The road trip has been talked about for generations. When I was growing up the best road trip one could take, was Route 66. This one was so famous, they wrote books about it and even made a TV show with Route 66 as the premise. The idea of a road trip offered a chance to see America close up and if you really wanted to see the out of the way, you had to take the by ways and avoid the free ways.
During my lifetime I have taken my share of road trips. The first road trips were relatively short in that they didn’t even leave the state. Later, my road trips expanded beyond the borders of my state and several took me all the way across the country. I have driven to San Francisco on one coast and New York on the opposite. One trip reached the tip of Cape Cod, while another the tip of the Florida Keys at Key West. Two took me out of the country to Quebec City on the Atlantic side and Edmonton, Alberta on the western side of Canada. Each and every one of these trips hold very special memories. Memories of driving with my small children. Bonding trips with friends from college. Several long trips with my wife as copilot. In the end, I brought home lots of photos and souvenirs, but more importantly, incredible memories of the places and views as well as new friends made along the way. I could never pick one favorite trip, but there certainly were some great ones.
There is one trip that does stand out from the rest for it’s sheer audacity. It was the summer of 1977, I had just resigned from my first teaching job and had moved back home before I would start my new one that fall. My brother had some vacation time coming and asked if I were up for a road trip. We would load the car and head west eventually reaching Sacramento where we would drop in on our sister. We had zero plans but big ideas. With my little red mustang loaded with the few things we thought we might need, we said good by to our mother and headed west. We reached Omaha, Nebraska sometime in the wee hours of the next morning and passed Lincoln around sunrise. Some small Nebraska town out in the middle of nowhere became our first pit stop. It seems the Nebraska State Patrol believes one should drive slow enough to truly enjoy the amazing scenery their state has to offer. After paying for our share of that view, we were back on the road. We eventually crossed the Rockies, the Great Salt Lake, and the Sierras arriving at our destination, my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Sacramento. It had taken us most of two days and I am not even sure I remember where we stopped for the night or even if we did. All in all, we spent the better part of two weeks on that trip. We toured Sacramento, took in one of my brother-in-laws stock car races, made several new acquaintances curtesy of the Sacramento night scene, and re-established our significance to our sister.
Our return trip back across the country was equally noteworthy. Safe to say, we still went more or less by the seat of our pants when it came to planning. Night one found us rolling out our sleeping bags under a moonlit Oregon sky only to be awakened soon after by rather large animal sounds, at least they sounded large. Back in the car, we decided we were not cut out to be cowboys sleeping under the stars. We reached Yellowstone by morning and actually made Mt Rushmore in time for the evening lighting of the monument. I still remember Keith asking if the one day park sticker we had bought that morning in Yellowstone, also got us into Mt Rushmore. The look on the ranger’s face said it all. I believe his exact words were, “You’re covered on the park entrance fee, but maybe I should be giving you a speeding ticket instead.” After a good laugh, we were granted entrance to the park. Our intent that night was to pitch a tent and start back on our trip home the in the morning. Our intent was valid, but after a night out in Keystone, two more new acquaintances, and a trip to an abandoned gold mine at three am, it was already dawn when we got to our tent. Our camp ground neighbors commented on how impressed they were with our being such early risers. We left them believe that.
That trip sticks out in my mind as being the event that re-bonded me with my brother. Sharing all that time, and yes, adventures with him, renewed our brotherhood. That is what road trips are meant to do. We get to reacquaint ourselves, we discover new places and new people, we adventure. The open road cannot be seen from 30,000 feet up. It needs to roll beneath the tires of your vehicle. It needs to be seen from the windshield of your car and it needs to invite you to pull over, get out, and experience it first hand. Every road trip I have taken has afforded me those priceless opportunities. Next time someone offers you the chance for a road trip, don’t hesitate. Throw a few things in the back of the car, buckle your seatbelt, and hit the road.
Queet’s Beach, Washington. One of many great road trips with my daughters