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The Road Not Taken

They’re driving right by, they don’t even know what they’re missing. ~Lightning McQueen, Cars

Because everything about me seems to be different, the fourth time was the charm. I’ve made the journey back and forth to Oklahoma twice a year for the last two years to drop my son off at college. It’s a long drive, over 1300 miles and 19 hours of driving. It involves ten separate interstates to get us there in the most expeditious manner. My favorite stretch of that trip is through Arkansas. Just as you pass over the Mississippi River and enter “The Natural State”, the speed limit on I-40 jumps to a Lightning McQueen worthy value of 75mph. Oh, the irony.

Well, the road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time. ~Sally Carrera, Cars

I’ve mumbled to myself while cruising along that long stretch of highway how there was absolutely nothing there. It took me upwards of forty-five minutes between exits to actually find a gas station and a fast-food stop in the same three-mile radius. Such is the misguided and misinformed opinion of a driver with blinders on, intent on getting to his destination as quickly as possible.

That all changed on my last expedition along that same highway earlier this summer. On the way back to Florida from Oklahoma, after an intense spring semester, my son and I decided we would take a slight detour. To break up the trip, we stopped at a remote hotel in the middle of an Arkansas state park for the evening, The Lodge at Mount Magazine.

I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to convey the surprise and joy that accompanied that side excursion. I hear those words from Lightning McQueen at the beginning echo in my head. The curvy backcountry roads moved with the land, just as Sally Carrera poetically shared. There weren’t a lot of options for food or fuel along the way. But do you know what? We didn’t care. It wasn’t a concern. We were enjoying the moment too much. And when we stumbled across a gas station/convenience store that sold fried chicken inside. Well, lunch was served, and deliciously so.

It’s those unexpected moments in our lives that often lend themselves to the greatest opportunity if we’re open to receiving them. We gazed out beyond scenic overlooks, watched tumbling waterfalls, and explored the interior of cool, dark caves. Who knew these things existed in one small place? Perhaps if I would have been more receptive to the mentality of slowing down and smelling those proverbial roses, I wouldn’t have been so surprised.

With all these epic sights, sounds, and experiences, a most understated occurrence was my favorite of that entire detour. It was approaching nightfall and the remoteness of the lodge’s location made the sky an inky black. It caused those pinpricks of light above us to shine with a bit more brilliance. Making our way out to one of those scenic overlooks we spent time at earlier, we stepped out of the car. We couldn’t see each other standing less than three feet from each other. Looking up, a bank of clouds occluded the stars we were searching for. But the small iridescent glow moving along the ground conjured up scenes from some horror movie. After shining a flashlight in that direction, there was nothing there. It only confirmed our (misplaced) assumptions about creatures hunting humans in the night. We later learned from a park ranger that bioluminescent insects inhabit the area.

Despite the cloud layer present, a tiny opening appeared from time to time, and what we saw was surprising. My son and I witnessed no less than ten satellites streaking across the sky like slow motion meteors. It was one of those unexpected occurrences that doesn’t have any overwhelming significance in the grand scheme of events. Still, it is something I will never forget. The small things are the big ones in life.

My pleasant recollection of this experience reminded me of an interesting fact. This same self-awareness and slowing down applies to areas other than travel. I have just completed the edits on the fifth and final novel in my Pigeon Grove series. I was barreling forward toward the finish line with such urgency. It was perhaps even metaphorically faster than that 75mph speed limit on I-40 through Arkansas.

It was only once I forced myself to slow down and truly enjoy the process that I noticed things around me. They had nothing to do with what I was writing, but somehow intimately connected to it. It’s difficult to express in words, but it was magical. During the final edits for the last book in my present series, I saw a crystal-clear vision containing elements for the start of my next one. Lighthouses, sea turtles, an author, and books galore. I’m not sure where those thoughts and visions will carry me. But without that conscious choice to reduce my mental speed, I’d still be flying down that highway, missing so much along the way. It’s a great reminder to always consider an adventurous excursion on that road not taken.


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