Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Travel

I have found my preferred form of travel.

Over the years I have crossed our country (and even gone out of our country) using many different methods: train, bus, airplane, mini-van, 15-passenger van, cruise ship. They all have their benefits.

Only one, though, seems to fill most of what I need out of a trip, especially a trip that comes on the heels of an extremely busy time.

It’s a pretty simple formula: best friend + Corvette + road = happiness.

The best friend part is pretty self-explanatory. Your best friend should be someone you want to spend most of your time with, the person who loves you for who you are, allows you to just be your unvarnished, most true, you. Who cherishes your dreams as much as you do, even if he doesn’t understand them, just because they are yours. Who puts up with your whims and musings and your tendency to get hangry if you’re not fed right now dammit and your inability to navigate anywhere, even places we’ve been before. This is the ideal travel partner.

Taking the Corvette means we must distill down what we need for two weeks into a pretty small space. We have become masters at packing flat, which allows us to remove the roof of the car and stow it in the back, all our belongings underneath the “lid.” Packing flat is an art form, and requires discerning what we really, truly need to be happy for two whole weeks. Only the basics and the essentials make it. (Basics: tooth brushes and paste, medicine, clothes. Essentials: iPhone and charger, laptop for writing, couple of small books.) Traveling like this makes me feel light, reminds me that it’s not possessions that make me happy. The things are simply tools to help me down the road towards fulfillment; they aren’t the finish line.

The Corvette has only two seats. Two. One for him, one for me. Taking a car that has only two seats means it’s impossible to bring our child. This is where the explanation gets tricky, because there are a lot of parents who wouldn’t dare dream of doing anything without their children, and who are aghast that parents would even purchase a two-seater car while still having a child(ren) at home. M and I believe, though, that we are more than Parents. We are also Husband and Wife, which we were before our daughter came along and which we will be after she flies the coop and starts her own life, hopefully with her own best friend. If we do not cultivate our marriage, what will be left when she goes? If we make our lives child-centric for 18 years, how do we go back to being childless when she’s grown up? 18 years is a long time to set new habits that may be impossible to break. Don’t get me wrong…we do plenty of trips with her (the kid just flew to the Dominican Republic, first class mind you, for a week of beach and pool fun). But part of her experience should also include exploring (both herself and her world) and growing up, so this summer she went to her first week-long sleep-away camp and is now spending a couple weeks with two of her three sets of grandparents. We FaceTime and I text pictures of things I think she’d like. We connect without being entirely connected. This is good for all of us.

Owning a Corvette led us to join a local club of Corvette owners. The only thing any of us really have in common with each other is that we all own this particular brand of car. That’s pretty much it. Some couples have no children, some have grown children, some – like us – have a kid at home. Some work, some are retired. College grads and high school grads and rocket scientist-types. Some like to heavily mod their cars, some prefer to stay factory original. We come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and we all have a tremendous amount of fun when we are together. Sometimes, M and I will go months without seeing our club. Work and retreat and child schedules preclude us from participating in many meetings, runs and parties. When we do get a chance to join, though, it’s like not a day has passed. We pick up right where we left off, falling all over ourselves with laughter. At the same time, one of my closest Club friends is becoming an incredible source of comfort for me. Her mother struggled with Alzheimer’s, so she gets it, gets me, gets how difficult all this is. She can’t fix it for me, but she gives me wonderful hugs that remind me I’m not alone.

All this is just to say that yes, even the car is important when determining how to travel. If we didn’t have a Corvette, we most likely wouldn’t be on this trip. They planned a jaunt out west and we decided to tag along. We left early because M and I want to hit Moab, UT, and the rest of the Club decided to skip that this year. We stopped first in OKC to spend time with friends there, then headed up to Loveland, CO, where we are currently visiting with more friends. From here we hit Grand Junction, Moab, and The Black Canyon of the Gunnison before we meet up with the rest of the Club in Colorado Springs. The Club trip was what spurred us to action.

When we left Friday morning, I felt a sense of calm settle over me. I haven’t been calm in weeks. Work has been hectic, and so much summer fun at home has meant a pretty frenetic pace. While I have enjoyed work and am so grateful to be blessed with an incredible personal life that includes a kick-ass house and even more kick-ass family, I do need down time. Time to recharge. I read somewhere that the true definition of an introvert is someone who needs time between social interactions. If you’re shy, you’re shy, but if you’re introverted you can get along just fine socially but require time alone to recover. This is me. I crave alone time. My whole life I thought I was an extrovert because I love being in social situations. Turns out I’m actually an introvert because I love being alone just as much, if not more. (I know, this was a surprise to me, too. It all depends on how you define extrovert and introvert.)

So when we’re in the car, with the lid off and the music playing, and we are silent for miles and miles at a time, it’s a good thing for me. It’s a good thing for us. We see new things together, share new experiences, create memories. And at the heart of it, we are just being. He is just him, and I am just me. No more is expected of us. He is content to drive every mile (he still has a child-like joy with driving that car of his dreams) and I am content to passenge. (Is that a new word I just made up? He’s a driver who drives; I am a passenger who…passenges.) HAL, our lovely navigator, tells us where to go. The wheels spin and the tires make a soothing hum on the road and the vistas sweep by. Pump jacks and broken down barns and small towns…all passing scenery as we flee our over-scheduled lives. I will never tire of the pump jacks and the broken down barns and the small towns. They help remind me of why I love my country so much. Manifest destiny? Bet your ass.

There’s a feeling that we could go anywhere we want, that we are actually going everywhere we want. The only pressure is to keep the gas tank and our bellies full. At nearly every gas station or restroom break we have a small conversation with someone who admires the car. Seems like everyone has a link to Corvette. “I used to own one” or “My dad had one when I was a kid” or “I helped my uncle restore his ’53.” Corvette is, at its core, shared Americana. It’s one of the things I love best about that car. On the highway to OKC a couple days ago, we came up on a church van filled with kids. One of the boys in the back turned his head and caught sight of the Corvette. He must have said something, because the two boys next to him dutifully swiveled their heads to look. I waved at them, and they smiled and waved back. As we came up alongside the van more boys turned and looked. I saw one boy say, “Oh! She’s waving!” and we all shared goofy grins and waves. It was just a moment, but it was fun. I hope we planted a seed and one of those boys will grow up and buy a Corvette.

We’re still in the honeymoon of our trip, only three days in. I’m settling into a new routine of no routine, just open road and a bed waiting at the end of each day. We’ve gone from Missouri hills to Oklahoma red soil to Kansas flatlands to Colorado mountains. We’ve already eaten a whole bunch of good food and seen some beautiful sites (we drove Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday…holy cow) and laughed a lot with friends.

The road stretches before us. I can’t think of anything more beautiful right now.


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