Windows down, music up.
When it comes to travel, a lot folks are quick to say that they enjoy sightseeing the world in general. They like to go to new places, explore new cities, visit with new people, learn new things. They like to dig in with the locals and see how life is led in this other portion of the world where they are just passing through.
But as I’ve gotten older, and have had to make travel plans with others – my husband and small children, my children as they passed from needing constant attention to not wanting me to talk to them, my siblings, my parents, my parents as they got older and didn’t want to move around as much – I realized my version of “I like to travel” varies wildly from a lot of other people.
A lot of folks love the destination. I love the ride.
My mother was not a huge fan of long car rides. She enjoyed the interstate and its wide lanes and fast speed limits that meant you got where you were going as quickly as you could.
My father, on the other hand, was a long hauler. When he was younger he drove a truck for United Parcel (which is how he refers to it still to this day; Always United Parcel, never UPS). I have to admit that I don’t have any memory of my Dad driving a truck, and I honestly don’t know if he was still driving one when I was very young or if I’m just remembering his stories. But he loved being on the road.
Of his five children, I appeared to be the only one who inherited that love.
When we would travel up to the lake in Wisconsin, sometimes my Mom would take us kids earlier in the week and my Dad would come up for just the weekend. On those weekends, when we had two cars, my brother and sisters would ride back to Illinois with my Mom, while my Dad and I pointed the car down some two-lane road and just went with the wind.
One time, when I was around 8 years old, my Dad and I took our trek home down some long and winding roads, and after a while I fell asleep. When I woke, it was dark.
“Where are we?” I asked my father.
“I don’t know, kid,” he said.
“Oh, no,” I responded before promptly falling back asleep. Clearly, we found our way home. But I think that time we turned what should have been a 3½ hour drive into upward of six or seven hours.
I’ve done this often myself. I’ve been visiting the Wisconsin Dells area since I was 2 years old, but just in this last year, I found myself on a two-lane road between Janesville and Beloit that I had never heard of or seen before, on the other side of the Rock River, driving past country homes and the occasional dilapidated bar with its old Schlitz sign and gravel parking lot.
It was like stepping back into the past even for just a moment, remembering those long rides with my Dad.
I enjoy a road trip so much that I will occasionally just go on a drive. Sometimes I’ll head toward Chicago, but I’m more likely to head south or west. When I find towns I’ve never heard of, I’ll usually pull off and take a photo. If there’s a riverfront or lakeshore, even better.
My husband and children and generally most of the people I know don’t share this enjoyment, so for the most part, it’s something I get to keep just for me.
One of my closest friends, Kayla, does share this proclivity with me. One time, she and I landed at Newark Airport, on our way to visit a friend on Long Island. It was the days prior to GPS navigation, and we had no idea where we were supposed to go.
“We’ll figure it out,” we said in unison, entering the Lincoln Tunnel.
It remains one of my favorite road trips of all time. Two young women, a huge city, a rental car and no idea what’s coming next.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy the destination. It’s that I equally find joy in getting where I’m going. Pulling over at a hidden wayside along a twisty highway to take a photo. The skyline of a new city popping into view. Sunglasses. Messy hair. All the time in the world. No hurry.
Windows down, music up.
• Marney Simon is the editor of the Morris Herald-News. She can be reached at email@example.com