Archived Opinion

Sometimes, the urge to just go is irresistible

Sometimes, the urge to just go is irresistible

They didn’t know where they were going, their only waypoint the “S” on the compass rose.

They were both from Minnesota. For a laugh they could turn on the accent that became the humorous aside of the Coen brothers’ film “Fargo,” with the “yaah” and “geez” and “you betcha.” In their 50s, both had been able to retire early, she a landscape architect and he an Air National Guard pilot.

Their sailboat, a modest older model, was named “Our Lucy,” a reference to Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon who acted as a counselor to the other characters. For them, the boat was their therapy.

We met them briefly on a recent boating trip to the coast, both of us tied up at the same marina in Oriental, N.C., for a few days. Their plan was to meander as far south as they could over the next few months. When the urge struck to get off the boat, they’d find a place to dry dock her and go home until the need to wander struck again. A few days later we bumped into them in a restaurant in New Bern.

I’ve always been infatuated with the concept of a nomadic life. I moved a lot as a child, so perhaps it was not having a homeplace or a hometown. Tales of early fur trappers, gold prospectors and sea captains were the books I gravitated toward as a kid. As soon as I was old enough it was off on weekend trips, whether by car or backpacking. In college I sketched out on-the-cheap summer adventures around the country, talking friends into coming along and stretching my meager funds as far they could take me.

Fortunately — or perhaps fortuitously ­— I fell in love with a woman whose thirst for travel likely exceeds mine. Lori had already been all over Europe and the U.S. by the time we met, and we sealed our plans to get married while staying in a small inn on the south Irish coast while on a half-year backpacking trip together.

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I think yearning for adventure is a very basic human trait, and travel is a sure way to find it. Even a seemingly mundane trip will lead to unexpected encounters and travails. Because travel can be uncomfortable, because problems or challenges inevitably arise, because the best laid plans can go all to hell in an instant, what’s left are your wits and your ability to make the best of the situation. Out of those times come great memories and stories.

Paul Theroux, whom some call the godfather of travel writing, is one of my favorites. He’s a novelist and a travel writer, and his books deal more with a love of adventure and people rather than geography and culture. His classics include The Great Railroad Bazaar (a trip by train from Great Britain to Japan and back) and The Old Patagonian Express (Boston to Patagonia via train). A couple of years ago he had this to say to the BBC about travel: “Travel in an uncertain world ... has never seemed to me more essential, of greater importance or more enlightening.”

For most of us, the real world — marriage, kids, careers, house — eventually brings an end to the days of being able to pack all of one’s belongings in a single vehicle and just move on down the road at a whim. And that’s OK, for that more sedentary life is full of its own meaning and lasting friendships. 

But that doesn’t mean the urge to just get up and go ever disappears. For some of us it lingers, goes dormant for periods but then rears up, begging for release. And so my thoughts today are with those Minnesotans, by now likely in Wilmington, perhaps nearing Little River, S.C., wandering south at their own pace.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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