Windshield Time: Hitting the Road Again

This Tuesday afternoon, Red and I will head west on US Highway 50, bound for Olympia, Washington, for a family gathering over Labor Day weekend. It’s a 1,450-mile-drive on the route I’m taking, and I don’t like to drive more than 6 hours in a day, so it’ll take me a few days. 

Along the way, I’m stopping to visit a former writing student, Julie Weston, and her photographer husband Gerry Morrison in Hailey, Idaho. (If you’ve not read Julie’s absorbing new mystery series, here’s my review of the first book, Moonshadows. The second book, Basque Moon, was just published and got great pre-reviews.)

Saturday noon, I’ll pick Molly up after she flies into SeaTac airport from San Francisco and we’ll share the drive to Olympia together, always a treat. I’m fortunate: she likes to hang out with me, and I her; and like me, she loves a good road-trip.

Me and Molly on a road-trip in southern New Mexico in February

After the extended weekend with the extended Tweit clan, I’ll take Molly back to the airport and then set off to my next stop, The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch in northwest Colorado, where I’ll spend time working in the interpretive garden Richard and I designed  during our residency at Carpenter in 2010 and 2011.

(Carpenter Ranch was also our first stop on The Big Trip, our last real road-trip together, two months before Richard died.)

And then I’ll head home for three days, long enough to do my laundry, give Red a rest, and meet a couple of writing deadlines, before loading up and hitting the road for Chico Hot Springs, Montana, where I’m speaking with Lauren Springer Ogden in Rocky Mountain Gardening’s annual Live! event.

By the time Red and I make it home late on September 21st, I figure I’ll have driven about 4,700 miles in a bit over three weeks.

Why drive thousands of miles cris-crossing the West? I could fly to Washington, for instance, and still meet Molly. It would be a lot more efficient use of my time in one sense, and would keep me from being so crunched on writing deadlines, and on preparing my talk and digital presentation for the Rocky Mountain Gardening event. I could also fly to Montana, saving myself about 1,700 miles of driving on that leg. 

Partly it’s the time versus money equation. Flying means spending a lot more cash than driving, because when I’m not staying with friends on the road, I’m sleeping in my cozy mini-camper in Red, often in some very discrete parking spot that costs nothing. 

Partly it’s that the timing of these various events allows me to make a two-branched road-trip through some of my favorite parts of the West. And of course, visit friends along the way, which I couldn’t do if I flew. (Thanks to Julie and Gerry, and Jay and Connie Moody, who I’ll stay with when I pass through Cody on my way to Chico Hot Spring.)

I’ve always loved a good road trip. When I drive, I get to follow my own schedule (within certain constraints). 

There’s the element of serendipity: I never know what I’ll discover. What junction might lure me off the main route; what wildflowers will be blooming, which hawks soaring in lazy circles overhead. Who I might meet, what cafe or vista or trail I might discover. 

Heading west on US 50 between Gunnison and Montrose, Colorado. How could you not stop and take a hike among those pinnacles?

Road-trips through the West’s open spaces are great “windshield time” for me, time for my mind to wander, for connections to surface and ideas to grow out of the spaciousness around me. 

I can happily drive for hours and miles in silence, watching the landscape go by, my imagniation wandering, or listen to my iPhone playlist, which ranges from Sting to Dar Williams, and from the haunting a capella of Anonymous 4 to Bonnie Raitt’s hard-rocking blues. 

And partly it’s the time of year, which has me itchy and restless, wanting to hit the road. Richard’s 66th birthday would have been in mid-July. August 8th and 9th (yup, there’s a story there!) were our 33rd wedding anniversary. And my 60th birthday is coming up soon. 

Just after Richard’s 60th birthday, when he was feeling great and we were hoping brain cancer was behind us, we learned his tumors had returned; he went under the knife for his second brain surgery that August. A year and three months later, he died. 

Richard Cabe, swimming in the ice-cold, swift waters of the Arkansas River on his 60th birthday. 

So as I head west on US 50 Tuesday afternoon, I’ll have all of those things in mind. And then I’ll let the rhythm of the road and the hum of Red’s tires carry me along. And see what the miles bring…