I believe in road trips.
When I was little, taking a long car trip was exciting. My parents would pack up our old Ford Escort with books from the library and tapes of Tom Chapin. They made a bed in the back for my sister and me to sleep on; my dad even made portable wooden desks that we could keep paper and markers in.
Of course, then I didn’t have to drive. I was small enough to lay down flat on the back seat and I was easily entertained. Now, I usually have to put in at least a few hours of driving, and sleeping in a car is not as comfortable as it used to be. But a car trip can still entertain me.
I can’t say exactly what is so gripping to me about getting in a car and staying in it for hours at a time. A part of the thrill is definitely the destination. I’m from eastern Pennsylvania. Between my house there and my college in Goshen, Indiana, there are about nine and a half hours of driving. I’m always happy to go home again, though, to see my family and my house.
And a change in scenery now and then is a necessity. I usually can’t read a book during a car ride because I end up just staring outside. I can watch rolling fields turn into mountains, and mountains mellow out into flatlands.
What’s especially fascinating to me is how much seeing a new countryside can change my mood. Crossing over a sunlit river into deep green woods can be a very invigorating experience. I sometimes wish I wasn’t moving so fast, so that I could really appreciate the landscapes that are rushing past. On the other hand, though, when the sky is gray and the trees are barren and the land is flat, the car can’t move fast enough.
Going home, or a place I know well, like my grandparents’ house, also has a strong emotional pull that I can’t quite explain. It’s more than nostalgia; it’s a complex combination of years of emotion. Even if my grandparents have moved to Arizona, for example, driving in the direction of their house in Pennsylvania is still exciting.
Then again, nothing quite grips my imagination like a place I’ve never seen before. One time my friends and I went to Colorado, where the massive mountains and snow-covered trees were completely foreign. Another time we went to Mississippi, where the destruction from Katrina was still very visible. Things can look and feel completely different only a few hours’ worth of driving away.
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