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Travel lifts a weight off our shoulders
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There are many reasons to get the hell out of Dodge in the summer, even if half of America -- either families with children out of school for a few months or your older types traveling with half their possessions jammed into an oversized RV the size of Florida -- has the same idea.

I’ve left town in the winter -- and I will do so again because travel, for me, is a time to clear the deck, to pitch the dogs, the chickens, the mail, the weeds, the laundry, the dishes, the house that needs painting, the fan that needs hanging, the pictures that need organizing, the swim goggles that need cleaning.

A lot of times that means traveling alone, too, when I’m free to get lost without anxiety, to talk to new people out of necessity, to have only myself (and my credit card) to rely on.

But travel in the summer months has that extra advantage: long and lingering days where the sun hangs in the sky well into the night. And if you’re anywhere north of Savannah there’s the advantage of the temperature. Walking out into to a 65-degree morning feels somewhat similar to being in an air conditioned room and looking around for a sweater.

Travel is a time to step back and look at the big picture, to regenerate, to kick the every day to the curb, to mingle among strangers. It’s a time to break the routine.

It’s also a time to eat different food, like corn dogs from the Flying J truck stop on Interstate 65, French mashed potatoes and fried green tomatoes from Charles Cavallo’s World Famous Cupboard Restaurant in Memphis (which sits next to the country’s first Huey’s, established 35 years ago), roasted Italian vegetable wraps from Strawberry Fields health food restaurant in Urbana, Ill, and Maurice’s Gourmet Barbecue in Columbia, S.C. (which I did not actually try but was certainly tempted to by its billboard advertising. While not a true oxymoron, “gourmet barbecue” certainly starts to push the envelope.).

The appetite needs these variations. So does the eye and the mind. How often do you see for-rent signs in Savannah that read, “Rare vacancy”? Rarely indeed. And should I ever need to rent a hut made out of palms now I know from a van I passed

With a good cup of coffee, Kim Komando (“your digital goddess”) on the radio -- followed by a discussion of radiant floor heating, then a great jazz show -- and a good rented car, I could drive forever.

On the road you have time to cultivate your ingenuity, your survival skills. Yes, you can economize and stay at the Dollar Inn (which should be called the $31 Inn -- $41 on the weekends). But what’s to stop you from taking a walk the next morning and meandering into the neighboring Lees Inn (probably $50 a night) for its gourmet, hot breakfast?

Further, who’s to know you lingered just a little longer in your very dark, very private motel room to watch Ellen DeGeneres’ television show for the first time?

My excuse for this latest furlough was the chance to see a 15-year-old friend compete in the 2005 USA Weightlifting National School Age Championships in Merrillville, Ind., a group that shared the hotel -- for one morning at least -- with the New Mount Moriah Ministries Pastor’s Booster Breakfast, scheduled to meet one floor up from the USAW Doping Room, where the top two winners in each category and random participants were tested.

There was no mistaking the two groups. For starters, they dressed very differently. No fuscia dresses, big hats, dark suits or strapped shoes for the lifters. They preferred t-shirts reading, “Life without weightlifting? I don’t think so” or “Less talk more chalk.”

They wore credentials around their necks identifying them as “athletes.” While both groups talked about might and strength, power and force, the young athletes walked tall and looked buff and sturdy, if not downright strapping.

After watching most of the 350 lifters and listening to their coaches for most of a day -- “chest high! keep your elbows inside! squeeze! focus! good lift!” -- I understand a tad more about the sport. I know the lifters have to maintain a certain weight to stay in a particular weight class -- which means they understand a little more about which foods to eat, which foods not to eat.

I know they measure their lifts and weight in kilos -- which puts them light years ahead of most Americans in learning the metric system. I know they’re experiencing the benefits of control and mastery, focus and goal-setting.

I know what I saw: win, lose or draw, these were kids who looked pleased with themselves. Seeing that, more than eating the corn dog from the Flying J truck stop, more than sleeping in a tent and looking up at the moon, was more than enough reason to get out of town.

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