“Adventure” and “explore” are two of my favorite words. I’m a road-less-traveled kind of girl. Always have been. The sheer curiosity of not knowing what is around the next bend or over the hill is intoxicating to me. It’s like reading under the covers when you’re little, holding your breath and turning the pages fast as lightning because you can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
I place blame for my curiosity of spirit in two places. First up – my dad. From my youngest fuzziest memories I see the top of his full head of hair, eyes squinting through his glasses, peering intently at a map. Of course that’s going back to when a map was either a road atlas or an impossible-to-fold giant piece of paper. He could be pulled into that paper full of colors and lines for hours on end.
I’m sure my desire to understand a map had as much to do with wanting his attention as it did deciphering the language of topography, but in either case I was all in. He patiently taught me the language of highways and back roads, how to calculate mileage, and that a main route ending in an odd number meant it traveled north/south, but an even one went east/west. To me this was all fascinating. Before long, I wanted to take to the road and decipher it all, to see how routes played out in real life. Would they thrill? Surprise? Disappoint? I think I loved the mystery of it all – that this coded scribble of lines correlated to every road in America. I’ll never get over it! The whole exercise cemented the US of A as a web of cities and roads that remain in my brain to this day. And I still want to experience them all. The possibilities are truly endless, which is both thrilling and torturous. It still delights me to no end to explore a new road, but there’s always a sense of loss in knowing there are so many tempting turns and trails that just can’t fit into the day.
The summer I turned 12, my parents put a cap on the back of the Chevy pick-up and tricked it out with storage and carpet. A veritable hideaway on wheels. My 10 year-old sister and I trekked to the library with my mom and stumbled out of James V. Brown under the sheer weight of all the books we had in tow. Mom and Dad tossed us, along with our books and sleeping bags, into the back of the truck and drove us from Central PA to Wyoming. This was adventure of the highest order. I held the mysteries of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden in my hands, and just outside the window the maps in my dreams came to life in full color. What could be better?
And honestly, in hindsight, what could have been better for our parents? Three days of knowing your kids are safely ensconced in plain view, but you can’t hear them at all? We didn’t even have one of those nifty little windows that slid between the cab and the rear. Nope. If we wanted anything we had to pound on the double window. Looking back they clearly ignored us unless it suited them. This sheer genius move on their part never occurred to me until now.
This epic road trip easily doubled the number of states I’d been through at that time in my life. We didn’t have much money, so this trek through the Midwest and beyond made an indelible impression on me. I’ll never forget the overwhelming rush of driving around a bend in western Wyoming and coming face to face with the Tetons. There was no warning. One minute it was just all hills and scrub brush, and then, WHAM – the Grand was staring me right in the face. That moment is burned in my traveling brain, along with an everlasting lesson: every corner has possibility.
And so here I am – as a big ole’ grownup 40 summers later – taking to the road. This time I’m on my own. Yes, for the past month I’ve had my head in a map or two, determined to find the balance between planning and spontaneity. I’ve read the lines and colors, and of course these days we have so many other options for research. How did we travel without TripAdvisor or Yelp, not to mention Googlemaps and a GPS? In the end, I have a starting point and a destination, but the path there and back is the prize. Days of wandering (not lost!) slowly southward from the noise and tumult of the far western DC suburbs to a very much-needed stay with sweet and fun friends in the Keys. According to the can’t-live-without-it GPS, it’s about 1200 miles down route 95, but I won’t touch it until I have to near Miami. (It’s 95 or the alligator swamp. Tough choice but the highway wins by a tooth.) This trip isn’t about South of the Border and traffic jams in weather so hot you can melt the soles of your flip flops. Nope. It’s an adventure of the highest order. I’d love for you to come along for the ride. Maybe you’ll be inspired to pull out the road atlas and explore for yourself.
Day one coming up!