Before I could travel, before money facilitated, even before I had ventured beyond weathered north Wales and exotic French camping holidays, I had been on journeys far beyond our means. My yearning for lands afar had already been ignited from my bedroom. It was via the pages of books I read that I had already taken a peek through the window of this wonderful world of adventure and escape that is travel.
One novel that first thrust the idea of how an escapist journey could lead to self realisation and happiness was Jack Kerouac’s seminal work, On the Road. The idea in itself was tantalising to my teenage brain, to escape the homogeneity of suburban English life in the manner that Kerouac’s protagonist, Sal Paradise, escape was compelling. I was not a writer with writers’ block but the freedom that the road offered Sal and his friend, Dean Moriarty, was something I could barely comprehend having been born on our tiny island. It seemed the only direction that made sense, no direction.
The adventures across a changing America in the height of the jazz era with his bohemian ‘beat-generation’ friends was everything I could have dreamed of as a young man stuck in a small town on the south coast of England. That sense of longing for something different, the ever changing culture, people and scenery seemed my idea of paradise.
Sal starts his cross-country journey from New York where he and his intellectual friends are based and where writer, Sal, meets Dean, newly married and fresh out of jail. Dean’s fecklessness intrigues Sal and thus begins his journey to his often-dreamed-of west coast. Sal sets off by bus to Chicago with nothing but a few essentials and fifty dollars to his name. He makes his way to Denver to reconvene with Dean and other friends then onwards to California by himself. This is far from the end of the tale as Sal and Dean wind across the states again as Dean foils Sal’s attempts at a stable existence.
Through the groups constant relocation we are dragged through shifting landscapes, colourful characters, changing times, drama and internal conflicts and developments. It was this unsettled nature and changing scenery which drew me in, I wanted some of this adventure and the spark Kerouac’s words ignited within me has now transformed into something of a fire. When on the road, I always take my copy of On the Road to remind me why I am there in tough times, to maintain the dream and to inspire the next move.
Although the adventures of Sal and Dean were peppered with drama, the way in which Sal’s character develops from a weakened and down-heartened man to a more confident and happy individual inspired me and made me believe, as I still do, that travel is an invaluable tool for happiness for some. The book, and the dream it offered, will always stay with me.
You can find On the Road at Sainsbury’s eBooks.