Hitting the open road just isn?t the same 20 years later

By: Susan Rushton
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When I was 25, I took a summer and drove cross-country in my Volkswagen. With curtains in all the windows, I slept in the back most nights, when I didn?t take advantage of a college dorm, a youth hostel or relatives. ?For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel?s sake. The great affair is to move,? writes Robert Louis Stevenson. I?d planned this trip for six months. I was teaching in Crescent City, where winter means rain. I don?t mean rain once a week or so, and I don?t mean a light drizzle. In Crescent City, dry feet and dry ground, shadows and blue sky withdrew to become figments of my imagination, or maybe ingredients of dreams, or dreams of dreams. One January afternoon of particularly blustery weather, I blew into my apartment and anticipated a time when I wouldn?t have to deal with these pesky storms. Summer. A time that meant I could do whatever I wanted. And what I wanted most of all was to get away from there. So I did. For three months, I drove most days, slept, and got up and drove again. I had a great time. I marveled at the Grand Canyon; got lost in Indiana and Missouri; saw Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a rainstorm; learned that Kansas bore no resemblance to the gray state L.L. Baum had convinced me it was; investigated Mammoth Caves, Greenwich Village and Chesapeake Bay. It was wonderful, going someplace new every day. In Maine, I sent a postcard to my parents, suggesting that they do exactly what I was doing, exactly the way I was doing it ? sleeping in the back of the car, taking a whole summer to wander around, the whole bit. ?The poetry of motion,? exults Toad in Kenneth Grahame?s The Wind in the Willows. ?The real way to travel! The only way to travel!? I did a bit of calculation last weekend, after my husband Don and I returned from two weeks on the road to Ashland, Bend and Boise. I am now the same age as my parents when they received that postcard. And although they never said it, I know what their reaction must have been. It must have been the same as mine would be at this age: What? Three months away from home? Sleeping in the back of the car, when I have a perfectly good bed and a perfectly good shower, and I can wash my jeans whenever I want? I can just imagine how my back would protest after three months of hard, cramped nights. ?Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience,? said Francis Bacon. Don and I had planned to be back the day before yesterday. After Bend, we?d anticipated either tooling up to Kalispell or wandering over to Aspen. But ? and I hate to say this, I mourn having to admit it ? I?m not the traveler I once was. Neither of us is. For one thing, we like the idea of hanging out in a place and exploring for a few days. Those years of getting up and going every day are past. Thus the problem: We didn?t have the time to spend getting to Kalispell and then relaxing. And if we?d found ourselves in Aspen, well, ahem, Aspen?s too upscale a joint for us to spend many nights there. But more important, home resonates with us in a way it didn?t years ago. Home is wonderful. Bigger than any motel room we can afford, and most we can?t. So we compromised. We went to Boise ? ?the city of trees? ? Idaho?s beautiful, walkable capital city. Don played golf. I wandered. We investigated the World Center for Birds of Prey and saw a California condor and a peregrine falcon. Then we came home, five days earlier than we?d planned. ?Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades / Forever and forever when I move,?said Alfred, Lord Tennyson. But getting away is important. California?s an anomaly, and it?s good to see change once in a while. There are two (count ?em, two) interstates in Oregon. Other than up and down I-84, Boise is surrounded by rolling hills, ranches, and BLM and National Forest land, up until the city limits. Very much unlike Sacramento. In those states, one suddenly finds oneself in an urban area. Not like around here. But it?s hard to escape California?s influence. The yo-yo recall, to my dismay, was front-page news everywhere we went. Our last night, in Winnemucca, the debate was as raucous as it certainly must have been here. Oh, goody, that?s all the country needs: All eyes on California. Big sigh. Well, maybe next year we?ll get farther away. Maybe next year we?ll go to Italy. Hang out there. Susan Rushton?s column appears Thursday in the Journal.