A constant theme of my life has been travel. Starting with the fact that my father was a career Army officer and was transferred every two years, sometimes every year. The Army, in its infinite wisdom, always seemed to think that the next logical posting for him would be the furthest geographical point in the Continental US (that is when they weren’t posting him overseas.) So we had a lot of moves from Maryland to Arizona, from Virginia to Alaska, from Arizona to Rhode Island. My father had a theory that, unless a large body of water stood in the way that could not be traversed by a ferry, all moves should be conducted as road trips. So while, in recent decades, I’ve been taking longer and longer trips involving air flights to far flung places like China, Grenada and Malaysia. In recent years, I’ve been coming back to the road trip.
Which is fitting because I took my first roadtrip at about six months. I don’t remember it, but it must have been mostly a road trip. Somehow, I was gotten from Virginia, where I was born, to Alaska, where my brother was born. I know we didn’t fly. I seem to have some recollection of my mother saying we went there on a troop ship at least part of the way. (Although I’m sure we didn’t go through the Panama Canal.) Sounds about right as my parents were never ones to pass up an interesting mode of travel. And being from New England, “interesting” to them had a lot to do with being cheap.
The first road trip I do remember was when my father was re-stationed from Alaska (where I think he was involved in some surveillance of the Russians) to West Point (where he was to be a Mathematics professor). Of course, my parents’ response to this posting news was “Road Trip!” Didn’t matter that there weren’t actually a full complement of paved roads between Alaska and New York at that time (at least not on the northern route they wanted to take). In fact, friends waiting for them in New York had a serious betting pool going that they couldn’t drive the whole distance. I think the way the odds stacked up, my parents were the only ones betting that they could.
The route started on the Alaska or Alcan Highway that was apparently not much more than a dirt or gravel road, with few if any amenities. Even today, I hear it’s challenging (see this article.) Back then it must have been like trying to ride the rail lines when crews were still racing from each end of the country on their way to Utah with the Golden Spike.
I was still coming to grips with the fact that my parents did this without an SUV, towing a flimsy pop-up trailer without running water, toilet or GPS and few prospects for any roadside services. Then I remembered that I was three at the time and my brother was 6 months.
“How did you do it with one kid barely out of diapers, a baby, a dog and cloth diapers?” I asked my mother.
“Oh, I must have had a diaper pail or something. And we had food packed,” she replied, as if she had all the amenities. “It was the trip of a lifetime!”
Whew! I didn’t even want to explore the logistics of that. Then she added, “I’ve got some pictures we took on the trip. I think I have a picture of you on the potty chair. You could post it on the blog.”
No thanks, Mom. I think that picture will NOT be uploaded.
The stories about that trip are part of family legend, such as when I tried to talk to a wild bear that I thought might be Yogi at Yellowstone Park. And when the pop-up broke open on the road, my favorite pajamas with feet blew out, and I was inconsolable until my father told me a little bear was probably wearing them now. (It think you are getting the idea that bears were a constant theme in my early childhood.)
I guess that’s why the things that scare most people about road trips — the mileage, the uncertainty of the lodging and food, the possibility of getting lost — are all part of the fun for me. I reluctantly bought a plane ticket for Chicago to the BlogHer ’09 Conference. Until the last moment and the reality of impending harvest crushed in on me, I’d harbored the romantic notion that I’d drive from San Francisco to Chicago and back. But now that the bug has bitten again, I’m starting to map out routes closer to home that require enough days on the asphalt to qualify as road trips. Stay tuned.
My parents won that bet about making it all the way to New York. I hope the loot covered the cost of the trip. (Which was probably about $75.)
The photo at the top is of the road entering Texas’s Palo Duro Canyon. I took it on a cross-country road trip two years ago.