We’ve covered seven states; stayed in seven different budget hotels; had three nonessential arguments that fizzled as quickly as they ignited; eaten beef, bison and elk burgers; had minor tire trouble that was quickly and cheaply fixed; drove through hundreds of miles of highways and freeways with views ranging from boring to calming to scary; and noted with awe the natural grandeur of our adopted country and marveled at its diversity – culturally, geographically and historically.
We planned early on that we are not going to drive more than five hours (or an average of 350 miles) a day. Neither do we drive at night; but we make sure that we have time to explore and enjoy the local sites of the cities and towns that we stop in for the evening.
Even with this relatively relaxed schedule, this road trip is ambitious in scope. Our intentions are to drive west to east, north to south, stopping wherever the spirit or road signs move us, seek the best sunrise whenever we wake up early enough and chase the fall foliage when it changes.
Our trunk and back seat are filled to the rafters with one medium-size luggage, two small rolling carry-ons, several weekender bags, a number of plastic bins, his golf clubs, my heavy cosmetic case, a cooler, a picnic basket filled with snacks, a boxful of music CDs, our favorite pillows, a few books and a Kindle, and a small lunch box where we have our vitamins and meds. Add to these our passports, smart phones, two cameras, two laptops, one iPad, and a selfie stick and we were on our way.
Lesson #1 when taking a road trip: Bring only the stuff that you can’t live without. You’ll find out that they can fit in the trunk and back seat of your car, because really, when you come down to it, there’s just a few things that are essential to your wellbeing. And of course, there are laundromats.
When we started getting serious about going on this grand road trip, I thought deeply about why we would actually do it. Why submit to the rigors of the vagabond life, the huge cost and the disruption to a comfortable routine?
The answers came easy:
One, we wanted to make our fantasy come true. I’ve been imagining this journey across America ever since I was little, when my father showed me pictures of his Greyhound trip from Michigan through Yellowstone National Park to San Francisco. When I was deciding whether I really wanted to immigrate, one of the items in my yes column was the option of just loading up the car and driving off wherever, on weekends with my little children. Of course this never happened; I couldn’t afford it and there was the safety issue of a single mother with three small children in tow. So now that the kids are grown, it’s time to make this dream real.
Two, my husband and I wanted to start this new phase of our life – as newly married retirees – in a big way. To store up memories for our twilight years. And then there’s the time element: If we don’t do this now, we might not be able to do it at all. Who knows what issues will come up in the following years that will prevent us from pursuing this dream? When confronted with this very plausible “now or never” equation, there was no point in dillydallying.
The most important of course was the personal pull of a journey, especially a long one such as this. You get out of your comfort zone and test your limits. You lay yourself bare to the serendipity of the road. And beyond getting to know yourself in unfamiliar and challenging situations, you get to know each other better as individuals and as a couple. I call it putting our relationship to the test. My husband sees it as cementing our bond to make sure it will endure.
Thus, lesson #2 in taking a road trip: Make sure you love each other enough to enjoy spending 24 hours, seven days a week for however long it takes to get back to where you started from.
After 11 days on the road, we wake up each morning with a spring in our step and excitement in our hearts. Despite the rigors of long-distance driving, we are constantly enjoying new sites and embracing unplanned experiences.
Most of all we celebrate knowing that we are actually strong enough and brave enough to live out our dream, not just fantasize about it. (When I was talking to people about our road trip plan, I was surprised at how many said they wanted to do it too but just couldn’t.)
And we look forward to living out what writer Tom Hodgkinson wrote in his intro to Dan Kieran’s book, The Idle Traveller: The Art of Slow Travel: “…’real’ travel awakens the poet and philosopher within.” Oh yes, we can dream, can’t we?