I Know We’re On a Road Trip But Please Let Me Read My Book

What’s that? Oh, that picture-perfect sunlit butte ahead of us? Yes, I see that. That’s really beautiful.

Yeah, sorry, I know my nose has been in my book for the past 100 miles. I know I’m missing out on a lot of things outside the car windows.

Ok. I’m going to go back to my book for a bit.

What? Yes, that’s a cool rock. Really nice rock. Back to the book now.

…no, you’re totally right–this is a part of the country I haven’t seen. I’m glad to see it! America the Beautiful, here we come.

Here’s the thing though: when else do you get hours of quiet and seclusion where there are no demands on your time? When literally all you can do is sit? Especially when you’re driving on rural highways — bye bye, cell service. No Instagram here. Since we don’t have one of those fancy newfangled cars with built-in TVs, I can’t binge-watch Parks and Recreation for the fourth time. The only thing you can do besides stare out the window is read a book.

Yes yes, I do like staring out the window. I love road trips. I love seeing the country change; I love pairing music to the passing landscape. I love the opportunity to talk, to take detours and pitstops and be open to adventure.

But this book is getting really good right now.

Yes, I see that waterfall.

Look, the protagonist just found out some key information and is about to–sorry, no time to explain. We have two hours of drive time left and I can totally finish.

Me and books and road trips will forever be a thing. I promise to look up every once in a while. But now I’m going to read.

Addendum: If there are any foals or alpaca farms or cool birds of prey I require immediate notification. I brake for cute animals.

(Written with a loving wink to my husband, who loves to point out basalt, and my father, who loves to point out Spanish moss.)

Unfocused

Like any born-and-bred American, road trips are in my DNA. Growing up, they were an integral part of family vacations. We never did any truly epic routes — the longest was Seattle to Santa Monica, with a $20 bribe on the line if my sister and I refrained from asking “Are we there yet?” — but there were numerous shorter trips. Bellingham, Oregon, Idaho. The Pacific Northwest was well-explored from the confines of an ’89 Honda Civic.

My parents were pros: a white plastic bucket sat in the middle seat between my sister and I, filled with entertainment. Most of the goodies were designed to draw our eyes outward, past the car window and to the world beyond. License plate bingo, “I Spy”, plastic-coated maps and dry erase markers so we could mark our progress. Inevitably, though, our eyes left the windows and turned to our laps.

“Stop reading,” Dad would say. “Put your book down and look out the window. You’re missing it.”

A terrible problem to have, a child who reads too much. We raised our eyes back to the world , but after a respectful amount of time — after we thought we could get away with it — it was back to the books.

Of course, the problem was that my sister and I were young, and we still had that capacity only truly understood by the young: boredom. Looking out the window was boring. The trees whipping by all looked the same — or maybe there were different, but it took far too long for them to change. Rocks, grass, dirt — we had all of this back home. Looking out the window, there was nothing to do but get lost in your own thoughts. My brain wanted focus.

In adulthood, there’s more than enough to occupy your thoughts. Boredom becomes a concept rather than an actual practice. Nowhere is this more obvious than on a road trip, when you’re confined to a small space with limited resources for hours on end. If you’re lucky enough to be in a stretch of the country that defies cell phone towers, you’re disconnected from internet, too. I now find myself sitting for hours, doing nothing but look out the window. What once would induce boredom brings on something new and foreign; you become unfocused. Not in the way we’re accustomed to in the digital world — not in the way of emails to be sorted through, of pings and dings to pay attention to, of I swear I was about to do something now what was it? That is frantic — a forced unfocus.

This is gradual, natural, a slow progression after days on the road. The smell of pelicans, the sun burning against an SPFed thigh. The very conscious movement of wind over skin, thick and strong as a wave drawn back to the ocean. The uncomfortable yet comforting thought that this will all be here, after we’re gone — changed, changing, but still here. The sea today will not be the same one we see tomorrow.

Of course this doesn’t appeal to a child, who lives in the present and feels acutely the whole wonder of the world. They have no need to gaze for hours at nothing in order to see everything.

Back off the road now, no more transience, I feel myself coming back into focus — edges sharpening, the line between body and air growing clear. Focus is good — it’s necessary to function in our daily lives. But I close my eyes and see the shimmer of air on skin, feel my mind slip loose and drift. We see clearer for being unfocused. Every once in a while it’s good to wander.

 

Lost to California

Snap back to reality. Back in Seattle. For the past two weeks we’ve been transients, driving up the California coast, packing a bag every day and going from motel to hotel. The sort of trip where you forget if it’s Monday or Tuesday (or maybe Wednesday?), where every meal was just brought in off the boat, where the biggest decision of the day is, “Should we stop at this beach or keep driving to the next?”

We traveled the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, a classic stretch of road that hugs the sea. We rented a convertible and drove from San Diego to San Francisco. I had done parts of this drive before, but never the full thing. California has a strange, magical pull over me, and I wanted Byron to experience that magic.

What I wrote last year is still true:

Everything down there just seems scented with a kind of forgetfulness — like there is nowhere else in the world to be, nowhere else in the world you should be.

I really think I temporarily lost my mind down there. It may still be floating around somewhere off the California coastline. I assume it will meander back home at some point, back up to Seattle, but for now I’m content to let it wander.

USS Midway in San Diego.
Starting in San Diego, visiting the USS Midway.

USS Midway in San Diego

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Birds at Torrey Pine State Reserve.

View from Torrey Pines State Reserve.
View from Torrey Pines State Reserve.

Vroom vroom.

Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park.

Great blue heron at Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.
Crystal Cove State Park.

Will Rogers State Beach
Will Rogers State Beach in Santa Monica, where we used to go swimming with my grandparents.
Morro Bay
Morro Bay.

Morro Bay

 

Pelicans at Moonstone Beach
Pelicans at Moonstone Beach

Pelicans at Moonstone Beach
Sea lions.

Big Sur.
Entering the crazy twisting Big Sur.

Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur

Big Sur
We stopped at the Henry Miller Memorial Library and started chatting with the young woman at the cash register. She was from the Netherlands and had just arrived in Big Sur yesterday. She’d been driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in her van, liked it where she was, and decided to stay. That’s the kind of place Big Sur is.

Big Sur

Big Sur
Yellow flowers at Big Sur

Redwood trees in Big Sur.
Even the little Redwoods tower.

Juan Hiquera Creek in Big Sur

Point Lobos State Reserve
Artist Francis McComas called Point Lobos the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world.” I’d have to agree.

Point Lobos State Reserve
Point Lobos State Reserve


Point Lobos State Reserve
Harbor seals at Point Lobos State Reserve
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Eucalyptus trees.
Eucalyptus. My favorites.

Highway 80 in California

Quarter horses.
Pit stop to a family member’s horse ranch in northern California.

Quarter horse.
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