So, there were these crazy chaps indulging in a sustained exercise in lunacy by cycling coast to coast on fixed gear bikes, to raise money for a couple of charities. There was a support vehicle. Did I want to go along to spend a day and a half in a car, occasionally hanging out in lay-bys to wave as they sped past? Yes, of course I did, for various reasons, one of which was certainly that I will jump at almost any chance of a road-trip.
A few months back I’d lent a colleague Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, and in return he’d lent me Larry McMurtry’s Roads. We’d chatted about the books, and their authors’ entirely opposite views on travel. All that talking and reading made me nostalgic for the East Coast to Mid West road trips that Mike and I took, back in what was apparently a different lifetime. They were great trips: endless miles of road unfolding, cities, corn fields, prairies, big sky, Badlands. We’d take a cooler, stock up on bananas, pretzels, water and cheese slices and head off in the right general direction, making the route up as we went along. Sometimes we’d book a hotel a night or so ahead; sometimes we’d chance it and see where we pitched up. I could put my bare feet up on the dashboard, arm out the window and watch miles of country flash by.
We’d always buy new CDs along the way for the car. In Bowling Green, OH, we got a girl group box set that I think saw us well into Kentucky. We got lunchtime drunk in Nashville and bought cowboy boots as a belated wedding present for each other. I couldn’t believe how empty South Dakota was, all those farms abandoned as though one day, the owners had just given up, locked the house and walked away; and I really couldn’t believe anyone still lived in Arkansas.
This trip was not on the same scale but it had some of the same ingredients. For a start, I like cars as space, I think partly because my cars have been the only space I’ve ever owned. They are enclosed and intimate, a great place to talk or to discover companionable silence. Then there is nothing so freeing as just hitting the road with the bare minimum you need. Leaving the physical baggage behind is liberating; it’s also why I like camping, strip it back to the basics, step outside the diurnal round.
Road-trips are relaxing, because all you’re supposed to be doing is travelling, or in this case, travelling and waiting in case the cycling loons needed anything. Time ceases to matter when there’s no fixed schedule, and because my working days are structured, I prefer non-work days to have a less defined shape to them. This journey was moulded by some necessity, but otherwise, purposelessness can become an end in itself.
Above all, I like road-trips because they are a chance at delightfully random discovery, whether that’s a new town, a new route, or just a new interpretation of the familiar because the context has shifted slightly. The destination doesn’t matter (just as well, we ended up in Great Yarmouth. My advice would be, don’t). The journey is all.