Magic words: road trip. My dad was a railroad executive and took me along on trips from Chicago to the Gulf Coast, starting when I was eight or nine. The lust for travel settled in my blood, and much as I still love riding the train, cross-country by road satisfies me best, whether day trips to Maine or following I-70 all the way to Colorado. The Interstate system makes it possible to cover a lot of territory, but I loved leaving the four-lane, ala William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways. Driving into small towns, I could pretend, for the length of Main Street, that I live in that white Victorian set back from the sidewalk, walking to the library and picking up my mail at the post office. Often, I stopped for lunch at Flo’s Diner or Ruby’s Café, watching the regulars ordering “my usual” and then chatting with the cashier about the church fair last week or Tom Junior’s touchdown run for the local high school.
My husband is a great road companion, generally agreeable about stopping at antique malls or railway museums, but I take a special pleasure in solo trips. I love the freedom to stop without debate and take the road less traveled when the spirit moves me. For maybe ten years, I drove my F-150 between New Hampshire to Kentucky alone several times a year. My aunt who raised me still lived in the house my grandfather built in 1929 and allowed me to give the help she wouldn’t accept from my cousins, willing though they were. Over the years, I established a routine on the road, always spending the night at the same B&B in western Pennsylvania where I came to be welcomed almost like family.
One of my security measures on my solo trips was a large dog crate in the bed of my truck, with I Love Dobermans stickers on both sides. A friendly trucker at a Pilot Flying J advised me to tuck my hair up under a ball cap so I wouldn’t be easily spotted as a woman traveling alone and to rub dirt on my license plate to disguise how far from home I might be. One evening when I stopped for supper, a man followed outside when I left. To reassure me, he pointed to his wife waving from the window and said he’d notice liquid draining under my truck; he didn’t want me to get stranded on the road. (The drainage was condensation from the AC.) I encountered much kindness and never once felt threatened on my pilgrimages.
I love road trips, too. I think my favorites are when my best writing bud Nan Reinhardt and I get into either her car and mine and take off for a couple of days to write. While we do a lot of writing, we also eat, talk, solve world problems, eat... The eastern shore of Lake Michigan is our favorite destination, followed by whichever state park calls out to us or offers us a good price on lodgings.
Last year, Duane and I went to Mount Rushmore. I'd never been that far west, so I carved several new state notches in my travel belt and loved seeing those faces from history carved out of that majestic place. Not sure I would have voted for it at the time--I worry about losing natural beauty--but definitely enjoyed seeing the result. We also discovered we could be in the car alone for most of a week and never run out of things to talk about.
When the kids were...well, kids, we used to take off for a week or to see friends or family in Florida or Pennsylvania or Kansas. When I think of the shoestring we traveled on, it's downright scary, but we always made it there and back safely. If I could do it over again, I'd be more fearless and go farther and more often. However, the bit of wanderlust in me must have been passed down, because the kids and their families travel all over.
When we were in Ireland in 2009, we went all over the place on buses, none of us being too eager to drive on roads that looked to be about the width of U.S. hiking trails. It was a wonderful way to see the country.
It's been a year of not-much-travel because we've been too busy, but we're thinking about a few days in the fall. So far, we've discussed Gettysburg, Branson, Michigan, North Carolina, and Florida. So many places--so little time!
Where have some of your favorite road trips been--and where do you want to go next?