Road trip!

Open road, B6355 Big sky country, the road ove...
Open road, B6355 Big sky country, the road over the Lammermuir Hills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I looooooove road trips!

I took the first one when I was too little to even remember it — from my birthplace in Vancouver, Canada all the way to Mexico, in the back seat of my parents’ car. No wonder I’m always eager to get behind the wheel, crank up the radio and flee the jurisdiction.

The New York Times recently ran a great selection of their writers’ favorites, several of which I’ve also done and enjoyed, like Route 100 in Vermont.

Here’s a fantastic recent blog post about driving Highway 1 in California, a classic trip I’ve longed to take.

Some of my favorite road trips include:

— When my Dad and I took a month to drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping south of the Canadian border into North and South Dakota along the way to visit some Indian pow-wows. We camped, and woke up to find a large steak and a bag of sugar at our tent door. In one farmer’s field, we camped and were awakened looking up at the owner on his tractor. I think every 15-year-old girl should spend a month with her Dad on the road. You learn a lot about one another.

Like….I am not a morning person. So my Dad would set the alarm for 6:00 a.m. and tell me it was 7:00 a.m. It worked, for a while.

— Our road trip from Mexico City to Taxco to Acapulco, in the mid-1980s. I speak good Spanish so, as the gas gauge fell alarmingly low, he said “There’s a house. Go ask where the nearest gas station is.” When we arrived in Acapulco, he remembered a cheap hotel from a decade or so earlier and there it was.

— My mom and I lived in Mexico when I was 14 and drove all over the place, which was vaguely insane for two women alone, one of whom was 14, with waist-length blond hair.

— Montreal to Savannah, Georgia, crossing — yes, this is its real name — the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina, with my Dad. We dipped into tiny coastal towns like Oriental.

— My first husband I drove south from Montreal to Charleston, S.C. where he tried to teach me to drive — why? — on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We visited one of my favorite places ever, Kitty Hawk, N.C. where the Wright Brothers got the very first airplane to fly in 1903. I adore aviation and travel, so these guys are real heroes in my book.

— In Ireland, my Dad and I drove the outer edge of the whole country in a week; as Europeans well know, you can cross several countries in the time it takes to get out of Ontario or Texas. Ireland, side to side, three hours. I’ve spent that in NYC traffic just trying to get home! We visited Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, where my great-grandfather was the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse.

— In 2002 while researching my book about American women and guns, I went to visit a cowboy who lived in the middle of nowhere, between Silver City and Colorado City, Texas. For hundreds of miles, all one could see were oil drills pumping up and down.

Out there, on a long bare and empty stretch of road, my cellphone didn’t work, my gas was getting low and I was a long way from help. Then a white pick-up truck pulled up beside me, with a weathered man at the wheel. “You the writer from New York?”

Um, yes. That lost-tenderfoot thing probably gave me away.

“Follow me!” And when I arrived, his wife Doris showed me a long, narrow, low wooden box. “You’ve probably never seen or heard these and I want you to be safe when you’re here.” Then she opened the box, using a long metal stick. It was full of….live rattlesnakes. 

— Jose, now my husband, took me from his native Santa Fe, New Mexico along the High Road to Taos, through the town of Truchas. Spectacular.

— Alone, in June 1994, I drove in a circle from Phoenix, Arizona north to Flagstaff, saw the Grand Canyon and the  Canyon de Chelly, (inhabited for the past 5,000 years), and arrived back in Phoenix against a sunset sky so yellow and purple and orange — cacti backlit — I felt like a character in a 1940s Disney cartoon.

— I had a great solo road trip, in my beloved red Honda del Sol convertible, (since stolen, from New York to Charlottesville, Virginia. I stayed in B & Bs. I visited Monticello, home to polymath, and its designer, the U.S.’s third president, Thomas Jefferson. I drove through lush hills and valleys in West Virginia that made me feel like someone in a Thomas Hart Benson painting.

I didn’t learn to drive until I was 30, so I had a lot of driving to make up!

Go alone, or with your BFF or your sister or your nephew or Dad or Mom or husband or sweetie.

Pack a cooler with yogurt and green grapes. Bring binoculars and a sense of wonder.

Stop often. Eat well! Get up for dawn.

Drive in the cool of the night, as we did in North Carolina, the scent of dew-covered jasmine filling our nostrils.

But go!

What’s the best (or worst) road trip you’ve ever taken?

30 thoughts on “Road trip!

  1. As a little kid, from Germany to the UK and back again and meandering through France, taking the ferry from Calais to Dover. My six year old brain thought that was the coolest thing ever.

