Man - a creature made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.
ince I did not meet a hungry bear while lounging in the Liard hotsprings, I did not pay for the experience with my life. I did pay however, in sheer exhaustion.
Normally, when one drives all night they are rewarded by unfettered sleep, either in the new motel room or at the end of a trip, in one's own bed.
But when your drive extends beyond 24 hours, forget that. Even for the martyred all-night driver there is simply nowhere to go in a van but a bench seat. In these less-than private circumstances, sleep is a precious and difficult commodity.
Fatigue then, is a primary characteristic of the well-baked "summer" season. Another is frustration. The second of the two and one-half day drive through Canada down the Alaska Highway found us exhausted and a little frustrated. We had reached some of the most dramatic scenery not only of our trip, but in the world. We long anticipated this stretch of road, but were glaringly unable to enjoy it to the fullest.
Regardless of having driven all night, I felt compelled to stay awake. In the morning I was able to enjoy incredible Muncho Lake. But as the miles passed and we traded the Alcan for the Yellowhead highway, my endurance flagged. By late afternoon I was in the throes of full-scale, self-induced sleep deprivation, fighting to stay awake to enjoy the beautiful sights if it killed me.
What would I have missed by sleeping? Walking on the Columbia Icefield glacier in Alberta's Jaspar National Park, the awe-inspiring Canadian Rockies: one indescribable jutting-stone peak after another, the highly developed yet still gorgeous Lake Louise and finally, Banff itself, the celebrated, charming ski town.
I can't say I enjoyed these things to their maximum, and I'll go out on a limb and make the same claim for the others. Tempers were short, everyone was pale and drained. Yet no one wanted to sacrifice seeing these amazing places. While trudging around Lake Louise, one still-dedicated band member suggested we rent paddle boats and hit the lake. A full-scale brouhaha erupted; I thought fists were going to fly (they didn't).
After looking around Banff, we slept as Road Manager Nick Sharp drove the final leg of the 1500 miles to Calgary. There we enjoyed our first decent meal in two days and a real hotel with beds.
Our trip down the Alcan illustrates a major drawback plaguing the sight-seeing road-warrior: when on tour in these amazing places, schedules and economics (in other words, work) tend to distort or limit the experience. Give in to the temptation to be a tourist, ignore that the actual work of playing and traveling uses up all your energy, push yourself rather than save yourself and suddenly it's a van full of bleary-eyed, short-tempered working tourists. Still, it must be said that the Canadian Rockies are a thrilling sight, even through empty slits of eyes.
Naturally, not all road work occurs in glamorous picture-spots, and not all road-induced fatigue comes from choosing to indulge in sightseeing.
There is nothing thrilling about pulling into the Red Roof Inn in Fayetteville North Carolina after having driven nine hours from Philadelphia, immediately after the gig, to learn your rooms aren't ready, gosh, not for another two hours... You are spent, and there is nothing glamorous about it. Your astonishing tiredness goes unrewarded.
And that may just be the first leg of a workaday tour. Imagine the rest of the gigs go like this: next day drive eight hours, play, then do another six hours back the same direction from which you came, play, then veer off at a ninety degree angle for six hours, play, then drive all the way back to thirty miles from where you started, on and on.
Such "dart-board" booking is the ultimate in wear-and-tear. Your life seems seems randomly and callously scheduled, driving hours beyond the same towns you're going to return to in short order. One imagines the booking agent planning the itinerary by throwing darts at a map.
Blues bands are notorious victims of this kind of booking. These steel-plated road warriors play the chitlin circuit, but sometimes refer to it as the "dartboard circuit." They complain mightily about it, but you get the feeling they're just letting off steam. Over the years, they've developed the physical and mental toughness necessary to endure it, and deep down, the opportunity to travel, play, travel some more and play again is what they enjoy. When pressed, even slightly, they laugh and confess.