What has occupied much of my time since the holidays? Planning a road trip. Not a trip where I go to the airport, fly somewhere, get on an airport shuttle, and then rent a car sort of road trip. This road trip starts in my own driveway, in my own car. I’m as excited about this as I was about going to Germany last year, or to England the year before that, or Ireland or Finland or France or any of the other far-flung places I’ve been to. Road trips within the United States that don’t involve an airport are the kind of vacations I grew up with, the kind that plunk me right down in the middle of nowhere. Except that there is no such place as, “nowhere”. Every place is someplace, a lesson my parents taught me well, even if it did take me until now to really understand it.
Some of my thoughts have wandered through my childhood road trips as I’ve been tracing my finger on maps through my atlas and Googling small towns along various highways. My parents always had an atlas in the car; I learned to read maps in the back seat while we were en route to wherever it was that looked interesting that day. Yesterday, my husband Mick and I set up on the dining room table to finish what we started back on New Year’s Eve: figuring out where we wanted to go and calculating how much to drive each day to get the most out of a two-week time slot. We had about two-thirds of our trip figured out: head from Minnesota to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, hang out in the area for a few days, then do some hard driving across Montana and Idaho to Washington, where we’ll spend time around Olympic National Park. And that’s where we had stopped.
On Sunday morning, coffee mugs in hand, we looked at the Oregon coast, the wineries east of Portland, and figured out which route to drive back toward Minnesota. We used Google Maps to estimate travel times between places to help us maintain a balance between distance covered and stops to look around. We booked a cabin in Badlands National Park to mark the end of our trip, knowing that we could do a long drive all the way back home from there, knowing we’ll feel like we’re done by then. Our trip will take us to three national parks in all to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016.
We want the experience of just the two of us on a trip that doesn’t involve a lot of hassles. No airport security. No restrictions on what we could bring other than what fits in the car. No need to learn enough of another language to find food and shelter. And, since it’s just us, no need to entertain anyone else or coordinate on anyone else’s needs or desires.
This will be one of the rare trips Mick and I have taken that is unaffiliated with work or family. None of the trips I took with my parents when I was a child was connected to work, and few were connected to family. The majority of the travel Mick and I have done overseas, and a lot of it in the U.S., has been because of his work as a scientist and faculty member. That I am able to accompany him is both wonderful and challenging; tagging along to a conference requires that I be comfortable heading out on my own no matter where I am. And I can’t always go; sometimes it’s too expensive or conflicts with something else I’m scheduled to do.
I know my father would not have planned his route in quite the detail we’ve planned ours but, nevertheless, the days for our road trip are wide open windows through which we will see a variety of vistas, smell ocean and mountain air, feel the shift from low altitude to high and back again.
Along the way, we’re going right through the middle of nowhere. I suspect there won’t be any wi-fi.