Ode to the road

There’s something about roads that I’ve always loved. From the very first family road trips in Europe to the time me and my three sisters sat inside a hot van, thighs squashed into each other, on our way to Graceland. There has just always been magic in the air for me in being on the move. (Mind you, by the time we got back home to Georgia from Graceland, we knew every single Elvis song by heart, including all the background vocals.)

I’ve had many powerful experiences on the road. Walking, cycling, hitchhiking… I’ve met beautiful people, have laughed and cried with them. I’ve faced solitude and belonging, fear and joy. But not once have I hated being on the road. Maybe I’ve hated the method, yet the road itself has and will always continue to fascinate me. There just isn’t anything like it. And what’s interesting is that when landscapes move around you, it can make your mind either very still or very active, depending on the circumstances.

Road is life

I see roads as a metaphor for life, really. There’s always something ahead and something behind you. You can’t go back, as even if you took the same road twice, it wouldn’t be the same. This time it could rain, there could be wild animals, or just your state of mind could be different. It’s like trying to go back in time to places or feelings – nothing you have experienced in the past will ever be the same again in the future. No matter how hard you try.

Walking purifies the mind and soul

One of the most touching experiences on the road for me has been that of many others – the Camino de Santiago. A month of walking across Spain, without a phone and with scarce email connections, opening up to strangers and being in nature. Alone, yet accompanied. And all this done in a point and time in my life (2007) where I felt miserable about the present. Yet, after walking for over 800 kms I felt a new will of life slowly overcome me.

Ode to the road

Walking purifies the mind, and the Camino de Santiago is said to cleanse your soul. It’s not a surprise to me that one of my favorite philosophers, Immanuel Kant, had a three hour walk each morning at 5am, before starting to work. No wonder he had such groundbreaking ideas about moral and transcendental logic! And what’s more, everyone with healthy legs can walk – had I listened to the people who told me I shouldn’t hit the Camino de Santiago because I had never walked even 15 kms, I wouldn’t ever had realized this.

Sharing moments through hitchhiking

Being on the road for hitchhiking has nothing to do with the spiritual process of walking. It’s fast (at least once you’re in the car) and as the body is not moving itself, it will never have that endorfine-kicking-mind-blowing effect that walking (or an ultramarathon?) can possibly have. Yet, hitchhiking is what the road is all about – the notion that anything, and I mean anything can happen at any given time. It’s about patience, sounds, visual effects. It’s the road perhaps at its purest, with all its perfections and imperfections.

When hitchhiking, you are on the road both my yourself and accompanied. When you wait, you stand still and watch the world pass you by. And once you’re in a car, the world comes to you in the form of another human being. That’s the beauty of it: for a while you share the road (and your life) with a complete stranger, before stepping out of the car again and venturing onto new endeavors.

Cycling equals freedom of choice

Long-distance cycling can make you love and hate the road at the same time. You may love the uphills, hate the downhills. You may love the freedom, hate the freedom. You may love the solitude, hate the solitude. Yet, you’re on the road, totally free to decide for yourself where to go and for what. It’s life and movement in slow motion, seeing each and every little thing attentively, with eyes wide open. It’s smelling the corpses of animals long before you even see them. It’s adventure, road tripping without any commodities or accurate plans.

Just like with walking, also cycling is something anyone with the will and health can do. Long-distance cycling sounds like an impossible challenge before you take it up, but once you start it, it suddenly begins to feel like the most normal thing to do. The road becomes your friend and enemy, as you fight through all kinds of weather conditions. Yet, the freedom, the things you sense and the people you meet are worth every inch of the road.

From movement to stillness

Roads not only keep us in constant movement, but they bring us to places where we can be still. When no landscapes change around us, emotions are bound to rise from within and at the verge of collapsing into numbness, creativity may abruptly lift its head and scream: “here I am!” Although this is not physical, it’s movement in its very essence. It’s movement of mind, which can only be reached after long stretches on the road.

This the reason I long for the road when still.
And this is the reason I am where I am now.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.