Why do I love road trips? I've always had a nostalgia for the open road. Early in life I wanted to be a truck driver. Honestly, that was one of my first career fascinations. I collected realistic toy replicas of tractor trailers. I imagined weeks away driving across the country. I wore plaid shirts and cowboy boots and a trucker hat or two.
This twisted part of my psyche means I can somehow find beauty in the starkness of a slimy truck stop with its bare gravel and dusty parking lots, tacky stickers and unimaginable apparel for sale on overstuffed carousel racks. I actually like the smell of diesel fuel. One thing I would never be able to get over is the food, however. It can be a bit exciting (yet gastrointestinally devastating) to sustain oneself with food obtained along an interstate corridor for a couple of days. If I had to eat it consistently I'd be tempted to jump in front of a truck rather than drive one.
There are other facets of road tripping that capture me. While exploring a full-blown subculture peopled with a colorful cast of characters who fascinate and occasionally appall can provide a glimpse of an America quite unlike my day to day reality, I prefer to focus heavily on the poetic side of the trip's appeal. I love the singular motivation of those involved, the desire for achieving a common destination, the silence and also the deep conversations that can occur over the course of hours spent driving. Such is always the case when we head off to Iowa.
Early in our relationship, April and I set off on a nearly three-week-long odyssey beginning with a stop in Iowa. Then we pushed on to the North Carolina coast and back through Tennessee. During that trek we canoed across Fontana Lake and camped on Hazel Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains. We sipped champagne and rang in the New Year around a campfire. The rest of the time we shared the extended cab of a Dodge diesel pick up which towed a 20 ft box trailer. The trip was technically work, delivering canoes and picking up supplies. Our accommodations ranged from friends' floors to plush hotel rooms on the beach (off-peak rates, mind you). We ate homecooked meals and foraged truck stop buffets. I introduced April to Tennessee's finest chain restaurant -- Cracker Barrel. All the while we had a grand time. We'd only been dating about 6 months but we knew something had to be right if we could embrace spontaneous adventures, live in such close quarters for that long and not hate each other afterward.
Since then I've had no doubt that April is the best traveling partner I've ever met. We can't indulge our time the way we used to (taking the kids along in the car has hindered the ability to have long philosophical discussions), but there is a silver lining. We're so busy running in our own directions a lot of the time that a road trip is a way to put us in the same place, to give each of us the captive audience with the other that we so often lack now that we have a family. When the kids are both asleep and the car is quiet it's just like old times. And I can be reminded how in love I am with the sharply intelligent, beautiful woman I married. Yeah, she's the one who continues to put up with me.
Now that I'm all teary-eyed, roll the picture!
The Fleck girls having fun on the playground at the Straight River rest area in southern MN. This place has one of the weirdest buildings I've ever seen at a rest stop -- sort of like some throwback to a 70s arcade. By the way, if you never read the bronze historical markers sometimes found along interstate highways you ought to every once in a while. Frequently they're interesting and while I'm not saying you should believe everything you read you can certainly get some thoughts cogitating in the ole melon. (Did I really know prior to reading a plaque that Le Seuer canned goods, among many others, originated in MN?)
Dad with the girls. Needless to say I am extremely proud to hang out with such happy, healthy children (even though Willa looks like she's getting the Heimlich in this image). The girls constantly remind me I need to lighten up and have more fun.
Here's Willa trying to push her way past Sylvia. She's so young yet we can see many personality distinctions that clearly separate her from her big sister.
Willa in motion. Once she got started on the slide it was tough to get her in the car for the rest of the ride home. She has a sense of adventure that is a bit frightening. We thought Sylvia was daring, but Willa already acts as if three-years' age difference is not going to keep her from doing whatever Sylvia does. For instance, without any prompting she climbed the 7ft tall framework to go down the slide on her own.
More updates to follow shortly. I spent some time last week at the Fruita Fat Tire Festival. Surely that has to be good for a story or two, eh? Later ...