bisonIn August 2013, my girlfriend Ashley and I loaded up my Hyundai Accent and struck out from Waterloo, Ontario on our way to Vancouver, British Columbia. We drove through the US on our journey west, and indeed, it was a very American experience.

We tailgated and watched a Notre Dame football game in South Bend, Indiana. We marvelled at the scale and beauty of Mount Rushmore and the South Dakota Badlands. We camped at the spectacular Yellowstone National Park and witnessed Old Faithful blow. And we even got to watch the world-famous fishmongers at Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market toss their products to one another like circus performers… in hip-waders.

With thousands of kilometres of highway under my belt, I thought I’d share a few reflections from the road.

Tom Cochrane was right: Life is a highway.

Like the open highway, life takes us done all sorts of different roads. Sometimes it’s flat, predictable, even monotonous…

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Sometimes it takes you through some tough climbs, winding roads, precarious twists and turns…

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And sometimes, no matter how prepared you think you are, you round a bend and are confronted with the completely unexpected…

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And when you do come face-to-face with a herd of bison marching down the centre of the road, all you can do is roll up our windows, hang on and be grateful you brought an extra pair of undies.

Fear and beauty often go hand-in-hand

“It’s a combination of fear and beauty,” my cringing, edge-o-phobic girlfriend said as we rounded yet another hairpin turn, disconcertingly close to a sheer drop. We were driving through a particularly nerve-wracking but gorgeous section of mountains on our way west.

Though made in reference to the spectacular vistas around us, I think her comment holds true for life in general. Getting the best out of life often means stepping out of our comfort zones and facing our fears. Life can be scary. But the most beautiful moments come from pushing through those fears. The view from the top of the mountain is worth the winding roads you need to take to get there.

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Crazy Horse is crazy awesome

After checking out Mount Rushmore, Ashley and I popped over to see the work-in-progress Crazy Horse monument, honouring the legendary Lakota chief. Slated to be the largest statue on planet Earth—dwarfing Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson’s faces by comparison—Crazy Horse is crazy huge. But carving a mountain is no quick feat. Work began way back in 1948 and there is still a long, long, long way to go. The original sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, died in 1982, leaving the task of completing the project to his wife, sons and daughters (and by the pace of things, potentially their sons and daughters too).

In our world of immediate gratification and short-term thinking, seeing a multi-generational undertaking like Crazy Horse was refreshing. Whether it’s politicians only thinking about the next election or individuals not considering how their everyday consumer choices might impact the environment down the road, we need to broaden our horizons and look beyond the tip of our noses.

Seeing Crazy Horse also reminded me that we are a clever, industrious and downright impressive species when we set our minds to it. Throw compassion into that mix and I see real hope for the future.

Exhibit A: Long-term thinking, incredible human achievement…

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Exhibit B: Hungry, short-term thinking, after I realized I forgot to bring a can opener…

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What lessons from the road have you learned? Add them to the comments below!

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