Jack Kerouac might have said it best in his famous novel On the Road: “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” His words serve as a testament to the power of a road trip; how the process of packing a car and driving long distances has the ability to transform us. Yet, what about the roads themselves? What makes this form of transportation more life-changing than, say, flying in an airplane? Or taking a cruise? The answer could be in the old chestnut: It’s not the destination but the journey that matters.
The “New” Road Trip
Some of the iconic road trips I have taken here in the US: The Seven Mile Bridge to Key West, Florida, the Mount Carmel Highway cutting through Zion National Park, Utah, Interstate H3 (16 miles=$1.3 billion) on Oahu, Hawaii, the Hana Highway on Maui (51 miles each way), and my personal favorite, Highway 1 up or down the California coast.
In and outside of the US, I have taken a few others: Chapman’s Peak Drive (built by convict labor) in South Africa with Barry the V, The Pan American Highway in Chile, the Dalton Highway in Alaska, Acadia All American Road, Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, anywhere on Route 66, and hilly Route 13 in Laos.
Our first memories of seemingly long car trips began in our childhood. Most likely, a drive to the coast, up to the San Francisco Bay Area, or down to Southern California for the famous amusement parks. Most of ours seemed to revolve around visiting relatives. Rarely did we stay in hotels. The drive back then probably took much longer, with lower speed limits, and indirect (non-freeway) routes. And we stopped often for potty breaks, since my brother and sisters were younger than me. My Dad seemed to have little patience for this, and soon, a coffee can was installed for “moving” potty breaks!!
So, for us, the journey was a struggle. But we were together, and we often played games or read, while my youngest sister got carsick, no matter what. We were thrilled to be going somewhere, anywhere from the hot San Joaquin Valley. Like today, we are headed to Pismo Beach to get away form the 109 degree heat this week,
I have never been a big fan of driving long distances myself. The furthest I have driven: Portland (twice), Sunriver, OR, Las Vegas, Manzanar, and San Diego (twice). You might ask about longer drives I have done, like Chile from top to bottom, or Costa del Sol (Spain) to Lisboa. Well, thankfully my travel buddy, Mr. Mike LOVES to drive. I navigate and try not to fall asleep. It has worked all over the world, so far.
Getting back to Jack for a moment, it appears the journey AND the destination have become equally important, as I have gotten older. And staying awake has become a bigger issue as well. Even when we lived in the Bay Area, rarely did we drive to Vegas or SoCal. We flew. I also enjoy taking the train, though Amtrak pales in comparison to trains in most other developed countries.
When gas prices approached $5 a gallon, car travel seemed to subside. Now that we are back under $3, car travel and vacations are back in full force. Plus our roads have not kept up with population growth here in California, making road travel dangerous and slow.
I admire those of you who can pack up your SUV, small or large motorhome, and just take off for months at a time. Though it is not my style, I like the adventure aspect of it, not knowing when and where you will stop or overnight. But we are not the type to drive all day, climb into the recreational vehicle, and cook dinner. We seem to like long slow afternoons, a nice dinner out, perhaps an evening stroll, and early to bed. And of course, camping is out of the question. I have not gone camping since high school!
My Mom owned a motorhome for a short time. We borrowed it a few times, and quickly decided this was not our “cup of tea.” Our friends Billie and Jim loaned us their 5th wheel. After two nights, we decided that a hotel was better suited for us. But I do admire those of you who thrive in this atmosphere.
No discussion of road trips can be complete with paying homage to the great Clark Griswold (car pictured above), and his National Lampoon’s Vacation. I am certain parts of his hilarious trip across the US has brought reminders of past trips to all of us. But you have to admire Clark’s (Chevy Chase) spirit, and his lust for the road, and Christie Brinkley. John Candy, Imogene Coca, and Randy Quaid also make it memorable, as we all know someone like their characters. Or maybe related to them? We all have a “Walley World” that lies out in the distance.
Recently, several dear friends have embarked on long trips. The Bergs took off for several months in their 5th wheel to Oregon and beyond. The Knights embarked on a car trip to the great Pacific Northwest and beyond. The Thiessens have forsaken their home, and moved into a super motor coach to travel the country. Chas is driving all the way to Niagara Falls next month! So, to the four couples, I admire your feats and dedicate this email to you! Safe travels.