The joy of the road

Road trips are in my blood. Nothing shakes me from my stupor and pries my fingers off my tired routines like a good, long road trip.

Last week my youngest and I drove to Austin, Texas, taking a southerly route through California’s Mojave Desert, across Arizona, New Mexico and a good chunk of rural Texas. We put a total of 3600 miles on my still fairly new Honda CRV. Also, quite a few dents, but I’ll get back to that.

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Wigwam Motel, on old Route 66, Holbrook, AZ.

Road trips are an honored institution in my family of origin. I remember being bundled into the car, in the flimsiest of car seats, for long drives to visit my grandparents in Nebraska. When my brother and sisters came along, my dad built two low benches, which he inserted over the folded down middle seat in our station wagon, so we could bundle up in blankets and sleep. Horribly dangerous and with no protective restraints, but we loved it. I remember rocketing down the interstates of the midwest, Colorado and Wyoming, my head thrust out the window like a dog, singing and feeling the wind in my face. When we didn’t stay with relatives, we’d stay in cheap motels off the beaten path, similar to the kind we saw along Route 66 on this trip: a tiny room, close quarters, but with full kitchens and usually a pool or kids playground.

A road trip that gives you that rare feeling that you’re getting somewhere. Your progress is clear, tangible. You can see it on the map (Now it’s Google maps for me). For my dad, the distances he drove were a mark of pride. He once drove us from Denver to the San Francisco Bay Area in one day (an 18 hour drive). I have no desire to equal his achievement, because while I love being on the road, I also love to get out of the car and see things. And I like to sleep.

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Arizona. It’s all orange.

Back to the dents in my car, which brings me to the unpredictability of road trips. Some of the best stories I remember from my childhood road trips are when things went horribly wrong. When we got lost. When the car broke down. When someone in the back seat started throwing up.

Last Monday, we’d just crossed the Texas border from New Mexico, when we saw the creepiest clouds I’d ever seen: dark grey, dense, and with appendages hanging down that I can only describe as fur-like. It began to rain, and suddenly it seemed like it was raining hammers. Hail pelted the car, growing in size until it resembled small golf balls. We were out in the middle of the great flat nowhere (or as my youngest calls it, BFN, Bum Fuck Nowhere), no shelter in sight. I drove, my hands rigid on the wheel, until we came to an overpass in Roscoe, Texas. Everyone crowding under the overpass got out and examined their damages. My windshield was split down the middle, and the hood and roof were covered with deep dimples like you’d see on a golf ball. I still can’t bring myself to look at it.

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My Honda’s self esteem took a hit.

We loved Austin. After we limped into town from that experience, we started having so much fun, we almost forgot the torrent we’d driven through. An auto glass repairer replaced our windshield quickly and we started enjoying the music and food that makes Austin so great. I even got some writing done.

It will be a while till we do another long road trip. Eight hour daily drives are exhausting, and my poor car needs time and body work to get back its sheen and mojo.

On our drive back, my youngest and I talked about the meaning of adventure—something we’d been looking for on the trip. If everything went precisely as you predicted on a trip, it wouldn’t be an adventure. We wouldn’t still be talking about it.

I’d say on this trip, we found the adventure we were looking for.