I only like to read travelogues when I am planning a trip myself, otherwise I wish I were the one taking the journey and I become impatient to hit the road.
I can relate to John Steinbeck’s brand of wanderlust, which he describes in the first chapter of Travels with Charley as an “ancient shudder” brought on by “the sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping sound of hooves on pavement… .”
Travels with Charley begins with Steinbeck’s explanation of a secret impetus for his cross-country road trip at the age of 58–a heart attack he suffered the year before. He did not want to succumb to what he calls “a second childhood” of being treated like “an elderly baby.”
He goes on to describe the kind of man he has always been up until the heart attack:
For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slowed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby.
He never told his wife about this aspect of his journey, assuming that she intuited his unspoken reason for going. I suppose, after the heart attack, he had to curtail some of his rowdy behavior while still indulging what he refers to as his violent male nature, hence the road trip. How much of this so-called violence is inherent in a man, and how much of it is learned as an idealized version of what a man should be?
I’ll be honest, one of my reasons for hiking the Camino de Santiago is to be outdoors for two months with no chores or housework to do. Yes, I’d rather walk 20 miles a day with 20 pounds on my back than clean up after others.
Unlike Steinbeck, I am not taking this trip to regain my sense of identity; I’m leaving my home to lose my old identity of good mother, good wife, good teacher, good daughter, good sister, even if it’s only for the time I spend on the trail. I want to go beyond skin-deep reality where I play my roles, where I am a shadow of myself bending from the weight of skin-deep rules. Maybe I am regaining my identity, but it’s the one I was born with, the one we all share in common.
2 thoughts on “Travelogues, Steinbeck, and Identity”
I know what you mean, about how travelogues make you anxious to be gone…. And I love Travels with Charley… I’ve even taught it a few times.
This piece is inspiring. It makes me think about all the reasons that people take pilgrimages in their lives. Back to ourselves. Back to the beginning. Love the name of your backpack.