When we were four small boys crammed into the back of a Ford Cortina, I didn’t much like road trips. On the plus side, if you live in the UK, distances aren’t far. On the minus side, traffic congestion, especially during peak vacation time, is terrible. It’s always been terrible. It still is. Short distances, but long travel times. Now for some time travel, back to the early 1970s:
Imagine the lovely feeling of clambering into the back of an old Cortina, wearing short trousers and sitting on sun scorched vinyl seats. You are one of four brothers trying to fight without parents noticing. (They knew, but what are you going to do? Not visit friends and relatives? Although, on reflection, friends and relatives might not have been too upset if we hadn’t arrived, all pleasantly sweaty and odorous…)
Oh dear. Uncomfortable isn’t even close. It was territorial war. Pushing and shoving, fighting for an extra millimetre or two of buttock space. Are we there yet? Silent wrestling, forming alliances, then breaking alliances, leaning extra hard on corners, real or imaginary. How did we not fall out, bursting open back doors and bouncing down the road? Astonishing, and a testament to sturdy 1970s build quality and car construction. Now add the dog who was carsick most of the time. Four little boys and a farting dog? Well, the dog got the blame. No air conditioning and we weren’t always allowed to open the rear windows. Inhumane, but something to do with the drivers behind us complaining about half eaten food items hitting their windshield. Are we there yet? It’s a wonder that any of us made it to adulthood. All credit to our parents, and hats off for their patience. There must have been times when they wanted to…
Fast forward to the present:
These days, I love road trips! We travel in the summer, our trips are usually in Canada and the US, we use routes that are generally pretty quiet – especially compared to UK roads in summer – and we stay in campgrounds and the occasional hotel/motel. Our time is our own, and we allow for frequent coffee stops, aiming to turn off the highway and venture into unknown (to us) little towns that almost always seem to have an independent coffee shop. Are we there yet? Seems like it.
There is a rhythm to life on the road. An early start, a stop for coffee, a couple more hours, a stop for lunch, a couple more hours, then a campground arrival. Stay a night, stay two, then on we go. Repeat as necessary, and it’s necessary! Don’t much care if we are there yet, the fun is in the trip.
Music on the trip is important. Might be a local country radio station, or it might be a CD or two from our dubious collection. Tastes can vary in the music department. Won’t be me singing, because that’s not fair to fellow travellers. At other times, it’s the windows wound down, the rush of air, and our own thoughts. Non drivers will snooze, there’ll be snatches of conversation, but it’s all pretty laid back, and a far cry from those childhood days of burning bare legs on leatherette seats. Don’t want to be there just yet.
I appreciate some would find the idea of a road trip the height of tedium and monotony, but I enjoy the trees flashing past, or mountains in the distance, or dusty desert vistas, or the shimmering haze of sweltering blacktop. The exit signs of promising sounding towns – we might need a stop, we might not, and if we miss it, there’s always next time or another town. I don’t think any two roads, or two towns are ever quite alike. I’ve lost count of the shaded bandstands in small parks where we’ve sheltered from the sun and enjoyed a picnic.
Once you surrender to life on the road, it is contradictory; you are travelling quickly (but well within posted limits), yet life seems to slow down, and there are few hassles. Not even road construction delays. We once drove from Calgary to Berkeley Springs, WV and back, and only got caught in construction delays twice. Amazing!
School is almost out, and it’s been a very pleasant academic year, but now my mind has turned to the road. Instead of writing report cards, I’ve found myself planning a couple of road trips for this summer (my report card would say I’m easily distracted). Time to unfold and flatten well used road maps, top up the car fluids (and hide Mrs PlaidCamper’s CDs) before we set off – can’t wait!
Do you have a favourite road trip? Any rituals for the road? Please feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.