I love Tripping, yes that kind :)

Ran into Smoke the other day. Hadn’t seen him in years. He asked me, “Been on any of your trips lately?”… Hmm… I said, “Not Really.” I did add that “This gas station is a great place to take off from though.” I smiled as I remembered filling up my tank in Princeton, KS, one summer morning, and saying goodbye, with a West Coast destination, arrival time, ‘whenever.’

Dang, that was a good day.

I guess my ‘A Shell and a Stone’ trip, is the one Smoke was inquiring about. I don’t know. Maybe he just meant those many country cruising trips, or dunes trips, or Ohio trips or canoe trips, that I used to do… As soon as he said, ‘trip’, my mind went West 🙂

This week on Netflix, I was reminiscing of that big adventure, as I watched the Top Gear (Original UK version) guys on their various special overland missions. I re-watched Jeremy, James and Richard, driving across Bolivia, and India and Botswana. They did an Arctic run to the North Pole. Their search for the source of the Nile river is laugh-out-loud funny at times. I couldn’t find the scooter trip in Asia though. Most of the specials involve on and off-road epic challenges made in cheaply-bought used cars.

Just like my own trip, they usually don’t have the biggest and best of vehicles, with all the outfitted gear. At least for the viewers they show plenty of real world problems and adversities of life on the road. Unlike my journeys, they have a support truck and production crew too.

Anyway, the fun of watching these episodes is to see the camaraderie and shenanigans these three friends enjoy and subject each other to, while crossing the beautiful and sometimes dangerous, third world locations.

Something else I found on Netflix is the entirety of the Top Gear series, back to the very beginning. Actually Season 2, that you can access there, is a ‘New’ version of it. I think that James and Richard were recent additions to the older original show at that point. These early episodes are not unwatchable, but they certainly are forced feeling. It’s nice to see that they didn’t always have the genuine friendship and connection, that now you can notice in every show. They started green, just like everybody does. With many repetitions though, they are now super popular and have spin-off shows all around the world.

The authenticity of their brotherhood is what really draws me to watch them. It is real, and took real time to develop.

My first trip to the West and back was probably just like their early work too. I remember it being an amazing moment in my life, but I was pushing too hard. I was trying for it to be something. I watched the scorecard everyday. I wanted to accumulate points and miles and present my accomplishments to my own little world back home. I created my first ever blog on that trip. I woke up each day with a serious drive in my mind. I wanted to devour the blacktop. I ate up miles, states at a time. I was running away furiously. I was running toward something deliriously. I don’t think I really had a handle on the truth at either end of the highway. I still don’t.

I was uncoordinated and raw. I hadn’t yet matured in my relationship with myself. I was probably un-watchable, from my own point of view, but I didn’t see that then. It is probably worse now 🙂

Last week during the Sunday sermon, our Pastor, Tim, relayed John the Baptist’s one-word message. ‘Repent’, he explained, was the action of an about-face. A 180 degree turn and motion in reverse of the previous direction. I think my 2010 Roadtrip came at a point of my development where I wanted to do just that. I needed it. This blog itself, has a tagline of “Making the Turn, and Proud of It.” Ha! Big words, from a little boy.

I remember my more recent trips to Colorado with my wife. On two of them, we traveled through the Rockies via serious off-roading. The Alpine loop near Ouray, and several difficult 4×4 trails outside of Aspen and Leadville challenged my driving skills. I had to ‘Repent’ in order to proceed up, and also back down the mountain.

The switchback roads are the only way up or down. You can’t go straight to the top. A switchback has a drop-off shelf on one side, the steepness of a sheer cliff face on the other. You are driving slightly uphill, and at a certain point, you have to turn 180 degrees. This moment is spooky. Turning the car directly up and back the other way, can take several tries. Sometimes you have to start and stop and reverse downhill, toward imminent death, in order to make this directional change.

I got that on Sunday. I think God’s mountains in our spiritual lives are just exactly like the physical granite ones. A Switchback is the only way up, or down. We have to Repent, and then Repent again. Again and again and again. The more comfortable we become, with turning and climbing, or turning and descending, the further we can go. But only so fast. We just can’t get to the top instantly. We just can’t return to sea level from a scary height, all at once. It takes carefulness and intention. When I feel safe and level, it is a short moment in between ‘turns’. If I stay that way for long, I’ve stopped. I am now subject to the weather, to storms, I cannot get away. If I rust in place, right there along the road, I only have my unwillingness to change, to blame.

I liked watching those early Top Gear programs. It is nice to see that even the best in the business, struggle at first. The way they started out, you would never have guessed they had so much potential within them. A couple dozen people stood around them in their hangar studio back then. Now hundreds come to watch and laugh and enjoy a show about relationships, with the pretense of being about cars, while millions view around the world.

It gives me hopes for myself, for everyone and everything around me. If we are struggling, there could be greatness in our future. To Turn, and to Repent, and to take a new direction in the opposite way, is a way out and forward, when none seems to be available. In my own world, I have chosen to drive off the edge, many times. I look back at 2010 as a starting point. My ‘trip’ really never ended. I haven’t returned. I may never again, be where I was back then. In many ways I hope I’m not.

I hope the best for Smoke, I’m glad that the one thing he wanted to ask me was about my Trips. That is what this whole thing we call life, really is, right? Just a trip. A short one. It’s a journey with a start and an end, that we get to navigate as we wish. I do hope I take John the Baptist’s off-roading advice, and keep turning and turning and turning. I hope I keep going forward, no matter how slow sometimes. In the end, the views will be absolutely spectacular 🙂


Aaron Nichols



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