5 easy ways to put roadheart into your travel writing


[Feature photo: William Warby]

*Roadheart: The much to be desired condition of suddenly finding everything astonishing, fascinating, and unique the second you are on a roadtrip…so that even the local gas station becomes full of characters and stories.

1. Take a practice run
The next time you head out to pick up a pizza, replenish your Lumberyard American Brown Ale, or drop your climbing shoes off to be re-soled, take a minute to pretend you’ve never seen the road into town – and the town itself before. Hold that attitude as long as you can. When you slide back into ordinary reality make notes to yourself (see #2 below) about one person who looked different, one scent you forget to notice in your daily routine, one way the light fell in a new way on something familiar.

2. Carry the right gear

Start carrying a little notebook and pen/pencil with you at all times. Reporters’ notebooks like this are perfect for grabbing Roadheart moments. The pathway between the heart and hand-writing is stronger than any other form of recording information – it has to do with the brain/muscle connections. My Roadnotes can look like this:

Fog rising up from an abandoned parking lot…yeah, that time the sunset burned through the clouds and shone in the windows of the old strip mall magpie dead on the road…wet creosote smell…

3.Follow your nose…and ears, eyes, tongue, skin…

An essential condition of Roadheart is that your brain shuts down and your senses catch fire. Use them. All of them. Dive into that wet creosote scent. Let it carry you. Later, when you write the piece on the Mojave roadtrip from Nipton to Randsburg, wet creosote will flow from your fingers onto the page. When the faint kiyiyiyi of a coyote pack wakes you from your sleep, yelp with them. Echoes of your coyote karaoke will set the rhythm for the piece you write on the road to Huecos Tank.

4. Walk away from the familiar

MatadorU student Matt Sterne published a brilliant piece at Matador on realizing that young travelers often end up hanging out with each other and lose the point of the adventure – and the adventure of the point of it. Talk to locals. Eavesdrop. Spend as little time as possible on the internet at the hostel. Let yourself be scared – and amazed.

5. Shut up and listen

I’m a local in an Arizona gateway destination. Foreign and American tourists, hikers, climbers, bikers, river-runners, Native American wannabes, and “experts” on the Southwest pour through our town. About 1/50 actually want to know what it’s really like living here, where the best local restaurants are, the best little used trails, how to have good manners on the reservations. Sure, they ask questions, but as one of us answers, their eyes glaze over and they decide they really want to know where Red Lobster is – or if they are a guy of a certain age, they lecture on the topic of their question. Learn to breathe after you ask a question or find yourself included in a conversation. If you’re breathing, you’re not talking – and you’re learning the real story.

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