Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Road Trip Begins...

When I was a little kid, my family always took road trips. I don’t think we went anywhere that wasn’t within driving distance, and it never occurred to us to fly anywhere. We went to Disney World almost every year, driving on I-95. For me, the drive was part of the fun of the trip, and I think this is what planted the seed in my mind—that road trips were fun. When I was thirteen, I don’t know what exactly sparked it, but I decided that someday, I wanted to drive across the United States. It was one of those dreams that I kept coming back to, like wanting to be a botanist, and I had visions of myself driving through a desert with the sunroof open, windows down, wind blowing my hair everywhere, and loud music playing. I bet this is part of why I grew my hair out the past two years—once the road trip dream became a reality in planning, I would think, “If you cut your hair, you won’t get to have long hair on the road and that will be boring!” (This is the…ahem…logical way that my mind works.)

Even though I wasn’t old enough to drive for most of those trips, that road is familiar to me. When we were first planning our trip – to go south and then west – I automatically started planning to take 95. It was one of those roads that’s like home, the road you always end up on, even if you didn’t plan to. I knew which states had good welcome centers, which rest areas to avoid, which Shoney’s restaurants had the best breakfast buffets, the northernmost point where you could see palm trees, and which bizarro places to stop at (such as South of the Border – not to spend the night but just to take pictures of people posing with giant cartoonish statues and go in the stores to buy sparklers and fireworks.) I saw quite a bit of the South as a result of all these road trips, and I liked it. It was warm, it was pretty, and the speed limit was 70.

When I was thirteen and first conceived of this trip, I hadn’t yet met Marie. We became penpals when we were about fifteen, and finally met in person at the end of April 2002 at Newark Airport. I’m not sure when it became clear to us that we should make this trip together, nor am I sure when we knew that, when she came to visit this spring, we would make this dream trip. We’d been planning for most of the school year, and we went back and forth, sometimes thinking it wouldn’t happen for various reasons – one or both of us had a potential job that would start too early, gas prices were too high, we didn’t know if we could afford it, blah blah blah. But here we are.

It is the end of Day 5 as I write this. So far, our route has been the following: I-287 to Bridgewater Commons (to buy some things we needed and go to the AAA office), 22 West to I-78, through Pennsylvania. We stopped in Hamburg, PA, because Marie is from Hamburg, Germany. (Later, we went to Sparta, TN, but not just because I am from Sparta, NJ.) We kept on I-78 until we got to I-81. The original plan was to take I-81 south to Knoxville, TN, and then get on I-75 to Tampa, FL, stopping in Atlanta on the way. After Tampa, we would backtrack north, get on I-10, and head west, stopping in New Orleans and San Antonio, going through the Florida Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Mississippi. We’d cross the border in El Paso, just to say we’d been to Mexico, come back, head into Arizona, and then take a different road to the Grand Canyon. Then we’d go to Las Vegas, and then keep heading west to Los Angeles. However, at the end of Day 2, when we were still in Virginia, I suggested we take the I-40 way so that we’d be able to keep up this leisurely pace, spend more time at the Grand Canyon and in Las Vegas, take our time in California, and take an interesting way home instead of speeding home on I-80 or I-70. The way we plan now, we will most likely have time to go to Mount Rushmore and someplace in Canada.

Last summer, I went to France to visit family members, many of whom I’d never met before, and to see the places where the family had lived for centuries. I flew home on May 27th. This year, we set out on May 27th—kind of cool that the day my travels ended last year, they began one year later. Also, this time I visited the place where my dad’s family has lived forever, meeting more relatives I’d never met before. So, I was a long-lost cousin both summers. That story deserves a post all of its own.

We’ve been to nine states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. (Ten if you count New York, which we visited before getting on the road.) We’ve crossed into the Central Time Zone, and tomorrow we plan to go through Texas and into New Mexico, so we’ll be in the Mountain Time Zone. We didn’t take a picture of the tachometer before we left, but we know we went at least 2,000 miles, although Google Maps calculates our route as only being 1,833. (I guess we covered a couple hundred miles with all the turning around and getting semi-lost trying to find food or gas.) We’ve eaten Maryland seafood and Tennessee barbecue (and hush puppies and cornbread and fried green tomatoes and fried dill pickles and fried catfish), we’ve done a ton of shopping, we’ve gone the entire length of Skyline Drive, we’ve seen the Natural Bridge and the neighboring Foamhenge, the world’s only guitar-shaped museum in Tennessee, the convention center that housed the World’s Fair in Knoxville twenty-six years ago, Nashville at night, a random yet lovely state park beach in Mississippi, family I’d never met before in the mountains of Tennessee, Graceland, Beale Street in Memphis, the Mississippi River, the Arkansas River, the Blue Ridge mountains, the Smoky Mountains, the Ozarks, a farmers’ market and (the outside of + store connected with) the Bill Clinton Museum, Arkansas wine country (who knew?) including the town in which The Simple Life (who cares) was filmed, the Cherokee Nation, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation, and Oklahoma City. What will Day 6 bring?

No comments: