Road Trip! A Top Ten List, Plus Mine — And Yours?

Life Is A Highway
Image by Matt McGee via Flickr

I love road trips!

Here’s a fun list of America’s top 10, three of which — Arizona, Maine and The Blue Ridge Parkway — I’ve done.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, growing up in Toronto and Montreal, where public transit was safe, cheap and plentiful and where the taxi drivers knew me by name I splurged so often. So I had some seriously pent-up consumer demand by the time I did get my license, after learning to drive in Montreal, en francais. It’s a city of aggressive drivers and many hills, so learning stick on a hill in the dark in French was good prep.

I didn’t have much of a jones to do road trips in my native Canada because the distances are so often exhaustingly enormous, certainly if you’re on your own. You can drive for 12 hours in Ontario and still be in…Ontario. After six or ten hours of pine trees, enough is enough.

Some of my favorite road trips have included:

Montreal to Charleston, S.C. with my then boyfriend, later husband, (then ex.) It’s a long, long way and I was still learning how to drive, so had an interesting moment trying to shift gears at 60 mph on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We camped some of the time, stayed in some hotels, ate a very good meal at Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, where I ended up covered in mosquito bites from eating on the (lovely) terrace. If you love architecture or design, Drayton Hall, near Charleston, is one of the nation’s most beautiful early homes, whose construction began in 1738.

Montreal to Savannah, Ga. with my Dad. We visited small coastal towns like New Bern and Oriental, N.C., winding down backroads fragrant with night jasmine and the Great Dismal Swamp. It is large and, on a rainy gray day when we drove across it, was dismal indeed. If you’ve never been to Savannah, it’s well worth a visit.

Santa Fe To Taos, aka The High Road, with the sweetie. We stopped in Truchas where the sweetie explored a Buddhist temple while I waited outside — where a dog bit me on the ass. Never before, never again. The drive is gorgeous.

New York to Charlottesville, Va. I did that trip in the spring of 1995 in my red convertible and spent a whole $500 for a week’s solo adventure. I loved historic spots like Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown, the oldest town in West Virginia, was intrigued by Monticello and often, as I drove through the hollows of West Virginia, felt as though I were lost in a Thomas Hart Benton painting.

Taxco to Acapulco, with my Dad. Driving in Mexico is its very own brand of adventure. We ran out of gas somewhere rural and my Dad, pointing to a hacienda down the dusty road, said “You speak Spanish. Ask where the nearest gas station is.” I remember getting a bad electrical shock in the pretty tiled bathroom in Taxco and loving the dirt-cheap pension in Acapulco Dad remembered from a trip 20 years earlier.

Perpignan, France to Istanbul, with Pierre, a professional truck driver I was writing about. Eight insane, amazing, scary, unforgettable days. Pierre didn’t speak a word of English and we slept in the truck in two narrow, tiny bunks. We didn’t shower once the whole time because hotels cost money and that was — then — the only place to get a shower. So we wore duty-free cologne and perfume we bought at truck stops in Bulgaria. Our gas was siphoned out of the truck while we slept in Yugoslavia, just as he had predicted it would be.

We were pulled over by an irate cop in Bulgaria who shouted at me inside the truck cab and demanded I roll out all my film to expose it. I was so grungy by the end I begged Pierre to let me wash my hair; on a windy day in a parking lot in Romania (maybe Bulgaria) he held a plastic jug full of water over my head while I lathered up. My skin still broke out from constant road dirt.

I’ve never seen a truck go by since without a thumbs-up of respect for their tough, important job. Best road trip ever.

What’s been your best — or worst — road trip?

6 thoughts on “Road Trip! A Top Ten List, Plus Mine — And Yours?

  1. geekysarah

    The only road trip I have gone on was one that was almost cross-country. I went Boise-Nashville-Chicago-St. Paul-Chicago-Boise. Those were a wild 10 days. I went with a then-friend of mine, for my first Spring Break in college. Went through several states, drove most of the way through a lot of them. All along the line, I was visiting friends, a married couple in Nashville, and a group of guy friends who lived across the border in Wisconsin. Kinda wish my car had survived the trip, but Little Blue at least got to see a lot before she bit the big one.

    1. geekysarah

      Probably driving through these states that before had only been names on a map. I got to see the flatness of Nebraska, the snowy-ness of Wyoming, the rivers and minor wetlands in Michigan, the ‘mountains’ in Kentucky and the green of Tennessee. I also got to experience my first toll road, my first flash blizzard and my first Waffle House. I even ate KFC in Kentucky (we were dorks, but it was fun for the pictures). The whole experience was fun, mostly from the thrill of the new places.

  2. Thomas Medlicott

    You’ve had some great trips and I share the Taos to Santa Fe experience with you. It has always been the journey with me, rather than the destination. Driving from the beach in Kihei, Maui into the mountains, feeling the temperature drop at every curve was exhilarating. I always liked the trip from Trinidad, Co through Cimarron, New Mexico and down to Santa Fe. I felt the pioneers threading their way through those passes, heading to the ancient fort. I have a blurry memory of riding shotgun in an old station wagon on my way to San Francisco from LA. It was 1967, we were headed to Kezar Stadium for a lovein and anti-Viet Nam rally. We had food and dope, lots of dope – little food, but it didn’t matter as we drove Highway 1 straight through Big Sur to Carmel. The driver was an “older” guy, probably in his twenties and could roll perfect joints one-handed. We stopped at a little store near the Big Sur Lighthouse and one of the girls in the car traded a gold brooch with a small ruby for a bunch of groceries. I wonder who had given her that brooch? And what trips she has been on since? Tom Medlicott

  3. Caitlin Kelly

    sarah, I love the newness of a road trip — even weird diners in other states have different food. I got the best jacket at a truck stop in Lordsburg, NM – $20. The best — perfect for riding and getting jumped on by dogs, which is what we did on that vacation. You also learn a lot (sometimes too much) about your companions after many many hours in a car.

    Duh! How could I have forgotten — driving all the way across Canada when I was 15, with my Dad? That was crazy and fun. We’d camp anywhere and one morning woke up in a farmer’s field with a guy on a tractor needing us to move.

    Tom, great stories! What memories. I love how road trips so capture who we are at a moment in time. I am a very, very bad morning person so my Dad, on that trip, would wake me at 6:00 a.m. and tell me it was 7:00 or later – so why was the dining room or diner empty? I still miss a bathing suit I left in a motel in Montana; we attended several pow-wows where my Dad filmed and I drew. We found a bag of sugar and a steak at our tent door as a welcome.

    I love Taos. The sweetie is from Santa Fe so when we are in NM we are very much at home. We leave next week for a trip north to Quebec; he jokes we need to line up maple leaf symbols along the car door for every road trip north (so far at least 10 by now) the way they used to put symbols on airplanes for every enemy aircraft they’d shot down.

  4. Pingback: Road-trip radio | Download Zone

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