"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." - Lewis Carrol
Roads have always held a special sort of mystique for me. As someone who's dreamed of travel, adventure, and exploration for as long as I can recall, the first step was always to set off down a road and see where it led.
It seems that humanity itself has had a fascination with roads for probably almost as long as the road itself has existed, and it's become one of our most common literary tropes. There's the High, the Low, the Straight and Narrow, and the Long and Winding roads. Notable roads lead to to Freedom, Redemption, Damascus, the Election, and most recently the Super Bowl, while others diverge in yellow woods. Then there are the literal roads that live in our memory for capturing a feeling or ideal. Abbey Road, Route 66, Wall St, Bourbon St, Broadway, Via Dolorosa, Champ Elysees, The Silk Road, and so many more.
It's little wonder that something as simple and commonplace as a road has planted itself so firmly in our cultural psyche and woven it's way into our lore. For millennia, roads were the only means of transporting ideas, goods, and people to neighboring settlements. All classes of society - peasants, merchants, armies, and royalty - relied on roads and paths in their daily lives, and when none was available, a new thoroughfare was quickly constructed.
Today, we rely on roads more than ever, and although we have created new means of delivering ideas, goods, and ourselves to the distant corners of the world, roads remain an ingrained and integral aspect of our society. Despite this fact, we give them little thought, other than perhaps to complain about the traffic, the speed limit, or the fact that we want to turn right, but the one way street goes left.
This road in Northern Germany, somewhere south of Rostock, is the type of road I had wanted to photograph for a long time. Rural, tree-lined, car-less, stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. It seemed to be a road straight out of a Frost poem, or some other great work of literature, and captivated me immediately.
Travelling by bicycle across the continent gave me a deeper understanding of and appreciation for roads in general. When travelling by bike the interaction between rider and road is infinitely more present than when travelling by car. Every bump, dip, hill, and curve is immediate and impactful on the experience in a way that is hard to emulate through any other mode of transport. I grew to love certain types of roads, and despise others, to feel the impact of different types of asphalt. Some so easy to ride that it felt like drifting on a cloud, while having to fight through every pedal stroke on others. Traffic, topography, wind cover, paving surface, shoulder width; all these became part of the calculation into determining which road to take, and had a drastic effect upon the experience of the days ride.
By the road, I was able to revive a slow mode of transportation that is experienced and appreciated by few in a world where everything is pushed to be faster and faster. The back roads and small byways took me through ancient towns and provincial industrial cities, the type that rarely attract tourists, but give a more accurate view into what a country or region really is.
To have to earn every mile through my own exertion forced me to respect the road, terrain, and elements, to judge each as a worthy adversary, capable of derailing my goals at any turn. Most of all, travelling by the road allows almost infinite time to think and reflect, to process the landscape that changes slowly day by day. To watch as the plains turn to foothills, turn to mountains, leaving the coast and heading inland, trading rain for sun and wind, and every other adjustment that comes with traversing a continent.
After living out my own adventure by way of the road, it's no wonder to me that something so commonplace has found favour among poets, artists, and writers. It's easy to fall under it's spell and never want to leave, to chase the road to whatever distant shore where it finally ends. Along the road there is no shortage of time for thought, reflection, and learning about the world at large. In essence, this photo of my road in rural Germany reminds me of this allure, and pulls me to set off out my front door again, and see where I end up.
“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say”