Friday, October 29, 2021

Road Tripping

Road trips used to be a lot harder.

In August I flew back to Newfoundland. It was the most expensive flight I’ve purchased in years. The flight was delayed twice and, if you count the train ride to Pearson, the wait at the gate and the time filling out COVID documentation once I landed, I was wearing a mask and breathing with difficultly for over seven hours. This is how we travel now. Not by hook or by crook but by cautious and respectful steps.

In contrast, in September, Julia and I took a road trip a few hours outside of Toronto where we listened to our own music and podcasts, took our own time, took the road less travelled, snacked on our snacks and spoke and laughed entirely unmasked.

I’m not generally a fan of the road trip by car. The stress of driving on a 400-series Ontario highway combined with junk food, intermittent radio, carefully timed bathroom breaks, not to mention other idiot drivers, all while sealed inside a ton or so of steel, glass and plastic seems more like torture by boredom than fun. By comparison, nothing comes close to the thrill and genuine freedom of heading out on the open road with just your bike and a couple of stuffed panniers. When you bike it takes a day to cover the same distance you might go in an hour by car but you remember every minute of that day and every kilometre of that journey. It is so visceral. The sun or (god forbid) rain on your cheeks, the aromas in your nose, the wind buffeting you, the sounds from roadside woods or creeks all become unforgettable. The journey isn’t just the way you got somewhere on your vacation but it is the vacation.

Now maybe I’m just getting old but getting out of the city in the air conditioned comfort of a vehicle packed with anything you might need, fuelled by your favourite food, topped off with your favourite music or shows has started to appeal to me. Add to this escape, a way to bring your bike without paying an additional $250-$300 fee an airline would charge has started to sound too good to be true.

I guess my dislike of any kind of road trip stems from my childhood. I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a fun thing to do? “Going for a drive” would rank as one of my least favourite things to do, up there with say a dentist visit or attending a Good Friday service.  I don’t like driving anywhere. Why would I like driving somewhere so that I could turnaround and drive right back. Was “driving” supposed to be the fun part?? While my parents enjoyed surfing along the blacktop as wooded landscapes slid by, all I saw from the backseat was white, overcast sky and the back of the seat in front of me. I was too small to see anything passing by. Add to this injustice the fact I had no control over what can only be described as the worst radio in the known world. The AM dial crackled and hummed in and out of tune playing exactly the kind of slow pop-rock I would come to hate. Then there was the fact the only “snack” Mom would bring would be the two or three year old package of Purity peppermint knobs that might be in or adhered to the bottom of her purse. Then when we finally arrived at our destination I would jump out expecting to see some sort of natural Xanadu only to be confronted with exactly the kind of geography I saw every day looking out our back window at home. A pine covered hill and some mossy rocks did not excite the mind of a five-year-old. Sometimes there was a promise of ice cream, yet on the drive home we would pass every kind of place that had frozen treats. I would see the totems of A&W or DQ flick past and wonder, “Did Dad make a mistake? Weren’t we getting something, anything, out of sitting in the back of a car for over an hour?” Such betrayal was rewarded with the offer of some Central Dairies Vanilla ice cream when we got home that I accurately described as “white flavour”. Dumping a peppermint knob in a glass of skim milk would have tasted better than what they called vanilla. Once home I would immediately head for my room to flip through some comic books or run into the backyard to kick a ball around.

All things of interest were at home, not out there on the road. The road was a place of marshy ditches, road kill, crows and gravel. It held nothing for me. My parents may have wanted to get away from it all, if only for a few hours, but for me there was nothing to get away from. My world was our rec room and our backyard. The road to a place that looked exactly like our place held nothing for me.

Lately though, the city has born its weight on me. Its noises, people and lights have become too much to bear. Once I go into my house, my goal is to shut out the city and if I can’t do that then I want to get out of the city. If a road trip can offer that, then I might be on board. Plus a road trip can be had without baggage fees, security gates or masks. I can see its appeal and plus, now I can see over the dashboard where the view is a lot better.

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