing to his content.

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About the Author ()

I'm a freelance photographer and writer who focuses on travel. I sell my work on istockphoto -- -- and have published a book called 30 REASONS TO TRAVEL: PHOTOGRAPHS AND REFLECTIONS FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA

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