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This must be the place: Oh, the day we met I went astray, I started rolling down that lost highway

Motel 6 in Laramie, Wyoming. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Motel 6 in Laramie, Wyoming. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It’s 4:41 a.m. at the Motel 6 in Laramie, Wyoming, which means it’s nearing 7 o’clock back at my apartment in Waynesville, North Carolina. My guitar sits atop the bed with fresh sheets and fluffy pillows, right across from my late grandfather’s old Coleman cooler on the floor near the door. 

Tuesday morning and I’ve been on the road since Saturday afternoon. Leaving Waynesville, I packed up the Tacoma and headed west, eyes aimed for Jackson, Wyoming. The only anchor point being a Wednesday lunch rendezvous with my parents and aunt at Dornan’s — my mother’s favorite place to sit and gaze at her beloved Grand Teton mountains on a rooftop with a glass of wine (I concur). 

Somewhere around Sidney, Nebraska, the landscape shifts from hundreds of miles of cornfields and grasslands in the rearview mirror to small rocky bluffs and wide-open spaces of ancient dirt and a horizon you never seem to get any closer to reaching. The late summer sun fell behind that faraway line, blood red and finally relenting its position to the impending night on the prairie. 

And it was also at that point, on the Wyoming/Nebraska state line, where darkness coats the landscape as if a black velvet blanket was draped over everything surrounding you by the cosmos above. The endless headlights and taillights of Interstate 80 are your only frame of reference, perhaps your only tether to reality, when holding steady at 90 miles an hour with the nearest gas station some 40 miles away. 

There’s always been a piece of my heart out here. I first realized that missing piece resides in Wyoming when I was a kid, back home in Upstate New York following a life-altering family trip to Jackson. And I’ve been lucky enough to revisit and reclaim that piece — if but for a moment — when I returned out here as a teenager in the early 2000s, as a rookie reporter for the Teton Valley News in 2008, and as a road weary wanderer in 2018.

I think this current trip back to Jackson and the Tetons means much more this time around. In a world of daily chaos and unknowns that tend to spawn (whether consciously or subconsciously) an existential crisis seemingly as often as one makes the morning coffee, those mountains remain a familiar sight that puts my soul at ease. When I’m in their presence, I find clarity and a sense of self in an era where we either seek those things out or somehow forgot how to reach for them in the first place.

Of course, for all of us, this year has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions. What’s been tough has been living and being alone during most of 2020. Sure, I’ve always kind of been an extroverted loner anyhow. And yes, I due pursue the idea of solitude (for body, mind and soul), all while knowing the difference between it and loneliness. 

But, for someone like myself, who always is on the move (personally and professionally), being forced to sit in my one-bedroom apartment for several weeks and months during the shutdown proved difficult. Without social interaction or places to go, I really had (and continue) to sit and digest my thoughts: past, present and future.

Which is why I find myself so eager to drive thousands of miles into the West this week. Hand firmly on the steering wheel. Black and grey hair flowing in the breeze of open truck windows on an endless highway. Thoughts about nothing and everything. And don’tcha know that while in that instance, if you put on The Allman Brothers Band, the melodies seem to hold back the sands of time?

The sun will be up soon here in Laramie. The cold night will once again transition into the warmth of the noonday sun across the high desert plains. Reaching for the guitar on the bed with fresh sheets and fluffy pillows, I think I’ll try and learn a Hank Williams tune this morning. 

The crisp air outside the hotel window signifies the end of summer, the slow march to fall and soon winter once again. The holidays seem so far away, but they’ll be here soon enough. The same goes for Upstate New York and my parents’ farmhouse, where that annual Christmas visit is thousands of miles to the east on the road map. But, the distance is that much closer when I raise the wine glass and cheers my folks and my aunt atop Dornan’s, our sacred Tetons looming in the distance. 

Who knows where the road will lead, eh? Just as Gregg Allman sang those many years ago, “And the road goes on forever…” As does time itself, whether we accept that or not. It’s embracing the hard truths and pushing forward with your head held high that is the measuring stick for a life well-lived. 

Once you hold those truths and appreciate the journey, come hell or high water, you will soon find the people, places and things that will ultimately fill in those missing pieces of your existence. 

Maybe this is just merely a ramble of some scruffy writer sitting in a cheap motel in Wyoming, exhausted from the long drive and craving the nearest diner with big breakfast plates and endless coffee. Or maybe it’s the sentiments of someone who keeps waking up day after day and chasing after whatever make his heart sing. I’m leaning more towards the latter. 

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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This Must Be the Place

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