Road Trips

The morning air is frosty clear my breath pushes clouds from my face. The neighbor’s wood smoke floods my mind with memories of mountainsides shimmering in seas of golden aspen leaves. It is Fall. It’s time for a road trip.

Man has a long history and fascination with road trips. The yearning for road adventures is universal and often epic. Imagine the early morning, eons ago, in the Siberian cave, when Og shook wife Iz awake and grunted, “We go!” And off they went, traversing Siberia, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska and down the coast to sunny California, when Iz finally stop nagging Og to settle down.

Then there was Marco Polo, the wander lusting Venetian who told his mom he was going out for tea.  Marco came back 24 years and 15,000 miles later. To his credit, he brought back not only tea but a nice silk smock for mom.

America has had it’s share of epic road trips. In 1804, Lewis and Clark set out  in search of the Northwest Passage. It took them three years to find the Pacific Ocean and finally straggle home. In 1969, Americans went on the ultimate road trip when we sent the first men to the moon. Me, I don’t consider any of my road trips epics, nothing like the journeys of Ulysses, However I’ve had my thrills.

My first boyhood ramble was with a pack of young rascals across town and into the woods to find a pond filled with tadpoles. There we were thrashing the water, trying to convince frantic little frogs into canning jars when my brother stepped on broken glass. Suddenly, our expedition became an emergency. We wrapped his bleeding foot in a t-shirt and dragged him painfully home. My brother survived but still swims with shoes on, even in pools.

The scope of my road trips exploded when I bought my first Volkswagen van.  Was there ever a more perfect road trip vehicle? My ’63 bus was called “Borgo,” a name that erupted from a beer induced belch. Borgo was the essence of simplicity, the dashboard had a mere two knobs, wipers and lights. If either worked, it was a good day. The speedometer dial had only two indicator lights. bright green gasped no oil. bright red screamed no battery. These lights only came on after dark in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention that VW vans were notoriously heatless. I remember the snowy night in Spokane when the shivering station attendant asked if he could scrape the windows.

“Sure,” I said.

Imagine his surprise discovering the ice was on the inside.

What makes road trips magic? It’s the surprises.

Of course, there have been the unpleasant ones. The tire bursting as we bounced down the boulder sized gravel road in the Bitterroot Mountains. It took three guys jumping a sweaty hour on  the tire iron  to finally free the frozen lug nuts. I still swear at mindless tire mechanics with overzealous air wrenches.

Still, most of my road surprises have been happy ones. Discovering the ultimate sour dough pancakes in a tiny cafe on the Klamath River, and the mouth-watering meringue pie at the road stop in southern Utah. And the smiling faces, the small town waitress with the steaming coffee who beamed “Howdy, how are you this fine morning?” and she really meant it.

Then there were the cold stares from the old-timers, suspicious of outsiders, the guys whose tongues only loosened after a few free beers when they finally admitted “Yes, Denio Hot Springs really does exist just thirteen miles out of town.”

Some surprises were  sublime. Parading crimson clouds floating over hazy hills against an endless sunset. The morning mist melting into visions of snow shrouded mountains. A midnight ride across the Sonora Desert windows wide open, cool night air pulsing with cosmic clarity as towering saguaro cacti sped by silently saluting the frozen moon.

There have even been miracles.

It was the  pause before sunrise, a hint of gold  over distant peaks. In front of us, The road stretched forever straight. Crammed three abreast across the van’s bench seat, we stared in sleepy silence as the Cat Stevens tape started over for the fourth time. Outside, the ghosts of cardboard cattle floated past in rising fog. Far ahead, a speck, appeared, soon becoming  a vehicle. Charging onward into morning,  the vehicle became a pickup truck. Converging at 100 miles per hour, the pickup’s passengers became a man driving with a woman beside him.  Suddenly the truck was in our lane. Gasping, we faced death. In that eternity a hand grabbed the wheel, the truck swerved back and careened by, an angelic guided missile, lost in a swirl of dust.

“Jeez!”

The sun broke above the mountains, wrapping us in golden grace.

I believe road trips are in our blood, a need to challenge the unknown, a hunger to satisfy human curiosity.

Borgo now rolls down Heaven’s highways. My own wanderings have become more mental than physical. Yet the steely sharp edge of autumn air still stirs my soul. and when  my feet playfully shuffle through fallen leaves, I am called away.

It’s time for a road trip!

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