Three years ago I gave away my bicycle. I hadn’t ridden it for a long time because I’d grown old. Riding a bicycle wasn’t fun anymore. My fear of being injured exceeded my expectation of adventure. I don’t remember my last bike ride because I had no idea it was going to be my last.
I just took my last road trip. My wife and I drove from Oregon up into central Canada and looked at the Canadian Rocky Mountains. We drove 1500 miles together. Before leaving, I felt in my bones that it would be my last road trip. Now that I am home again, I am certain of it.
I have a history with road trips. When I was a college student, I would recruit a couple of friends then hit the road with no money, an unreliable vehicle, and a vague destination. We slept in sleeping bags on the ground and ate baloney sandwiches in the parking lots of convenience stores.
As I aged and had more money, I bought better cars, then tents, then Coleman stoves, and we stayed in campgrounds that charged money and had bathrooms. I bought a fold-out tent-trailer, then a camper on a pickup, and then a recreational vehicle. When I got too old to wrestle with those things, it was back to cars, much nicer cars, and spending nights in Airbnb's, bed-n-breakfasts, and hotels.
I’ve seen much of America through the window of a motor vehicle. I enjoy seeing where and how people live. I want to stop at their homes and ask them, “what do you do here?” and “how did you come to be in this place?”
I like the planet I live on. I enjoy trying to figure out how the section of earth I am traveling through came to be shaped the way it is. I like cities, and small towns, and land so flat you can see the horizon. I like charming local restaurants, roadside attractions, industrial parks, loading docks, and grubby eateries next to train yards. I like it all.
For our trip to Canada, I made a spreadsheet. It had columns for the date, the hotels we had booked, reservation numbers, phone numbers, and most importantly, the number of driving hours between stops. When I was a college student, being on the road was the point. We were budding Jack Kerouacs finding America. Today, being on the road is the price I pay to get to places I want to look at.
I can’t drive long stretches anymore. Five hours is a heavy driving day. Two or three is better. If I schedule two driving days in a row, I give myself at least a day of rest, preferably three.
We took our Tesla. The car has the simplest controls a human could ever devise, and on freeways it can drive itself if we want. (I want. My wife not so much.) It is comfortable. It plans the route, tells us when to charge, and lets us spend more time looking out the window than has any car I have ever owned.
After a few hours in my fancy car, even with breaks at charming coffee shops, both of us are exhausted and cranky. We want to get into our hotel room and rest.
Maybe it is the sitting in one position. Maybe it is the constant attention that traveling at seventy-miles an hour requires. I can’t put my finger on it, but whatever it is, I can’t do it like I used to.
Being in different places still makes me happy. I go to the Oregon Coast, but that is a two-hour drive followed by a few days of beach combing. I go with friends to Central America every year or so. Those trips are a hellish day of plane travel, followed by three weeks exploring our sunny destination country. I don’t expect commercial air travel to be enjoyable, but until the Canada trip, I still harbored the idea that sitting in a car could be pleasant.
It is not.
Sometimes when traveling, I look at the big rigs and imagined myself in one of them — an American trucker spinning the wheels of commerce on the open road. I ignore the fact that I am a terrible driver and that the men in those trucks are at work. They do what they do, not because they like it but to bring home money to pay their mortgages. They aren’t retired. They aren’t on vacation. They aren’t having fun.
I’ll attribute my present antipathy to car travel to aging and tell myself that I will miss it. But I doubt I will. As I ponder a life without road trips, I wonder how much I ever really liked them. As a child, car travel was not fun—my father at the wheel with his we-have-to-make-good-time-so-pee-in-a-bottle intensity. The road trips with friends I took as a young man had only vague destinations, and might have been in reality jailbreaks from the cramped and dreary college apartments in which we all lived. Whether going to or escaping from, maybe being in a vehicle has never been anything other than the price one pays to be somewhere different.
I have a niece who brags to me that she chooses to spend her money on experiences rather than things. She travels around the country and parks her $100,000 camper/van in front of my house when she visits.
Whether it is experience or things, I am not a hoarder. I discard what I don’t use and don’t hang onto stuff because it has sentimental value. My bicycle is gone, and with it the experience of riding it. I don’t miss either one.
My niece with the expensive camper likes to make me feel guilty about giving up things like road trips, and gutter cleaning, and helping relatives move. She would have me cling tight to these things, even as they become more difficult and dangerous, her theory being that by giving them up I begin the slippery slope to giving up on life. I will feel guilty for a while because it pleases her, but I won’t miss road trips. When I give up on life, I will let everyone know.
As I age I discard objects and experiences that are no longer useful to me. When I retired from practicing law, I walked away from the experience of the courtroom and gave away the suits and ties I wore when I worked. I briefly missed both the work and the clothes and then felt good about it. Nostalgia is not permitted in our home. We do not keep old clothes, unused bicycles, or out-of-date experiences.
It was hard for me to say that the Canada trip was my last road trip, but now that I’ve said it, I feel relieved.