Friday, October 05, 2007

The Lure of the Open Road

Last weekend, I do what I often do. I went away. By myself. With no specific plan, only a destination in mind. This time, it was the Napa valley. At other times, I've gone up to Guerneville, Truckee, and Seattle, or down to Monterey and Santa Cruz. The summer I graduated from college, I went on a 2-month solo trip to Ireland and England, and last summer I took a 2-week crazy-quilt trip to Charleston, Miami, New Orleans, and Willow Creek, Montana.

I don't know anyone else who routinely just takes off this way, but for me, these adventures are some of the supreme pleasures of my life. There's just something so thrilling about having the time to explore a place, whether new or familiar, and not to have to compromise with anyone else. Not to have to discuss where to eat, which road to take, which hotel to stay in. Not to have to smile when I don't feel like it, or act interested in something I'm not, or share my sensations and thoughts if they aren't ready to be shared. These trips refresh me, make me think, inspire me, and get my creative juices flowing again.

The wanderlust hits me about every couple of months. I feel this need to get out of Dodge, to leave behind the cat, the dirty dishes, the home repairs that need doing, the answering machine, the weedy lawn, and head out on my own. For as long as I can remember, during family road trips, I've gaze longingly at the roads curling up the dusty flanks of hills or disappearing into green forests, wondering where they went, and wanting to follow them. I always wondered what was around that corner or over that ridge. As an adult, I've made it my business to find out.

Until last weekend, I never drove on my wanderings, because I never had my driver's license. That all changed last January, when I finally conquered my driving phobia and got my license, so this last weekend, I actually rented a car. It was a milestone for me, something normal people who've been driving since teenagerhood probably can't really understand. For me, it was a stupendous step, almost as major as graduating from college.

You see, "the freedom of the open road", for me, until this year, always meant buses and trains. The freedom was always limited by public transit schedules and routes. I would sometimes literally spend hours poring over timetables and route maps on the computer, trying to figure out how to get someplace, and sometimes, as last year when I was trying to figure out how to get to Stinson Beach during the off-season, I would just give up, considering it impossible or too difficult to do.

Now, the open road has a different meaning to me. I can take any road! At any time! It's amazing. I'm enjoying the sensation of having a new experience that most people had when they were 15 or 16. I wonder how different it is for me, at 37. Do I appreciate it more than a teenager would? Who knows. All I know is that when I came back unscathed from my trip to the Napa valley, I sat down with my brand spanking new California map and it was like being let into a candy store and being told I could have anything I wanted - well, maybe a liquor store, I'm not that into candy. I could go to Mendocino! Drive up Hwy 1! The Gold Country! Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree! Heck, I could even drive out of state!

Napa valley was gorgeous. I drove along the sun-dappled, windy hwy 128 between Calistoga and Healdsburg, the buttery yellow autumn light made the yellow-green grape leaves seem to glow, and the bronze hills looked soft, like kitten fur. Sometimes, I stopped under the oak trees along the side of the road just to breathe the warm air and listen to the crickets. I walked a bit on the shore of Lake Hennessey. I hiked in Bothe-Napa state park and went up to Coyote Peak, sitting for awhile under the pines and listening to the breeze through the tall branches. I had lunch and a tiny little bottle of wine at Jack London S.P., (pictured above) sitting on a concrete block and admiring the rolling, terraced vineyards. I wandered through Calistoga, St. Helena, Sonoma, and Healdsburg, and stayed the night in H'burg, waking the next morning to find that it had rained in the night. In the morning, I had coffee and fruit in the square, sitting in a patch of sun while glistening leaves fell all around me. It was heaven.

Now my head is full of plans - I want to spend a rainy winter weekend by the ocean somewhere, drinking something warm, curled up in front of a fire after spending the morning walking on the beach. I want to see the desert again, I want to follow rivers, to drive up into the Sacramento Delta that reminds me so much of another, much larger delta. The world has finally become my oyster, and I want to enjoy every bite. It's about time.

1 comment:

Radical Gags said...

Hooray! That's great. I loved driving aimlessly around California, it's just so beautiful and pretty much any direction you head there's bound to be some scenic drive or quaint town. I took a lot of little trips around New York but it never had the same languorous meandering feel when I'm checking the bus time tables and rushing for trains. Unfortunately all drivers in Europe are completely insane so I think I'm going to have to stick with the bus/train route for awhile longer. However, I love heading out with just some dim sketch of an destination and some snacks.