I lost track of how many times the trip counter has turned over- I thought it was three, but I checked and it is 5. Calculating, it is 5,300 km (3,300 miles) so far, and the road trip is only about a third done.
Before the last two weeks, all my brave travels have been by air and perhaps bus, train or car once at the main destination. But there is a different feel to a road trip.
For one thing, you don’t have to pack as light, even if you have a two-seater sports car. Well, OK- probably less room in there than one full sized suitcase and a carry on. When my friend Jan joined me, from Minnesota to Toronto, she wouldn’t have been able to bring a suitcase if I hadn’t bought a luggage rack for the top of the trunk. But it feels like more room, because tucked in the back is my espresso pot and an extra pair of shoes, and in the dash is a full sized sun block.
When you fly, you are in the limbo of transition while you travel through airports and on planes. You endure while you wait for the “real” holiday to start. You use books, electronics and even medication to not be fully aware of your surroundings, because why would you want to be fully present, jammed together with strangers in too small seats in a metal cylinder that is, improbably, a ridiculous height above the ground?
When you drive, it’s all about the journey. So far, apart from the first days, I have not meandered much, preferring to push the travel for two days at a time so I can stay longer at each main stop. But although you can use the flying technique of distraction for a day or two, you can’t keep it up for weeks.
So playing music I had brought and singing along at full volume– you should always have at least one karaoke song you are comfortable with– was entertaining for a few hours, until my voice started getting hoarse. Language learning podcasts started to seem like work after a while.
I rediscovered the radio. NPR (National Public Radio) in the States was way too full of American politics for me, and made me appreciate much more the eclectic programming of CBC, the Canadian version. But I could always find a “classic rock” station for a walk down nostalgia lane, and country songs fit the long open stretches across Montana and North Dakota. With titles like “I thought I’d miss you but I missed me more” and “Cause he can only show you what Love Ain’t,” they were actually pretty enjoyable for someone who has recently been dumped. Closer to cities, I would add a hip-hop and a classical station to the rotation.
There’s a rhythm to the road. Every hour or two, make a stop: coffee, rest area walk, gas, food. Some days, it makes sense to drive till 7 or 8 pm and then stop for dinner and the night; other times an early dinner stop prevents the frustration of rush hour traffic near a city and lets you drive until quite late. Now instead of using the AAA travel book the Internet makes it easy to book hotels, even at the last minute.
If you need “big city” coffee, you’re unlikely to find it near the highways, so I would take an extra 15 minutes to search it out when I left the hotel, which led to exploring little towns, with their wide main streets and tidy houses. It broke the hotel/interstate/rest area routine.
Staying healthy is a challenge. If there isn’t time for a walk or hike, stretching and a zigzag run through the trees at a rest stop can loosen muscles and clear the mind. When you see healthy snacks, grab them, and it will partially balance the carb-laden, included breakfasts at the hotels right off the Interstate.
There are simple pleasures on the road. An unexpected vista, a campy “roadside attraction” (world’s largest cow, anyone? Giant metal sculptures of birds in flight?), an Amish fruit stand at a road stop, all add to the journey. Finding the perfect pace car or truck and travelling together, without ever meeting, gives a surprising sense of connection. And seeing the car that roared past you without any driving courtesy pulled over by flashing lights soon after gives a smug sense of shaudenfreude.
After a while I realized I was applying my “living in the moment” resolution to the road. Just watching the slow change of geography over hours gave new appreciation for the size and amazing diversity of this continent. There is still so much open space. And there was time to think. I would focus on a topic and be able to spend an hour or two, something we so seldom do with all our busy-ness and distractions. It was not always enjoyable, but I think it was useful. We can’t move forward without looking at where we have been, and pondering where we want to be.
I break my road trip next week to fly to Europe, but when I return to my car at the airport in New York, the travels will continue: 2000 km south to New Orleans, then 5000 km back to Vancouver Island.
You don’t need a plane ticket to have brave travels.