“I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.” ~Walt Whitman
Sometimes what you want most is not what’s best for you.
In the summer of 1987, my parents asked if I’d rather have a swimming pool or a motorhome for the summer. Summers in Bakersfield, California were HOT and it was every six-year-old kid’s dream to have a pool in their backyard. I wanted to live the dream so I chose the pool. My parents got a motorhome instead. I was seriously disappointed, but then we started driving. And we kept on driving.
My parents took me and my two sisters all around the United States that summer. We drove through 35 states and I got to experience so much with my six-year-old eyes and ears and heart. Yellowstone, Niagara Falls, Carlsbad Caverns, Disney World, climbing the Statue of Liberty, deep sea fishing off the coast of California and catching my first fish, redwoods, buffalo, East Coast accents, reading and sleeping in the cabin above my dad as he drove, listening to music with the family on the road, seeing my parents happy.
They didn’t stay married much longer after that. I’ll never know how many decisions my parents made together but I always think of that road trip as their best. We didn’t have a lot of money, but they wanted to do something special for us. They gave my sisters and I something so much better than a swimming pool that summer. They gave us wonder. They gave us an experience of a lifetime. They gave us fun memories as a family. They gave me a new reference point for “living the dream”. And they planted the travel seed, for which, I am immeasurably grateful.
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.” ~The Rolling Stones
It’s better to be alone than with the wrong person.
In the winter of 2007, a romantic relationship was unraveling. I decided to start the new year off right and take a solo road trip. I made plans to rent a car and began charting my course. Starting at the southern end of Orange County, California, I would take Interstate 5 North up to Washington. From there, I would drive south to Portland, Oregon, then head west toward the ocean. From there, I would take the California 1 or 101 south, all the way back down to the OC, making stops in Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara.
I put the word out to friends, both old and new. I met some sweet people while serving them crépes at a French cafe where I worked, who lived in Monroe, Washington. I told them about my trip and they offered me their couch. I had other friends or friends of friends in Portland and Santa Barbara, so I stayed with them. I didn’t know anyone in Santa Cruz, so I checked myself in to a hotel because I had always wanted to visit the city and wanted to take my time.
It was my first time taking a solo road trip, and all the things happened in those nine days. I got stopped, for the first time ever, in a snow storm at the California / Oregon border, had to pull into a tiny town, buy and learn how to use chains for my tires. I watched the fish being thrown around at Pike Place in Seattle, listened to one of my favorite authors preach a sermon on the meaning of love in Portland, and discovered a different, more rugged kind of coastal beauty in Oregon and northern California.
It was also my first time driving the California 1 through Big Sur, from start to finish. As I traveled south on the winding road, taking in the epic beauty, I suddenly became aware of my aloneness. For a brief moment I wondered what the drive would be like with my ex, and then I realized how grateful I was he wasn’t there. I turned my attention heavenward and said there was no one I would rather be on that drive with, in that moment, than myself and God. With that, and all the gumption I had gathered along the way, I became a traveling woman.
Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. ~Victoria Erickson
You don’t have to push yourself too far to be cool.
In the spring of 2011, I drove 24 hours straight from Texas to California. In a 1988 Chrysler New Yorker that had a questionable number of miles left to live. The car, with its burgundy exterior and matching velvet seats, was given to me as a gift. All I had to do was take care of it the best I could, and drive it until it died. That 24-hour road trip west was almost the end for Old Red.
I thought I was pretty cool driving straight through. It was estimated that the trip would take about 21.5 hours, plus rest stops. I had driven 22 hours straight before, and managed to survive, so what was a couple more hours? Granted, the 22 hour drive was in a new rental car, but Old Red was strong, like me. We could do it! I let a few people know what my plans were and asked them to let me call if I needed to talk myself awake or sane.
Making it through Texas was a breeze. And New Mexico was uneventful. Sometime in Arizona is when I started to worry about the car. I called my dad and told him something seemed wrong so he reminded me to keep filling up the oil. The tank had a leak so I had learned how to check oil and make sure there was always enough. I stopped somewhere at dusk and filled up on gas and oil.
I was about 20 hours into the drive at that point, somewhere near Yuma. Not long after filling up the oil, I had a heart-sinking feeling there was something really wrong. Things didn’t seem to be improving so I pulled over again. When I opened the hood this time, sprays of oil had covered the entire engine. And there, sitting right where I left it, was the cap to the oil tank, not screwed on.
Fatigue had taken over. I thanked God hysterically that the cap had not fallen off, filled the oil tank, screwed the lid back on and kept driving. Like an idiot. A few more hours of delirious driving, face slaps, windows all the way down, music blaring, and talking out loud to myself — in the weird, maniacal way, not the acceptable way — and I finally made it to where I was going. NEVER AGAIN, I promised myself and God and everything in the universe.
The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view. ~Jack Kerouac
When life stings, remember to laugh.
In the fall of 2018, a bee joined me on a road trip. I was headed north on Pacific Coast Highway on my Vespa to meet my oldest sister in Los Angeles. By scooter, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive on PCH to L.A. I had driven to the L.A. area a few times at that point, and felt good about it. I was getting familiar with the best times of day to be on the road, which cities were busiest, and things like that.
It was a beautiful, sunshiny day. It was the perfect kind of weather for a two-wheeled ride along the California coast. I had some music playing in my ear, and my spirits were high. All of a sudden, I felt a shooting pain in my left thigh. I looked down and there was a bee attached to my leg. By some fantastic miracle, I managed to stay calm. Or maybe I was just in shock as I asked the universe, “What the fuck?!” and swiped the bee off of my leg.
Thankfully, there was somewhere convenient to pull over. I parked at a Chevron gas station in Newport Beach, and went inside the bathroom to investigate. It appeared that I had gotten the stinger out with my eloquent swipe because it was stuck to the cotton of my left pant leg. I did whatever I could to clean the wound with my limited supplies, let my sister know there was a slight hiccup, and kept driving.
As I continued north on PCH, my leg throbbed. But I had to laugh with gratitude that I’m not allergic to bees and the hilarity of that actually happening to me. I also realized my story doubled as another — The Shortest Road Trip I Ever Took: A Bee’s Tale.
“On the road again, goin’ places that I’ve never been, seein’ things that I may never see again, and I can’t wait to get on the road again.” ~Willie Nelson
More on American travel: