I'm home from Montana. I really enjoyed the adventure, and I experienced so many things that were just incredible and that I couldn't have seen any other way, even though it took 36 hours of driving to experience them. I smelled rain and fire at the same time when I was in Utah. I stayed in a hotel run by a husband and wife in a town so small that I had to add it to Facebook's check-in utility. I rolled sagebrush between my fingers and smelled its wildness, and ate fresh roadside huckleberries. I touched a Joshua tree in a ridiculous driving rainstorm. But it's tiring, driving like that, and expensive to keep taking days off work and paying for gas and hotels &etc., so I'm glad to be home.
One of the big things I learned on this trip is that I love the West. I love the West. I thought I understood this, but I didn't know the depth of it - not even halfway there. I really, really love the West. Montana is astonishing, wild and rough and heartless and welcoming and utterly American. Idaho is beautiful along I-15 only when you're about to enter or leave it, and is otherwise pretty darned boring. Utah is head-to-toe unbelievably beautiful, the southern part especially, and has the oddest mix of cultures I've ever seen. I was openmouthed with astonishment at the tiny wedge of Arizona I drove through, its high highs and flat lows. And southern Nevada is unearthly in its distant desolation. But nothing made me so happy during the whole trip than driving through the Inland Empire, toward home, and seeing the San Gabriel mountains coming up through my windshield. I just don't want to be anywhere else than out here.
Part of it is feeling like there's enough land to go around; everything is so much more spread out here than it is in the East. Even though that's a bit more dangerous when you're traveling, it's also a relief, to feel like there are places that are untouched that are nevertheless worth being. I really did see the whole trip as an adventure - not quite a covered-wagon adventure, but for me it was a big deal, setting out with the smallest plan and without much idea of what would happen.
There's another 1,100-mile trip that I was considering in mid-September - Margaret Atwood is reading in Colorado Springs - but honestly, I don't think I'm up to it so soon. I wish I were. There's so much more to see. The West is so goddamn big. But now I've crossed it nearly top-to-bottom just as I did the East when I was in college. The pleasures of that trip were many, but it doesn't hold a candle to this one.