"The Road" is a concept that has fascinated American writers for more than a century.
Where western expansion—and later the railways—captivated great minds long before asphalt came into existence, the idea of following the winding ribbon to unknown destinations is a theme which has created some of the most remarkable work in American literature. While the motivations have varied from scribe to scribe, the tie that binds them all is the quest for some greater understanding of themselves and the world that moves swiftly around them.
Cormac McCarthy used such a theme to craft a Pulitzer Prize winning work of the same name in 2007 as he used the road to address the complexities of the relationship between a father and son as they attempted to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
Robert Pirsig tapped the muse of the road in his philosophical gem Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where he addressed the ability to increase the quality of life by adapting to the circumstances which are presented. The road is an ever-changing environment and the vehicle that carries us along the path has to be catered to. The intricacies of this process provides a constant education as we become better equipped to understand and deal with the world around us. There are numerous other themes in this particular work, but the journey ties them all together.
Where both of those works have affected me in ways that are difficult to put into words, no book has sparked my mind more than Jack Kerouac's On the Road. I was given the book by my free-spirited, borderline hippie English teacher in high school because she saw something in me she believed the book would connect with. I can honestly say the initial reading of Kerouac's rambling tome about his adventures with Dean Moriarty did little to spark anything great inside of me. That said, picking up the book 10 years later had an entirely different impact as I had grown to see the world much differently and something inside of me wanted to see and feel things the way Kerouac did.
When the idea of doing this trip first came into my mind, I wrote it off as nothing more than a flight of fancy. I figured my brain was telling me to take my stories in a different direction, and romanticizing about hitting the road was my mind's way of jump starting the creative process. Imagine my surprise when that particular notion did not fade, but rather began to pound like a bass drum in my head. It wasn't long before I knew this needed to be done, and rather than attempt to make a litany of excuses not to do it (family, hectic work schedule, life) I decided to make it happen.
Luckily I have a remarkably understanding wife who can recognize once the gears of creativity start turning in my mind.
Due to the rambling format of a live blog, a detailed recap won't be necessary. Many of you tuned in and clicked on for every step of this journey and I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. We attempted to provide the details as quick as they came, with photographs and videos of the goings on in order to keep you all plugged in to the process. As I skipped around the Southwest obtaining the information necessary to write the series of stories I'm going to write this year, I wanted you to be able to have a look under the proverbial hood as we went along.
While there is no need to rehash the details of this adventure, there are several things my eyes witnessed I want to share with you in closing. There were a plethora of memorable and personal experiences that left an impression on my soul over this past week. Just as I'm positive certain things will take on different meanings as they soak in deeper in the weeks to come, there are some aspects so profound they have already left their mark.
I saw a cold pink sun sit on the frozen heartland horizon as we shuffled at 20 mph down Route 57. With the road a thick sheet of ice, fear of terrible things was the third passenger in the car, and I knew once the sun bid farewell for good, the dropping temperatures would only make the conditions worse.
It's a curious thing when a moment of natural beauty can be appreciated and dreaded in the same moment.
I graphically recall the looming sense of urgency I felt upon waking up in a St. Louis hotel room the following morning because the weather had cost us an entire day of the journey. With an entire 24 hours lost due to an arctic vortex, I needed to find the strength to endure a 19-hour driving session, which I managed to pull off in remarkable fashion.
In my mind I can see the amazing camaraderie from the group at Jackson's MMA as they sat around a table to reveled in one another's company. The ever-present smile on the face of Erik "Goyito" Perez as he laughed it up with his friends and teammates. John Dodson holding court as the ball of kinetic energy/flyweight contender continued to make anyone in a 20 ft. radius laugh.
It was also in this moment where I realized Carlos Condit's place as the "Godfather of Albuquerque." The former interim welterweight champion is born and raised on the dusty, hard-scrabble streets of New Mexico's largest city and it was interesting to see people literally lining up to approach him. As Condit sat talking, passers-by would come one at a time to shake his hand and share a quick moment with him. He would accept every one of their gestures and return the sentiment with a polite nod before returning to our conversation.
For a man as quietly intense as the former WEC champion is, he's also a loose roll-with-the punches type when he's out with the guys. Make no mistake about, there is a unique brand of hell fire coursing through his veins just below the skin, but he's in the moment enough to love and take life as it comes and bust out a very impressive robot break dance move when the notion hits him.
I remember the sun scorched desert landscapes on the road to Phoenix and the way such a desolate location didn't feel as lonely as it looked. There are parts of the Mid West where miles upon miles of post-harvest fields seem a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind, but the jagged grit of northern Arizona has a different feel entirely. It's a place where no one belongs and never will due to the unforgiving nature of it's environment.
In that sense it will remain the same because of it's very nature and will never have to worry about yielding to the cookie-cutter wave of suburban sprawl.
I remember seeing the rolling fire of Las Vegas as we came in on a blue desert highway from the south and how it seemed to go on for miles in every direction. I also recall being trapped for five hours in the Vail pass of the Rocky Mountains as our vehicle was battered my sporadic 40 mph wind gusts and a foot of snow.
With all of these things fresh in my mind, I could go on and on about what stood out in the immediate aftermath, but I'm looking forward to sharing what will ultimately be viewed as the results of this journey. All in all, 4,637 miles rolled beneath the wheels of the car appropriately named "The Altima Fighter" and I'm viewing this blog entry as the final mile of what has been a life-changing endeavor.
I pulled into my driveway in Indianapolis at 6:05 a.m. this morning and never have I been happier to be home. I will spend the next few days reveling in the company of my family before diving into what the past seven days meant to me.
I do know a few things for certain though. I've loved the sport of mixed martial arts for years, and this trip has made me love it more than ever before. I care deeply for how it is perceived by the world because I have invested so much emotional stock in the side of the equation that makes it all tick...the fighters.
I wish the world could see the things I've been able to see throughout my time covering the sport. The men and women who strive for greater things by playing their hands in the pain business have remarkable stories that all deserve to be told with great detail. And I suppose that is my lot in the grander scheme of things.
The ability to tell a great story has brought me to this place where you can all read my material and I have every intention of bringing you all something far different than you've ever read before. In one sense, that is what this trip was about.
As for the other winding aspects of this journey and the road in which they took place, only time will tell how they materialize. The truth about the road, it seems, is heavily determined in the eye of the beholder. And with that said, these eyes have seen a different side to something I previously believed I knew so well.
That is discovery at a different level.
And that is what the road has always been about.
Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.