The Long Way Home/Tourist or Traveler 8.12.22

My friend Tor Torkildson is an adventurer and traveler, not a tourist. When Johnny Cash wrote “I’ve Been Everywhere” he could have been thinking about Tor.

Tor has traveled in and lived in various places around the world. From Africa and Europe to southeast Asia and Hovland, MN. Although he’s seen many of the globe’s tourist sites, he takes the traveler approach. He learns the language and immerses himself in the culture. He knows what MN Children's Press Chief Creative Officer, Anne Brataas calls “the spirit of place.”

Tor and his wife Siffy published a travel anthology titled “The Walkabout Chronicles: Epic Journeys by Foot.” This remarkable anthology, 35 essays of travel writing, gets to the heart of the spirit of place and the people who live there. The authors are adventurers and travelers, not tourists. I recommend it.

Paul Theroux, a prolific fiction author, and travel writer is a traveler. In his book “Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads,” published in 2015, Theroux recounts an extensive road trip through the southeastern United States. He focuses on the spirit of the places and people he visits. Like the barber who is also a preacher. Housing leaders who work to make safe housing available for those in hardship. And regular, real people who attend the near-weekly gun shows in the rural south. You will read about the people, and about the places, and what makes the South special.

Enough book recommendations. How can you tell the tourist from the traveler when you see them at your favorite attraction?

I’ve written before about Roger Porter and his 4th-grade classes in Bloomington. After raising objections to a Fall field trip he did, where kids attended a nature camp, I decided his trips weren’t so bad after all, and I volunteered to chaperone the Spring trip. A circle tour that started in the early morning, drove to the iron range, Ely, Silver Bay, and back to the Twin Cities. With stops along the way at the Tower Sudan underground mine, the taconite plant in Silver Bay, the Whaleback in Superior, and a replica trappers’ fort somewhere near Pine City. We all camped overnight in William Kelly High School in Silver Bay.

The number of adults on this field trip was larger than Roger expected and too many for the buses he’d booked. So when he asked for volunteers to drive, my hand shot up immediately. If you’ve ever been on a bus trip with fourth graders you’ll understand why driving my own car was better.

The morning we left Bloomington, I met the three dads Roger assigned to ride with me. None of us knew the others so the first couple of hours were pretty quiet. By the time we pulled into the first rest stop on I-35 though the first f-bomb had dropped, we were having a great time.

After touring the mine at Tower, the convoy headed to Ely and stopped at the Dairy Queen. Two purposes: get sugar in the kids and let them see the Ely Greenstone behind the DQ.

The four musketeers who had just met that morning were huddled by my car deciding how many cans of a particular adult beverage we would need to make it through the high school campout.

One of the dads riding the bus this trip was a frequent pro-bowler with the Minnesota Vikings. He had a unique and appropriate nickname in his playing days, and a wicked sense of humor now. He walked up to our huddle from behind the DQ and asked us if we had seen the Love Stone yet.

“Love Stone?”

“Yeah, it’s a f*****g rock.”

Although we’d traveled that day, we were all just tourists.