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I descended from the Angeles National Forest at 4,000 feet of elevation and got my first glimpse into the valley. Perhaps because I typically drive back into LA in the wee hours of morning and night, I don’t see the buildup of car exhaust that I saw at 3PM over LA County.

“Oh damn,” I said aloud. Was it worse than it had been since I left two years ago? Worse than when I was here in December? Perhaps it was just an exception, one particular bad day.

These particularly bad days are likely happening more and more often in high density cities. In Salt Lake City, there’s the Inversion– the phenomenon in which mountains and wind patterns trap all of the smog over the city rather than dispersing it out across the desert. Days when higher risk people have to stay indoors or risk respiratory distress or illness.

And I know that I am contributing to the problem with the journeying that I do in my small vehicle. Not only just within California now, but all the way across Nevada and Utah and Wyoming and Colorado. It is a way of traveling and living that I am used to, that I romanticize, that I have tried to separate from and that I have all but given up separating from. I day dream about switching to bike touring everywhere I go. I imagine being able to live a life of less travel, period.

But my imagination is not quite good enough; I still want what I know is not sustainable. I still have those old Great American Road Trip yearnings. I still want to criss-cross the country in my little car. I still want to climb in the many areas I’ve seen in photos and videos and read about. Why shouldn’t I have those experiences, my more petulant self asks, when other people go ahead with them?.

Grace Lee Boggs’ work encourages us to “grow our souls” and that we have to reimagine and reinvent everything. That we have to be able to reconfigure our lives around what we haven’t tried. Alice Walker tells us that we have the knowledge inside us that will take us out of the pit that we’ve fallen into.

So I need to expand my imagination. I drive perhaps 10,000 miles a year, including all of my trips. That doesn’t include the miles that I travel in someone else’s car.

What is it that I really want and need to experience, and why? What else can I let go of?

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