The Philosophy of Road Trips – Part One

Rainbow at YellowstoneWhen I was a kid growing up overseas, we used to take what my parents called Magical Mystery Tours (You can read about one here: Culture Share: Middle East – A Glimpse into an Uncommon Childhood). I didn’t get the Beatles reference until years later, but the concept of road trips as magical adventures stuck with me.

What are road trips?

Well, it’s easiest to focus first on what road trips are not: they are not an effort to get from point A to point B within a specified timeframe.

This is absolutely critical because deadlines, whether just a matter of planning or because something is happening at the end, introduce stress and kill the magic. If cars, trains, or planes are exact equivalents, then you’re not on a road trip. You’re using a form of transportation.

Transportation as a word has much in common with teleportation, and with good reason. Both are focused on where you begin and where you end up. The emphasis is how fast you can get there, not on what you will encounter on the way.

And that, ultimately, is where a road trip begins.

In those Magical Mystery Tours, we would get to crossroads and each person got a turn in choosing a direction. Maps were not even in the picture, and the only timeframe was when we had to turn around. We started with a general direction and went from there. Sometimes we found old favorite places, like porcupine hill where there were porcupine remains in a cave at the top, and sometimes we met new friends, like when we drove around a corner to find a bunch of folks climbing a ridge and joined them for the day.

When my boys were little (about the age I was when overseas), I took them on a trip to visit a friend in Seattle. Recognizing that days in the car would be miserable, and wanting a road trip rather than car-based transportation, I planned the trip with a day of driving, a day of wandering a wildlife park, and a day of driving. We camped at the Oregon Caves and went through them as well as hiking in the trees and discovering amazing places. We stopped to eat when we saw something interesting, took a break in Portland (the worst traffic ever) to meet a friend at Chuck E. Cheese so the kids could blow off some steam, visited the Space Needle, Japanese tea gardens, and a zoo while in Seattle, and explored Crater Lake on the way back. We have some harrowing tales of our adventure, and a lot of good ones (that the boys even remember when prompted, though they persist in saying it was horrible now until prompted).

Another road trip was to spend a week in Yellowstone with writing group friends. I took my youngest son, now about 15 I think, with me. We started before dawn, with him asleep at my side, and drove the straightest, flattest, most marvelous stretch of driving road I’ve been on in a long while into the rising sun with amazing, towering rock structures surging out of the desertscape as though trying to touch the sky. We took a stretch break in a tiny park on the site of recent (geologically speaking) volcanic activity; we crossed a bridge over a gorge as impressive as the Grand Canyon; and saw buffalo and deer on our way in.

Those are the journeys that spark the adventurer in all of us. Not the panicked “we’re going to be late” charges across the country that often end in a set of speeding tickets as though the police force is tuned into the “cannot be delayed” mental band.

Sure, there are times when you get tired of staring out the window, but if you don’t have a rigid timeline, then there’s nothing to stop you from pulling off and exploring a little town; a county, state, or federal park; discovering a truck stop that offers drumstick only fried chicken to delight your kids; or whatever else lays hidden just a hop, skip, or jump from the highways stretching from one end of the country to another, calling out to the adventurer in each of us.

So how about you? Have you been on a road trip before? What was your favorite moment?

This entry was posted in Appreciation, Kids and Cats, Life, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Philosophy of Road Trips – Part One

  1. Erin says:

    Interesting. I would say that your trip with your boys counteracts your assertion “road trips are not: they are not an effort to get from point A to point B within a specified timeframe.”

    And given the way my family road trips across America, I also disagree. Because there’s a difference between knowing “We have hotel stops at x, y, and z already paid for, but we can spend the day getting there however we want and do parks, museums, or whatever catches our fancy along the way” and “We have four days to get from Pennsylvania to California, so we’re taking I-80 straight across with as few breaks as we can manage.”

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Umm, maybe I’m misreading you…or maybe you’re misreading me, but I don’t think we’re contradicting at all.

      The four days and as few breaks is point a to b. Pennsylvania to California.

      The minute you have “however we want” and interim places to stop and enjoy, you’re on an adventure. And trust me, having done the…we’ll just find an open hotel when we get there…before, having a place to rest your head seems brilliant :).

      • Erin says:

        Well, see, I think it’s a road trip. But we’re still doing Pennsylvania to California in a specified time frame. 😀

        • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

          True. The implication is the faster the better for transportation versus road trip. Most road trips are a journey somewhere if they’re not a day trip, but would you have freaked if a detour took longer than expected? That’s the real difference. The freak, and the fact that you take detours at all.

  2. Deirdrebeth says:

    I’ve done many single day Magical Mystery Tours – you find places in your own town you didn’t know existed (this is easier the bigger “your own town” is :-P.) I remember discovering the site of the World’s Fair in Buffalo way back when – I had no idea it was even there and it’s beautiful!

    My favorite (so far) as an adult was when Charlotte and I were both unemployed so had the time – we ended up going down to San Simeon, CA (then back to Santa Cruz where we caught a beach concert), then north through Nevada to Idaho and back through Oregon to CA. We found Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho – which if you love scrambling about in caves is a *must go*. No neat paths there, just a single ranger who looks dubious when you say “No, we don’t have a flashlight, or helmets – but we’re gonna give it a go!” We camped in the back of the car and ate in only local restaurants (no chains) too, that’s an added bonus for me.

    A MMT where you drive 200 miles south, then 1000 miles north, then back south again over the course of ~3 days, that’s a good tour 🙂

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Yep. Sounds about right. Sigh. You and I should have MMT’d (love the acronym) when you were still living here.

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