      1. nowhere special. just like to drive. when i was teaching, it was about 110 miles round trip each day. i live near philadelphia but have a place at the beach near atlantic city, so i drive there often too. my family lives 5 minutes from NYC, so i drive up there a lot too.

  2. When I was a kid, my dad took us on road trips every summer: Montreal to New Brunswick, Montreal to the states, Vermont, NY, Maryland, Smokey Mountains, Virginia, Ohio, etc. And when I was older I drove from Quebec to BC a few times. Now I’m lucky if I drive from Calgary to Edmonton…..most often I fly now.

    1. What great trips! Jose’s Dad drove them back and forth from Santa Fe to the cool, green, wet Southeast to visit relatives. He still remembers being stunned by all those trees.

      Quebec to BC is a hell of a jaunt!

  3. Ah, yes road trips. Earliest memory is of the worst – we weren’t following a map to Adelaide and on day two, or was it three, ended up lost in the middle of nowhere, when the road Papa had been following must have run out of money … Or running into a plague of locusts, out of Mildura, on the 2,000 odd mile trip across Australia to Perth – but that was 20 years later, and I was behind the wheel. Or a year in a van across Europe. With friends to Quebec in a Winnabago (is that what they were called, those humungous houses on wheels?), for the Ice Festival, coming back to Toronto in an ice storm?
    What memories. Yes, I too love road trips!

    1. A plague of locusts? How Biblical! A year in a van in Europe. What great stories!

      I forgot (!) to mention the best of all — 8 days, Perpignan to Istanbul, with a French trucker who spoke no English. It was for a story, but what adventures….the gas was siphoned out of the tank while we slept in the truck one night in Yugoslavia (this was March 1983.) No shower or bath the whole time. I was 25. Best adventure ever!

      1. Oh wow – I can see it, almost – we probably drove in the van along many of the same roads through Yugoslavia to Istanbul in 1976, and only a decade earlier I was doing much the same thing, hitching across Europe in those great thundering trucks.

  4. As a child my family and I travelled around Australia a great deal. I did a lot of day dreaming whilst we coasted down the highway surrounded mostly by rolling hills of brown and green.

    I can’t say why exactly I loved it so much but I know that I did.

    1. I bet the daydreaming was half of it…I feel sorry for kids now with TVs in the minivan and all the tech distractions they consider normal and essential…they have no downtime to just think and be quiet.

  5. I LOVE ROAD TRIPS!!! (excuse my enthusiastic shouting) There is something so freeing about just throwing a bag in the trunk, tossing the dog in the backseat, and DRIVING.

    I’m so glad you posted about your adventures, because it reminded me of mine. When I was little we used to drive from Austin to Estes Park, CO every three or so years. And we have family friends in El Paso – a ten-hour drive from Austin. One of my fave trips we left after sunset, Mom sleeping with the dog in the backseat, me keeping Dad company in front as he drove. It must’ve been in the summer, so we could avoid the heat. I remember the stars, so bright in the darkness, and sunrise over the desert was spectacular.

    Then there was the famous trip to the family reunion on the beach in SC (we’re from TX, but one of my aunts married a man from there – they had a huge beach house). Perhaps it was an infamous trip, because it was the Trip of the Farting Poodle. Poor Coquette. I don’t know what was going on with her, but it was memorable.

    A couple summers ago I made some trips to the Rockies: Ruidoso, NM and Creede, CO. But my fav part of the trip was coming back down Wolf Creek Pass in the rain, through NW NM, and through the SPECTACULAR countryside around Abiquiu. Jose has GOT to take you there, on Highway 84. Que bella!

    I hope I can go back to CO this summer, but money is really tight, and gas is even more expensive there.

  6. Great stories!

    One of the reasons (at their best) I think road trips are so lovely, and memorable, is that you’re sharing a very small space with people you (hopefully!) love and rarely have that much focused and uninterrupted time with. Plus you’re creating shared memories.

    Not to mention canine flatulence. omg.

    I am ready to explore much more of NM. On our last trip, we went to Las Cruces and the Organ Mts (and visited his alma mater, and we both gave guest lectures there), then on to White Sands Monument (amazing!) and Truth or Consequences. We stayed at a friend’s ranch and could not (!) go hiking or horseback riding, as planned, because of a nearby mountain lion. I LOVE the SW. It’s such a totally different landscape from the endless pines of Ontario’s north, where I spent 8 yrs at summer camp.

  7. Pingback: 4:02am and Inspired… – Lead.Learn.Live.

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