On the Bus and off to the Lake

Recently I slept in a tent for three nights alongside Nolin River Lake in Grayson County, Kentucky. Twenty or more men, ages thirty-some to forty-some were invited to an annual camp out and cook out at a private lake cabin hosted by a mutual friend. Most everyone slept in the cabin, but a few of us camped out in tents. I set mine up under the high back deck of the cabin perched on a steep embankment, which kept off most of the rain one day, but each night I found myself under the wee hour drunks. At least they were familiar drunks and I shouted friendly barbs at them when their loud voices woke me from spells of sleep. The first time I startled them shouting because they had no idea I was camped below them. From their perspective I was a disembodied voice from the darkness below. One of them took to calling me “Zombie Joe Jangles.”

I had come through via Lexington, Kentucky on the Greyhound bus. My old friend from Western Kentucky University drove us to the lake cabin. The hardest thing about traveling may be the simple act of taking the first step out of the door. For me and for many others, there is always lurking anxiety before a trip. I am not well traveled outside the eastern United States, but I know experienced world travelers who feel the same anxiety, but also, a similar sense of release once the adventure is under way. People throw around the word “adventure” and it means many different things to different people. I mean it in a quite specific sense: going somewhere else where unexpected things can occur. Swimming and boating on Nolin Lake, talking to twenty years worth of friendships over a dizzying selection of grilled meats– all of these provided activity under the summer trees and under the summer skies that bled out to purple and a night full of stars. If you get far out enough from urban development, you can look up and if you look the right way you can sense the universe breathing. Anything can happen in this universe, at least within the laws of Physics.

For regional bus travel, I leave nothing except my crocs hanging on the outside of my pack. I take care not to leave valuables in my pack, which is checked and stored in the hold of the bus. I set up a dry sack as a carry on bag with wallet and phone and an extra layer, and maybe a snack bar. I bring a book and a notebook. I prefer not to wear sports team logos or anything with words. I try to look as ambiguous as possible. I do like traveling with any old lucky hat. The trip from Atlanta, Georgia to Lexington, Kentucky is eight hours. If I read for a while, get in a good nap, write a poem, and maybe engage in a decent conversation with a stranger for a while, the trip is only two hours of staring out the window. I time it out so those two hours are the Tennessee mountains as seen from Interstate 75.

On my way home, another good friend dropped me off at the Lexington bus station and remarked, “That’s a nice pack you have there.” It was my old Osprey pack, the same one I’ve had for thousands of hiking miles, and a few more thousands of miles of bus trips. It is difficult to explain to people the connection I feel to that pack. When I get traveling, it feels like home when I get somewhere and set it on the ground. When I get home, I never sleep too far away from it.

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