Sunday, January 23, 2011

Road signs of awesomeness

An upcoming and unexpected expedition to the other side of the world has me thinking about road signs. Though quite simple items in and of themselves, they manage to impart a variety of emotions in their observers: despair, security, anticipation and deep satisfaction.

The last time I drove from my home town of Cincinnati to my dad’s native Colorado the first road sign for Denver on Interstate 70 westbound somewhere in Kansas read, “Denver 560 miles.” Uggggh. After logging more than 600 miles to get to that point, that particular sign almost taunts the reader as if to ask, “You sure you can handle another 560 miles of featureless road travel? At 70 miles an hour?” This is especially dispiriting at what was often 2:00 a.m. and we always made those trips non-stop.

But that sign also is the first to confirm that, yes, this is still Interstate 70, you are still tracking westbound, and yes, eventually, this road will get you to Denver.

On more than one occasion I’ve missed a key turn up in the hills of east Tennessee, and little is more reassuring than when you wind up on a backcountry dirt road and the sign for which you are looking appears. “Holly Flats 6 miles.” Ahhhhhhhh. Yes!

There are few emotions I enjoy more than anticipation. It is often in those moments of great anticipation that I feel most alive because just as often, the place or moment that I’ve hoped to achieve passes into history more quickly than anyone would prefer. The anticipation always lasts longer.

On my first trip to the south island of New Zealand, road signs and a good map were the greatest security blanket a solo traveler could ever have. “Rolleston,” “Ashburton,” “Geraldine,” “Fairlie,” “Tekapo,” “Twizel,” and “Omarama,” come to mind.

What I didn’t realize in that first trip was that I had a VERY specific destination in mind. I didn’t get there, because I didn’t know how badly I needed to.

The second trip, I made absolutely certain I got to exactly this place. Now, this isn't me in the video, but it was absolutely the clincher in the motivation I needed to take the plunge and make my first trip to New Zealand. (Note: select "or download" next to "Use on site" on the right side of the screen. Also note, the audio in the first 30 seconds of this video is NSFW).

Despite the copious amounts of fish porn and God’s country landscape photographs I collected on that trip, my favorite images are of road signs. They all owned each of those three best attributes a road sign can have: security, anticipation and deep satisfaction.

The road sign that reads “Te Anau,” is special for several reasons. First, it is not possible to go more than 50 km farther south before the next land mass becomes Antarctica. Second, Te Anau is tantalizingly close. Finally, THIS was exactly where I needed to be. Badly. It is in the town of Mossburn, where Highway 97 meets Highway 94. (You'll just have to trust me that yes, this is what it says)

Farther south, not possible
The next is even more specific. There is a particular river, which shall remain nameless here, that was a high priority for that same trip. For many of the same reasons as the previous sign, this is particularly awesome. What makes this sign superior, however, is the sheer variety of amazing places within close proximity to where the reader is standing.

Road sign of awesomeness

I plan on visiting these signs in early March and greeting them as dear, dear friends.

Does that make me weird? If so, fine by me.

No exit, no problem.

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