Nighttime on Interstate 40, coming in to Albuquerque from the west. It’s pitch black and clear, with a full moon rising. The sky is so dark and the moon is so bright, it appears as if a halogen beam is shining through a hole drilled in ebony.
It’s December and cold. Approaching single digits. I’m driving down the interstate on cruise control, steering with my knee, writing on a yellow legal pad to capture this memory.
Nearly all my recollections of travel are about the trip, the journey. Very few destinations stand out.
What I seem to remember most is tiny still photos, freeze frames in time. So poignant and beautiful, frightening or mystic, they still give me goose bumps.
Sitting beside the motorhome parked in a deserted campground in Utah beside a huge reservoir. Six German Wirehaired Pointers, all related, are sitting, heads up, ears up, eyes focused, lined up in a row. Watching and listening to the ducks and geese land at sunset, silhouetted against red-orange-purple light, like endlessly repeating mirror images. The clear, crisp air. The booming silence, broken only by the bird calls. The space and towering, barren mountains.
Meandering southeast on Interstate 84 in Idaho, headed to Nebraska from the west coast. It’s midday, midsummer and hot. The west wind is threatening to overturn the rig. I can see massive clouds of black smoke in the distance, but have no radio to find out what’s going on. Finally, 511 gives me a road report of a grass fire just south of the junction of I-84 and I-86.
As I crest the hill before the I-86 exit, I can see the fire racing in front of the wind, sparks jumping the asphalt lanes of Interstate 84, gaining ground, headed east. Traffic is grinding to a halt ahead of me. It looks like I can make it past the fire before it crosses the narrow Y-shaped wedge of high desert, so I take a last minute left turn and head northeast for Pocatello. I’m driving as fast as the motorhome can safely go, racing the flames. I’m in the left lane, since the fire is rapidly approaching the road on the right.
A small van is in front of me and it’s obvious the driver is afraid and has slowed down, unsure what to do. I nearly rear-end the car and shamelessly tailgate, pushing it forward in a desperate race against geometry. The flames are lapping at the roadside, just 10 feet away, as I recklessly barrel forward against the creeping vehicle’s rear bumper. I see flashing emergency lights screaming toward me in the west bound lanes. We roll past the worst of the blaze, and I watch in the rearview mirror as the state patrol closes the road directly behind me.
When I drove a motorhome, I often made a point of camping at deserted state and local parks on my way to and from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, California and Nevada; through Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona,Utah, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota and Oklahoma. Interstates 90, 80 and 70; 40, 10 and even 8; I-55, I-35, I-29, I-25, I-15 and I-5. Wandering on state highways and county roads.
Wherever the mood struck me, I’d stop and spend the night. Little slideshows flit through my memory of grassy swales, giant trees or sandy, rock-strewn soil; bubbling creeks, churning rivers or frozen ponds; limestone, sandstone and lava.
There’s a lilting calliope track in my head when I think of these trips. From the Straits of Juan de Fuca to Tucumcari; Wahoo to What Cheer; Yachats to Summerduck.
I went to Disneyland once. All I can remember is that fabulous redeye cruise from Phoenix to LA with friends from college. Singing along at the top of our lungs to “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”
It’s always about the drive, being “on the way” from point A to point B. Where I’m going shows up in every guide book available. It’s what’s in between that’s interesting.