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Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Allure of the Road

We have been known, on occasion, to sing during our road trips. (photo credit: Desilu Productions)
What is it about a road trip that's so exciting?

Plotting out a course, packing up the car and heading off (usually before the sun rises) to go discover what's out there. The first few miles are so familiar--the road out of town has been driven a thousand times--but once you leave the daily perimeter things start to look new. The very fact you're not on the way to work is enough to give things a new perspective. I'm no longer distracted by that project due next week, or what to cook for dinner. I do, however, obsess over whether I remembered to pack my socks (but only for the first twenty miles or so.)

Road trips are the complete opposite of airplane trips. For me, air travel is stressful, but not for the typical reasons. I'm not afraid to fly (I've actually been skydiving--if you can jump out of a plane, you can sit in one without fear) and I figure the whole security thing is just part of the package. What I hate about flying is there's no control; it's like taking a Greyhound bus across the country with no stops along the way. Crammed into a seat next to people you've never met, fighting for a tiny armrest that isn't even in the right place for an arm; having to ask permission to go to the bathroom from your fellow row passengers and, a crime against humanity; just when the view gets interesting being ordered to lower the window shades so everyone can see the rotten movie you saw on the last flight. Once you arrive at your destination you are treated to an endless procession of lines: for the luggage, for the shuttle, for a rental car, for the hotel room. By the time you actually get where you wanted to be, a full vacation day has been completely wasted.

Saw this guy grazing along the side of the road in Canada. Try pulling over to take a picture in an airplane.
On the other hand, road trips start the second you put on your seatbelt. Everything flows by at a more leisurely pace and if you feel like stopping, you stop. You can play your favorite songs, or even better, tune into the local radio and find out what other parts of the world listen to. We once picked up a station in Utah that was hosting "Tradio," a program that connected locals with extra stuff they were willing to trade. We listened as a guy from Hurricane (pronounced 'hur-can' we learned) traded a lightly used toilet for a 55 gallon drum that could be used for water storage. A fair deal if we ever heard one.

Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon Canada
My mind starts to wander on the long trips. I like to watch the scenery go by and wonder what it would be like to live in the places we pass through. Long stretches of freeway are good for people watching as well; what exactly was that woman in the Chevy Volt doing in the backseat? Did you see that guy's hat? Where do you suppose they're going with that goat?

The road is an interesting study in humanity. As you travel further from home you begin to see fashions and hairstyles changing; even the make and model of the vehicles change. You've got the rural road standard of course, the pickup truck, and as you approach the more populated areas the compact cars start cropping up. But then there are the complete surprises: on one stretch in rural southern Arizona every other car was a Toyota Prius. This I never would have guessed. I don't know why but I had always envisioned overly tan retired people tooling around in big old American-made Cadillacs. My apologies Arizona.

The jackass behind the wheel? Roadside sculpture near Great Basin National Park, Nevada.
I realize it's not very "green" to be traveling in a big Ford F250 getting 12mpg but I can't help it, I love it. The adventure of the road less traveled mixed with the excitement of getting away from the day to day grind is intoxicating. Even if that guy in the next car over is picking his nose...

Ah, the open road awaits.