Today's dispatch comes from Terminal C at Chicago-O'Hare International Airport. I'm sitting here alongside Matt munching on some lunch before boarding our flight home. We're both bleary-eyed and quiet, exhausted but also reflecting individually on the last 106 days.
I'm recounting the miles and the people and the states, slowly ticking them off in my head one-by-one. Then there are the National Parks, 16 in all, that we hiked, photographed and camped in. The endless SnapChats, Instagram posts, tweets and live broadcasts we recorded from the road. The hard drives filled with raw images that have and have not been edited to our liking.
Where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday the two of us were anxiously hopping into the EarthRoamer to take it for our first drive. Now, looking back, we've spent more than 16 24-hour days total driving it. And my thoughts linger on LifeProof, too: The interview process and eventual orientation, the FAQs their team had sent us before our first magazine interview. It's so surreal to think that our trip, this chapter, has finally come to an end. But perhaps even more surreal, is to think of the changes we've endured together; to look back on the people we were when we started and the people we are today.
The thing about journeys is this: They inevitably have a beginning and an end; there's a before and an after.
In the before, you're something less: less aware, less complete, less sure of yourself and where you're going. And with time, that "something less" transforms into "something more". Maybe it's more assurance you're on the right path, more tired, more bogged down with stuff, more free.
But can a person who has undertaken such a journey point to a place, as if on a map, and pinpoint where this transformation took place? I'm not so sure.
On this journey, Matt and I left behind rivers of sweat in Moab and discovered our power atop mountain peaks in Olympic, Yellowstone and Rainier. We drank in inspiration in Yosemite and quietly marveled at a sunset in Canyonlands. Together and apart, we left behind polite ideas of cleanliness and got this country under our fingernails, into our socks and onto our skin. We walked until we were lost and sore and sometimes scared. And then walked farther until it didn't feel as uncomfortable. We drove until the horizon melted into night and watched it come to life once more hours later.
Time and time again, we overcame obstacles. And weather. And extreme stress. We changed a flat tire. We got ourselves (and a new friend) unstuck from desert sand. We continuously, day after day, challenged our ideas of comfort, finding it and then choosing to look the other way. We embraced change. We embraced discomfort. And we embraced one another.
Perhaps a single location or, in this case, a single trip isn't the sole catalyst for change. Maybe years from now, looking back, neither Matt nor I will be able to emphatically say "Yup, that's what did it." But one thing I do know for certain is that, although change is a gradual process, the fresh air and the freedom of the open road are two of the greatest teachers I've ever had.