Updated: Mar 8
Road trips were once a great passion of mine. It has been a long time since I have taken one, so last week my husband and I, needing a "get out of Dodge escape,” decided to plan a spur of the moment driving trip through upstate New York into Canada and Montreal* - places I had never seen. I found my old excitement rise as I reminisced about my young adult years.
My personal discovery of road tripping came during the college years when my first husband and I would pack our old blue Volvo and head west from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Over those summers, we drove all over the western states visiting national parks, cities and exploring the countryside. We had a loose itinerary, no reservations anywhere and only nickels to rub together. Most nights we camped and cooked our meals on our fire. We saved the motels for bad weather. Over the next few summers, we hit practically every state west of Michigan - disappearing for weeks at a time with no electronics beyond an old car that occasionally needed a quick repair on the side of the road. What I remember most, was a feeling of transformation that settled in during the first few hundred miles of driving - a melting, relinquishing feeling of letting go. All of the tension, “what if’s” grudges, mistakes made that year vanished into the road as we lost our sense of time while covering miles and miles of the country. It was this special “Zen” feeling I hoped to recreate.
Later, as a single mom, I took my children on several road trips out west. Typically, we flew to Denver or another good starting point and then rented a car. Unlike the college years, we had an itinerary, hotel reservations, and even some good activities to look forward to, but the distances between our landmarks created a similar feeling while we traveled. Happily the kids, now adults, mostly remember the extraordinary landscape and adventurous parts. They have forgotten the squabbles and impatience that occasionally set in.
To no great surprise, a few things have changed between then and now.
Last week, instead of slipping into a lovely trance in the first hundred miles, I noticed an ache in my left hip that I couldn't shake off. Stopping to stretch every hour or so, I could barely feel the bottom on my feet as I tried to walk it off. As the drive progressed, I found myself far more aware of the distance to our destination than I had expected. Was it the GPS bombarding us with unnecessary detail, the weather app that had us on edge about an impeding torrential storm or just an inability to slip into a timeless space. Wow, had things changed. I finally found the “Zen” feeling after we arrived at our first destination and slipped into an extraordinarily comfortable bed.
After a few nights and hotels I woke up at 2am to use the bathroom. I got out of bed and stood, very confused in the middle of the room. I had no clue where I was and more importantly, where the bathroom was. In the dark, I tried sorting through what seemed like every home and hotel I had been in over the last six months eventually guessing wrong. I headed off in the wrong direction - practically opening the hotel door to the hallway before I figured it out. Although, on the face of it, that might be considered a good problem considering the past where we camped and never had a particularly comfortable bed or clean bathroom, but at that moment it was a bit disorienting to take a glimpse into my future demented mind.
Now, back home laughing off my elevated expectations, I realize my love of travel has not dampened in the least. But driving long distances is not how I rediscover my inner Zen. What I learned, is that the past is great for reminiscing and romanticizing, but can never be relived. It is all about growth — continuing to explore, discover and evolve. I have learned from this mini-vacation that I prefer planes and trains to lengthy car rides, will come close to total relaxation in a very comfortable hotel bed and before settling in for the night, must rehearse the direct route to the bathroom!
*For those east coasters, both Lake Placid and Montreal were delightful places to visit!