Fifteen months have passed under the wheels since I lasted scribbled, and I thought it was high time I made the effort to write to you again and share my thoughts and experiences, whatever value they may possess. I hope you continue to find my writings interesting and relevant, and that they help you in some small way.
I also changed the name of the blog. As you can see, it’s now entitled “The Shunpiker’s Guide.” It’s an odd title, especially the ‘S’ word used. There’s a back story to it, and it’s personally relevant for me.
I read a few blogs here and there. One that I follow devotedly is written by Neil Peart, the drummer/percussionist for the seminal rock group RUSH. Despite the fact that he is engaged in a profession known for its pretension and narcissism, his writings are a breath of fresh air. Musicians aren’t usually reputed for being an especially deep and thoughtful lot. Neil’s blog pleasantly defies all stereotypes, especially for a guy who hits things with sticks for a living. While I disagree with many things that he writes about because our worldviews are so vastly different, I find his narrative style and his honesty extremely appealing and rare, and he keeps me coming back for more every time he posts something.
So, why the word ‘shunpikers’ in the title? Several months ago I read a post by Neil that heavily referenced said word. It caught not only my eye, but my imagination as well. I have a love of words, especially words I’ve never seen or heard before. This particular word, ‘shunpiker,’ spun my head around very quickly.
‘Shunpiking’ comes from the word ‘shunpiker,’ a combination word that’s actually been around for a few hundred years. The first half of the word, ‘shun,’ literally means, ‘to avoid.’ ‘Pike‘ is a shortened form of the word ‘turnpike,’ which is a road that one can travel on for a price, or a toll. Today you would call these byways ‘tollroads‘ unless you lived in New Jersey or Kansas or a few other states, where they are still called turnpikes.
All that being said, the strict definition of shunpiker is a person who shuns pikes, or avoids turnpikes so he/she doesn’t have to pay a fee. In olden times it meant that the shunpiker took less-traveled, less-convenient roads to reach their destination because they were cheap and wanted to save money.
In modern parlance, being a shunpiker takes on a much different meaning.
In America, we live in a culture where ground travel is dominated by the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. These long ribbons of concrete crisscross the landscape, providing a convenient method of motor travel. They will get you where you want to go fast.
Yet, you miss so much traveling so fast to get where you are going.
In 2013, my wife and I took a couple of days and ‘motored west’ as the old song says. Our destination, Scottsbluff, Nebraska and Scottsbluff National Monument. Instead of dropping south along I-29 to Omaha and then west to North Platte along I-80, as would have been our standard course, we decided to head west along U.S. 20. Most people don’t remember now, but back in the days before the interstates, U.S. 20 was one of the few transcontinental roads. You could get on ’20’ and drive coast-to-coast. The road was headed where we were going (at least in that general direction), and both of us were in a mood to see something different, so off we went.
I can’t speak for my wife, but I not only rediscovered a part of America that is largely forgotten nowadays, I discovered something about myself.
When you leave Sioux City and head west along ’20,’ the landscape doesn’t vary much until you reach O’Neill, Nebraska. Once you move west of there, you notice a subtle change in the topography. You feel the elevation of the land rising slowly, almost imperceptibly. You approach a part of Nebraska called The Sand Hills. It’s ranch country, as the soil is not fit for much agriculture beyond hay harvesting, due to the lack of rainfall. Valentine, Nebraska marks the eastern edge of The Sand Hills. That’s where our journey really began.
After Valentine, there were large stretches of road where there were no towns, no settlements, no evidence of what you could call ‘civilization’ except for the occasional ranch gate, the odd historical marker, telephone/power lines and poles, and the road itself. We often drove for 30 minutes or more without meeting another vehicle. We realized that if the car broke down, we might be waiting for help for a while. There was no fear for me in that thought. There was only freedom and and sense of being on your own.
There were few trees. There were only rolling vistas allowing one to see for up to 40 miles in every direction when you topped the many rises on the road.
We watched a thunderstorm make its lazy yet intense way across the Sand Hills. We saw what I imagined the Native Americans and the first white settlers saw when they came to the area; the endless, open sky. Sky that was such a deep, clear power blue, the clouds with their many colors (clouds are actually very colorful), the green grass undulating in the at times gentle, and other times forceful breeze. The occasional cold, insistent rain from the thunderstorm, the coolness of the breeze. And the road.
And the road.
That day, I realized moving west on U.S. 20 was a metaphor.
That’s the day I realized I was and am a shunpiker.
You see, all of my life I have been fascinated with roads. Pictures of roads, stories of roads, songs about roads. When I see a road, especially one I’ve never been down before, I often have to resist the urge to make turn and go that way, just to see what’s on it, and perhaps what lies at the end of it. The more forlorn, less-traveled and forgotten the road, the more I want to go down it it.
Roads tells stories. They talk to me. They tell me about what has been down them, the lives lived on or near them.
Shunpiking isn’t about just getting on the road and traveling in out-of-the-way places. For me, shunpiking has a deeper meaning.
I realized last summer that all of my life I’ve been a shunpiker. I’ve always chosen the less convenient way. The road less traveled. If the group is going one way, I will often take a different route. Once you get off the fast road, the interstate, there’s so much more to see and experience. So much beauty, So many stories.
And the road.
Shunpiking is about living a life where you take time to see things and experience things and most of all, ENJOY things. It’s not about living a busy life, but a meaningful life. For me, it’s about following my Lord God and living the way He tells me to live. The Christian life is the life lived on the road less traveled. It’s a shunpiker’s life. It’s the narrow, straight road, not the wide, winding road. It’s about the people around you, not you.
It’s about the road.