Most weekends since we returned from the round-the-world trip we’ve stayed in town where travel-like adventures consisted of three housesitting gigs and brunches. We’ve only taken a few weekend trips: camping near Olallie Lake in the Mount Hood National Forest, camping near Tillamook and cabin-camping in cabins at Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon Coast, visiting in-laws in Eugene for a birthday party. Even though we just bought a car to take more such trips in the next few months, those one- or two-night weekend trips somehow don’t count as travel in our minds. Time for a road trip on the Oregon / California coast.
“We are traveling again,” a recent update on our Facebook page read. Whereas in a typical year we take a day or a day-and-half to drive down Interstate 5 to northern California for Christmas, this year we’re taking a week to do so, stopping in various places along the way, mostly on the Pacific Ocean coast (in Oregon we’ll have overnighted in Eugene, Sunset Bay State Park near Coos Bay, Gold Beach, Alfred Loeb State Park near Brookings; in California in Arcata and Fort Bragg). So whereas normally it’s just a drive, the extra time and stopping in order to stay overnight and sightsee allow us to call it a road trip.
For decades now the car has been the quintessential way to experience America. A vast system of freeways, highways, and roads that stitch the country together can take you practically anywhere. The act of driving brings home in a visceral way the size of the country: in the time it takes to drive from Portland to San Francisco you can drive the length of my native Slovakia or, put differently, by area you can fit five Slovakias into Oregon.
On my first visit to the US, in the summer of 1996, I took a month-long road trip from Boston to Los Angeles to Seattle (I returned to New York City by bus, 72 hours nonstop). A day never felt so long and tedious as when driving through the corn fields of Kansas, life never as exciting as when crossing the Rockies and through Monument Valley on to the Grand Canyon.
A Greyhound bus trip during my second visit—the bus is your second-best road-tripping option—took me from New York City to Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Niagara Falls, Kalamazoo / Detroit, and back.
Lindsay and I took a two-week road trip around western national parks in 2003: Eugene to Nevada (Great Basin) to Utah (Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Arches) to Arizona (Monument Valley, Grand Canyon) and back through Las Vegas to the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite, and San Francisco.
It is only when you feel the landscape underneath you rise and fall and alter alongside beneath the ever-changing skies that you can begin to understand this land. During all those weeks of road tripping I understood not only how vast America is but also that it is the landscape, not skyscrapers, that dominates it. These trips also planted the seeds of comprehending the country’s diversity, in all meanings of the word.
There is a reason for the road trip movie being such a ubiquitous pop culture genre. The list of literary and cinematic works centered around a road trip is long:
- Travels with Charlie in Search of America
- On the Road
- Easy Rider
- National Lampoon’s Vacation
- Rain Man
- Thelma and Louise
- Little Miss Sunshine
- The Straight Story
- Road Trip
- Etc. etc.
Whether the trip is a diversion or a necessity, driving across long distances with a mission is the hallmark of the road-trip narrative.
Our mission is to visit family/in-laws for the holidays. We’re testing our new car, taking a vacation from work (Lindsay) and unemployment (me), and exploring once again, for its own sake, the beauty of this country.
We are traveling again.