In Colorado, the I-70 winds East-West through the Rockies because it has to. The interstate follows a path of least resistance determined by valleys and mountain passes, occasionally engineered by explosions of rock. When we were living there one winter, we traveled up and down the steep grades between Denver and Grand Junction wondering who was audacious enough to construct these roads — and who was crazy enough to cross these mountains long before concrete.
But that stretch of interstate is like nothing else, especially since I grew up in the rolling lowlands of Southern Ontario where bunny hills pose as ski resorts. Winding down the I-70, you recognize the centrality of the mountains. You follow them — they do not follow you. They dominate the horizon. They shape your sense of sky. They form the best textural feature on a topographical map.
In a fairly flat adult life, my gap year looms like the mountains. I took a straight path from high school to college to work. “Adventure” was relative and hemmed in by respectable pockets of time, like study abroad and the promise of employment. But after a lifetime of moving from point A to point B, I was ready for something to disrupt the horizon. We left solid jobs and lived a few months at a time — shocking for a risk-averse person. And it was a bucket list of a year. We traveled on the Trans-Siberian Railway, slept in train stations in Eastern Europe, refurbished a piano, spent precious months with our family, did missions work, went to southern Africa.
But then, we returned to linearity — at least, a form of it, with less money in the bank and a still-dubious destination. And though important, the year after the gap year has been largely indifferent. The necessity of a job has pressed in more urgently, and even the concept of having savings has vaporized like the money itself, leading me to wonder when we will get to head back.
Most notably, in the year after the gap year, people stop asking where you’ve been. They assume that you are your present. If they only knew that beyond all the predictable flat and patchwork fields are these stinking beautiful gargantuan rocks that people needed TNT to cross… But in the year after the gap year, your traveling companions who know that aren’t around. The memories themselves recede in the rear-view mirror until they’re a bluish shadow swallowed by a more trifling view.