Time Dilation

Although it was a two-week trip, we were only actually in Newfoundland and Labrador for five days. That boggles my mind- those five days seem somehow bigger than the whole previous year. When I try to remember 1998 there are whole months missing — not amnesia, it’s just that when every day is the same there’s nothing to remember. I had a couple jobs but I really only remember a day or two from each — and that day repeated X times, over and over. Even when I look at the calendar to jog my memory all I see are empty spaces, a blank grid signifying idleness and distraction, a wasteland of lost time. I lost almost an entire year and it makes me want to weep.

Of those five days in Newfoundland, though, I remember every minute, from strapping the motorcycles down on the ferry to eating french fries soaked in gravy and cheese. Because everything was constantly changing — the land, the people, the price of gas — every moment was stamped and marked in my memory. It’s got something to do with the way brains work, the way they compress data; if you have a routine, if one day is just like the day before, then the brain says, “Hey, I’ve already got this memory — I don’t need another copy.” That’s how weeks of my life seem to disappear.

Anything different, though, gets remembered. It can be painful to live without a routine, exhausting to make countless small decisions when you don’t have a template to follow, and frightening to not have the reassurance that what you’re doing must be O.K. because it worked yesterday — but times of flux get remembered, so that when you look back in your mind there’s at least something there. This is one of the secret magics of travelling, a kind of time dilation that stretches minutes and hours out until you have to find another way to measure time; with miles, maybe.

So that’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to buy memories. I’m going to get back on my motorcycle and ride until that money is gone and I’ve ridden across 751 dollars’ worth of North America. Instead of watching time erase behind me on a mnemonic whim, I’m going to build a linked chain of places visited and people met and then polish each one in my mind like a jewel.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop time. This’ll be a good start.