The holiday roadtrip. Whether taken by plane, train, or automobile, at some point in your life, if you have not already, you will have to load up your car and travel vast distances and to far off places for the sake of family members isolated by distance.
My brother-in-law and his family live in Owensboro, Kentucky. If you don’t know where Owensboro is, if you were to start your drive in Lexington, KY it is not such a bad trip. Starting from Birdsboro, Pennsylvania and you might as well drive to Lima, Peru with a flat tire and no air conditioning. But as Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” (Easy for him to say. I bet he didn’t have kids, a wife, or a brother-in-law living in Kentucky.)
That being said, my good natured brother-in-law has, multiple times, loaded his car up, grabbed his passports (it feels that far), portable electronic devices, and his wife and children and made his way to Pennsylvania and to us. This past Thanksgiving, in honor of some fairness, it was his sister’s turn to go to Kentucky and to him (which means it was my turn too).
In the face of the daunting task of a thirteen hour trek to Owensboro, KY, I was actually excited. Number one, we would get to see my brother-in-law and his family (Free to make a mess, interrupt their daily routines, drink all the orange juice, and eat all of the good cookies). Number two , cruising America’s highways and bi-ways for almost an entire day would be a great bonding experience for my family. And number three, perhaps most importantly, my mother and father-in-law would be taking my kids with them for the first part of the trip freeing up my wife and I to spend some time together.
The day came to load up and get going. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. My daughters were packed up with the rest of their grandparent’s stuff in Mom’s Ford Fusion and headed to the Sleep Inn off of I-79 S in West Virginia. My wife and I were going to be leaving after we both finished work, took the dog to the dog sitter and my wife had a chance to pack enough to increase the gross vehicle weight of my car from 2400lbs to over three tons. A trip to Walmart and my wife is making a checklist of needed items to get there. Now factor in another 775 miles and the doors and trunk of my Jetta barely close and I’ll be mandated to pull into weigh stations along the highway on our way there.
I look back and forth bewilderingly at my wife then the pile of luggage. She explains to me how each and every one of the 7,000 documented items she has packed are of vital importance to the success of this roadtrip. She also emphasizes how much restraint she believes she has shown in her packing. I give her my “You can not be serious” look and clarify to her that although the length of the drive might feel as though we will be travelling to a foreign country we will in fact still be in America. An America littered with Wal-Marts. In the event we forgot something we could, in a pinch, buy whatever it was we forgot. Alicia explains to me how my comments are unappreciated and if I would like to make the 13 hour trip seem like a 48 hour trip with a rattlesnake, I should just keep on talking (generously sprinkled with a healthy dose of words I dare not repeat here).
I shut up and pack the car.
One tightly packed trunk and a full tank of Wawa’s finest unleaded gasoline and we are on our way to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a bit like swimming in the open ocean. One minute everything seems fine and you are enjoying your time. The next minute a Great White Shark has just sheared your legs off at the thighs. At any given mile marker, an accident, a PennDot road crew (they look like they work but nothing ever seems like it got done once they leave), or you’re wedged between sixteen big rigs is waiting for you. Any one has you at a stand still at the entrance to the Kikanny Mountain or doing thirty and trying to find a way out of the labyrinth of eighteen wheelers clogging the road.
Alicia is asleep against the ‘B’ pillar before I get the turnpike ticket. I set the cruise at 72, fix my iPod to my ears and pray for open roads. In terms of width, Pennsylvania could perhaps be the longest state in our great Union. Now my geography might be off a bit but driving across Pennsylvania sure has a way of skewing reality. It is just so long. Just as I think I’m making some decent time, I see Harrisburg is still thirty miles away (which I could have sworn I saw Harrisburg 30 miles away 30 miles ago).
$9.75 and four hours gets us off the turnpike at Bedford and into Maryland and Route 220E we go. We also dive head first into milkshake thick fog. Our atmospheric potable clings to us like glue and follows us into West Virginia. I keep the cruise down to almost residential street speed. Those of you who have travelled at accelerated speeds for extended periods of time know that not being able to drive at those accelerated speeds is like being through a Dick Cheney enhanced interrogation session. It is torture. But for the sake of our lives it’s best to keep it slow. The fog didn’t seem to slow down the kid in the ’99 Jetta though. He was sitting so low I could only make out the top of his head with his flat brimmed baseball cap pointing over his ear. He also decided the 5 feet of visibility we all had was not going to keep him from going 88 mph (I didn’t actually see him at first, I heard his bass thumping behind me like the approaching T-Rex in Jurassic Park). Mario Andretti roars past us. I figure we’ll see him later on the side of the road sitting upside down in his car.
Our next route is south on I-79 and fog free driving. My fingers fumble fruitlessly for the nitrous button next to my gear shift because all I want to do is drive as fast as humanly possible and make up some lost fog time. A small kick of nitrous injected into my cylinders would do the trick nicely. Of course I have no nitrous. I do have a cruise control that keeps me above 80 though (I also have a wife who tells me to slow down). We don’t spend too much time on I-79. Route 50 and the Sleep Inn where our parents and children are catching some much needed rest is not far down the road. We’ll be spending the night there too. After our free Continental breakfast in the morning, we’ll be off for the last leg of our journey. We have five and a half hours in the books and another solid seven awaiting us in the morning. A solid seven hours now with two children sitting in the back of our car. A solid seven hours before we reach Owensboro. A solid seven hours of family bonding down the highways and bi-ways of America.
It is going to be a long trip.