View of the road

When I was a kid we did road trips. Lots and lots of road trips.

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I mostly had my nose in a book on those journeys. My dad always had music on, my mom always brought snacks, and the kids brought books.

My dad loved national parks, and if our travels took us anywhere near a park, we had to stop.

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Had to.

Driving anywhere can be an interesting experience if you’re paying attention.

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But in those days I rarely looked up. I sat in the back seat, or even in the “way back” of the family station wagon. The view was mostly a sibling’s profile, also buried in a book. I remember my dad getting irritated with us, that we were missing the scenery he was so enchanted to see. He was hauling us all over the country, and we might as well have been at home.

Sometimes there’d be a sight to bring us to the surface, out of our respective novels, and we’d stare out the window at a passing scene, or get out of the car and troop into a national park headquarters, dutifully learning about the history or geography, or whatever made this particular spot noteworthy.

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Now, a few decades later, I sit in the front. I never read. I mostly stare out at the landscape, passing by at 50, 60, or 70 miles an hour. Sometimes we pull over so I can snap a photo or two, or twenty. I’m always on the watch for a great diner, local color, a beautiful view, a charming town.

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I love road trips.

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Sometime between childhood and now I grew to appreciate the freedom and the variety of driving. I never get bored, and it almost doesn’t matter where we begin, or where we end. I just love the whole thing, from first to last.

I fly a lot these days, for work, and sometimes for pleasure. Sometimes the only way to get where I’m going is on a jet.

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But if I have a choice? I’ll pick the road, every time. There’s nothing like it, and never will be. The great American love story is with the road, and I’m happy to be out there, wondering what’s around the next bend, where we’ll stop to eat, what new thing we’ll see.

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It is an amazing country, and a gorgeous one.

Driving today, I thought about my dad. I wish I could tell him: I learned to look up. I learned to see what’s in front of me, to appreciate the beauty, the romance, the wonder of the road.

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I think he’d smile, and be proud I finally got it.

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Road Trip!

For the first two weeks of our trip, we’re driving. We flew to Atlanta and rented a car, and now we get to drive. Believe me, coming from an island with a small road system, that’s a joy (and another example of how something you do every day and complain about becomes a treat when it’s no longer your norm…I posted about driving here).

Growing up I did a lot of road trips. My mom and dad were the king and queen of long cross-country drives, and like many kids of my generation, I put in a lot of hours in a station wagon filled to the brim with parents, children, all the stuff needed for summer car trips, food, and our assorted souvenirs. Then, it was just the way we traveled. I was along for the ride, often with my face buried in a book, I’m sorry to say. It was great for the reader in me, not so good for the views and scenery I missed.

However, I grew up and grew wiser, and now, I hardly ever read when we drive. I don’t want to miss anything, or if I do, it’s because Rob is driving and I’ve been lulled to sleep by the motion of the car, my second favorite way to nap (first favorite being curled up in front of a fire).

We drove up through Georgia, cut across North Carolina, and into Tennessee. We’re spending a few days between family visits nestled into a lodge in the Smoky Mountains. This is part vacation, part retreat for us.

This is not the most scenic time of year to visit this region of the country, and yet it is beautiful too.

It is quieter than summer, when tourists are everywhere. The mountains are softer, rounder, and more thickly covered than the Rockies where we lived for so many years. The winding roads are well maintained, with frequent pull outs for photo taking opportunities and vista viewing. There are picnic spots and trailheads inviting us to get out of the car and explore. The weather warms up enough by afternoon to make this enjoyable. Old homesteads and relics of the past tell the story of the native Americans and early pioneers who made a home in these mountains. The place names are lyrical: Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley; Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap. My favorite thing is spotting something intriguing as we drive, feeling the compulsion to pull over, check it out. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, sometimes not. It’s the surprise factor that adds the most fun.

We divide our days between drives, and time spent almost exclusively snug inside our retreat. We have a condo at a lodge, and with a fireplace, internet access, a king-size bed, and simple food, we don’t have to go out, unless we choose to. The person checking us in was eager to share information about tourist attractions in the area. I had a hard time containing myself, listening politely as I thought, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with here!” We are not tourists looking for the latest attractions. No, we like natural or historic settings best, and those are the ones we’ll stop for, or go looking for. Otherwise, we’re perfectly content to just be.

These are our gifts to ourselves…driving, toward a destination, or wandering aimlessly, allowing for the serendipitious…and time…no schedule to meet, no projects to mind, no commitments to fulfill.

Can’t think of a better way to vacation!