Who’s Keeping Track?
The first time I did a long drive by myself, I was nineteen. It was 1985 and I drove from Dallas, TX back to college in Northampton, MA with a detour through Detroit (long story), a hot minute in Canada and some time in upstate New York. A cooler filled with green grapes and diet coke within arm’s reach, I nibbled the whole way and biting into a grape still brings back the smoky, beige velveteen interior of my beloved Delta 88. It was a chocolate brown Oldsmobile sedan my grandparents handed down to me. It was a car, but it was also freedom.
I left Dallas in late August with some cash, a family credit card “to be used only in the event of an emergency,” and a AAA Triptik. For anyone under the age of fifty, Triptiks were little spiral bound cardboard books created especially for your journey, a nice perk of AAA membership made obsolete by GPS. After getting pulled over for speeding in Hope, AK, a sheriff took me to station and basically held me hostage until I forked over $200, either that or “called my daddy.”
My cash reserves depleted, I continued on a little jittery, nothing much left for lodging between Hope and Detroit. The only thing that soothed my nerves were grapes, an occasional cigarette and watching the odometer spin. I sang along to whatever was on the radio, flipping the pages of the Triptik. All night long thinking, just turn one more page, one more page, get within x miles of x town and then pull over and look for a motel, or a place to sleep in the car.
Years later, I’d be running on a treadmill, the metrics of my effort lit by red LED lights and I’d access a similar recess of my brain, the one that said, just five more minutes, just twenty more calories, just another half mile. I am wired for these little incentives, a gerbil on her wheel, a rat in the laboratory adapting to the most boring of incentives.
Thirty seven years later, I’m driving an SUV, basically a computer on wheels from Westerly, RI to Park City, UT with detours in Madison WI and Denver (long story) and each day I set my destination in the WAZE app on my phone and take pleasure in the miles whittling away, the ETA getting closer to the time on the clock display.
And when I check in to my Residence Inn with two dogs, their food, my smoothie fixings, a yoga mat and a foam roller, it hits home how so much of my life has changed, but then again hasn’t. When it’s just me and the road and the thoughts in my head, I could be any age. But I don’t need a Triptek anymore, and I have enough funds to stay in hotels. But that endurance mindset is still with me, only now I’m hooked up to devices. It hits home just how hooked up I’ve become, because I’m carrying all these god damned chargers! Most notably for my Apple watch and my Oura ring which have cemented me in a permanent laboratory rat mentality — what kind of sleep score will I have tonight? How much REM sleep, where will my heart rate settle? Need to get my steps in somehow, wonder how my recovery will be?
Am I alone in being motivated by this stuff? Goodreads reading challenge has me in a funk I haven’t reached my reading goal for the year (well, it was rather ambitious) and then there is NanoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) which challenges you to write 50k words — that equates to somewhere around 1,650 words per day and had me going nuts even though I used it to edit my manuscript and there was nobody holding a gun to my head. There is Peleton sending me messages that they are missing me, and don’t I care about keeping my fifty-week streak alive, and I sort of feel bad about ditching it, but I am on a road trip, so give me a break. There is the FI collar I purchased for each dog last summer, thinking the GPS feature would alert me to which neighbor’s yard they’d run off to, but had the unintended effect of communicating their steps each day and how my dogs were ranking. Yes, ranking. Little Churro at one point was ranked #17 of all Dachshunds in the US and I’m not sure what was bigger motivation last summer, getting my steps in in order to drop some pounds or wanting my little Dachshund to break into the top ten.
Corporate America has long been aware of a human’s addiction to metrics. You can just point to all the loyalty reward programs, even my favorite ski outfitter in Canada had me addicted to racking up vertical feet like a pain doc handing out opioids. Addicted to accumulating not stuff, but what? Maybe because all the big tech companies are accumulating intel on me, I want some of my own. But it’s also like I’m an experiment seeking the perfect inputs and outputs in order to operate my body and my life at optimal vibration. As if by measuring all these things, I can control the variables and thus master them and know exactly what to expect. Don’t we all just want to know what to expect? Or if not what to expect, we want to be heading toward a destination — a destination measured by Bonvoy Marriot select status or Delta Platinum Medallion status — we want a score, a good score. A score that says, fuck, look how disciplined I’ve been putting in the miles every day. Look at my life and this score, all this data I’ve collected that shows I’ve been trying really fucking hard.
I drove through Pennsylvania and Ohio and Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin (just two more states and I will have been to all 50, but who’s counting?) I started thinking about the things that aren’t measured. And even if somebody invented a little doohickey someday that you could strap to your body, I don’t ever want to measure them. I just want my hazy, fifty-six year old memory to be enough, because the actual data can be so cruel, as in you didn’t burn many calories afterall, or as in another 1,200 people died yesterday from COVID. I just want that foggy recollection of a young woman driving out of Texas to be enough, a hot summer with the windows rolled down and dust in her face because she was conserving gas, couldn’t afford to run the air conditioning.
I want to be unsure but satisfied by the number of meals my husband cooked for me, the number of times we made love, the number of kisses, bottles of wine, number of hours laughing or singing or dancing. The hours spent around the dinner table or in long conversation. The hours in my garden, the quantity of vegetable I’ve harvested. The number of hummingbirds that visited my feeder.
Every morning I write three pages long hand in my journal and each journal last two months, and even I know that means there are about one hundred eighty pages in the journal, I don’t mind that metric, or should I? Should I wean myself entirely? There was a time when I stopped writing when I’d exhausted my good thoughts, or I sensed the sun high in the sky meant it was about noon, or that I could be satisfied that I had sweat enough and had probably exercised enough for the day. There was a time when my heart didn’t sink when my apple watch lost its charge, knowing the hike I was on wouldn’t get measured and thus wouldn’t count toward my monthly fitness target. There was a time, but it was so long ago. And I can’t abandon that mindset yet, I still need to get through Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.