The last major road trip I went on was with a boy I liked. We drove the California coast from Los Angeles to Seattle, down to Portland, and back to San Francisco. Instead of exploring places neither of us had been, we let the engine dictate our pace and the road our path. In Oregon, we drove past the best smelling BBQ I’ve ever salivated over without even considering, maybe we should turn around? We did not camp along the beach even though we both wanted to – it was too dark, too wet, and neither of us had planned for that.
Constrained by time, obligations, and the constant pressure to just keep pressing forward, we pushed our desires aside, looked at the map and found that both our final destinations weren’t on the same page. In two weeks he would park in LA and I would board a plane to Boston and that would be it. So we lived that way for 2,200 miles. I guess it’s no surprise that we parted feeling as though we had just traveled 2,200 miles in the opposite direction with someone entirely different than the person we started out with. He drove me to SFO and I remember thinking: You should never listen to Jimmy Buffett when taking someone to the airport. Afterward we would not talk again.
During the trip we drove much of the way in silence. When we hit northern California, instead of watching the redwoods stand their ground against the sky, we saw our futures whipping by at 65 mph. We selected roads that would never again intersect, both of us settling for destinations we chose in favor of economics. We drove and dreaded the start of our new lives. Or at least I did.
Our first stop was the Getty Museum. I roamed between rooms -one eye on the walls, the other on the shadow to my right. I stopped in front of a painting of a foggy Venice at dawn. I recall thinking: I want to go there, instead of where I was: standing in the bright Los Angeles sun with a boy who may or may not have been wishing he was standing somewhere else, next to someone else.
Six years later and now I have one very long road trip planned – 2,400 miles through Utah, Idaho and Oregon. It is two bikes, one Subaru, and all the beautiful we can find in 9 days. And we have a route. Kind of. Enough to know where we are going. Enough to know what we might see. And a whole lot of unknown to cover in between.
This next trip will be different. In part, because this time, I know my driving companion a little better. And I kind of like him too. But in the end, only one of us is departing on a new future. I’m just there to take pictures, tune the radio, and enjoy the ride. To take in the mountain greenery and hope for clear skies and a comfy place to unroll my sleeping bag beside D. To reach over and touch his knee when I see something I want him to. My job is to navigate desert highways and look for excuses to say: pull over. To flatten the world across the hood, circle a name just because I like the sound of it, and ask, shall we?
Now there is something kind of romantic about following signs that point to places that change and sometimes don’t, places that take a millennia to buckle under pressure. About visiting towns that beg for your company, your dollar, your praise. So that you may eat in their diners, pick up their papers and read about people you already kind of know in another town miles away. To visit their town centers, drink in their pubs, try on their lives for awhile, and think ‘maybe I could live here…’ before driving off.