“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu.
Back in 2019, I wrote an article describing how I believed that abandoning video-games as a hobby had improved my overall quality of life. Little did I know, the virologic, financial, and psychological hurricane known as 2020 would bring indoor activities like gaming back into a larger spotlight. Given that I had a lot of time for introspection during the last year-and-a-half, it got me thinking about how my family’s lifestyle primed me to appreciate not just stories by themselves; but ones that weaved a longer tale than others.
I liked books that had you turn 500 pages (or more). Role-Playing-Games that could be experienced on handheld devices like a Nintendo Gameboy. Film soundtracks that carried you to another time and place. If any piece of commercial or interactive art promised an epic journey, my interest was piqued.
I didn’t realize my family’s escapades across the American Heartland was pre-disposing me to be more receptive of long-winded-tales. I couldn’t have known that the ever-present-question of ‘are we there yet?’ led to a mirrored appreciation whenever fictional characters paused their journey to rest on the side of the road. An innkeeper providing information to a party of travelling companions doesn’t exactly mirror a rest stop…but the thoughts maintain similar company.
Three major reasons drove home this idea:
1. The road-trip gathers a group (or party) of characters on a journey to a (usually) specified destination.
2. Taking stops along the way made me identify with characters who had their own stops to make on their long journeys.
3. Just like how characters ideally achieve a form of catharsis — or completion of a character arc — at the end of their journey, family road trips usually involve a similar catharsis. Family members might also learn things about one another.
The Traveling Companions.
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” — Tim Cahill.
Even If you haven’t read stories involving characters traveling in a fantasy or science-fiction setting, you’ve probably heard the concept of a road movie or road novel. In these types of stories, two or more characters set out on a trip towards…somewhere. It might be a wedding, funeral, or a birthday party. It might be a place of significance for the story itself or a certain character. It might even be an idea that the characters are striving towards — in those types of stories, the journey ends up mattering more than the destination.
Having Mom, Dad, and I traveling in the car for an extended time gave us a sense of banding together for the desired destination — the destination in this case being visiting family in Missouri. While a family on a road-trip can’t exactly replicate the adventures of a knight, a mage, and a thief, it still brings about the idea of a travelling band of party members.
Occasionally, we might have other family members travel back with us for an extended period during summer vacation. Other instances had us drop off a family friend and pick them back up after a week had passed. When you realize that the traveling band of heroes you’re following in a book are mirroring a real-world-excursion, you develop a greater sense of appreciation for not only the people travelling with you…
…but the journey getting there as well.
The Journey Promised.
“The journey has been incredible since its beginning” — Sydney Poitier.
The promise of an epic journey brings excitement.
When the heroes of a book, film, television show, or game finally begin the journey that is required by the story, there’s always a sense of anticipation in the air. After the chess-pieces of character, plot, and motivation are finally set, the heroes (along with any introduced villains), will start to play their game against the other. Two sides (or more) hoping to come out on top.
Depending on the length of the work, the journey might be completed in a few hours. Other long-term works might not finish their stories until several years — or even decades — have come to pass.
The average road trip taken by my family was around eight hours and most of them took place in the late 1990’s and mid 2000’s. Although plane rides across the globe could take longer, the difference between a commercial jetliner and a car was that you’re able to stop for gas and food in the latter. No eight-hour-drive across the Midwest was complete without stopping.
Stops for food. Stops for gas. Stops for food and gas.
You’d visit locations off the interstate that looked like whatever county they inhabited had been abandoned for decades. Some old roads next to the interstates had tall old signs and gas stations that were never completely torn down — their death acting as a monument to an era that had disappeared decades ago. If interstates were considered a modern form of land-travel, you could see the remnants of what used to lie on the old highways from long ago.
The characters in the stories I read and experienced often stopped as well. Sometimes they stopped to make a fire so they could cook whatever food they had. Sometimes they stopped at an inn to gather information, or rest before continuing their journey the next day.
Whenever the characters had to make a pit stop to get their bearings or eat some food, it made me sympathize with their plight…
…even if their story goals differed from mine.
The Journey’s End.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.” — Douglas Adams.
At long last, we would finally come to our destination and reach the end of the road-trip. Even though no mountains were climbed, no monsters were conquered, and no evil wizards were vanquished in the name of preserving the world, getting to see extended family members (and staying with them for multiple nights to avoid paying hotel costs) made the journey worth it.
The catharsis we all felt after finally completing the journey made every stop along the way pay off. We set out with the goal in mind to visit family…and visit family we did. It’s these parallels to characters dealing with their own epilogue in a book or movie that made me appreciate our own journey that much more. Even if the journey a character took lasted longer than eight hours, it made me understand the emotional — and sometimes physical — toil a specific journey could have.
Especially if it involved long distances.
So in a sense, it was inevitable.
I started appreciating reading, watching, and experiencing long-winded stories…
…simply because my family was always creating them.