My trip to Switzerland has been cancelled. Just kidding, I have no plans to go anywhere. It’s just not my thing. This year I have seen more friends than I can keep track of head overseas for long-awaited vacations. Some of them got COVID during their travels and were inconvenienced by their illness and regulations in other countries. Some of them sailed right through their places of interest without any trouble at all. We drove to Maine to see my family.
Here are my objections to traveling long distances. It takes too long to get there. Okay, that’s really my only objection. I love exploring new places, I just don’t have the stamina or tolerance for the “getting there” part of heading to far-flung destinations. One of the reasons we moved to Asheville was to be close to family in Georgia, New Jersey and Maine. We finally hit all three states this year and I felt quite the accomplished tourist, despite vowing to never leave home again.
Perhaps the mountains in northern Georgia look much the same as the mountains in western North Carolina, but leaving my state of residence to enter another just two hours away to visit with family was a joy. Two hours in a car is doable for me…if I’m the passenger. I tend to get motion sickness, so I can’t read in the car to pass the time. I tuck my phone or book away and become a dedicated DJ, keeping track of when the CD has come around to the top again and selecting the proper tunes for the road. There are mysterious ways in which one can hook up a phone and listen to music carefully stored therein. I am not familiar with the entertainment workings of our complicated vehicle and refuse to try figuring them out while the car is moving. We have a gazillion CDs we’ve collected over the years, so have a carefully curated selection for whenever we hit the road. If the road is not too long.
Driving to Maine was a completely different experience. I am not what one might consider a companionable wayfarer. We were barely into Tennessee when I started wishing I was anywhere else. I’d even take the line at the DMV over the monotony of hours on a long stretch of the same road. At least there I could peruse my phone or become enraptured in a spell-binding novel. On the road, I can’t read without getting car sick. So, to entertain myself, I change out the CDs and write forgettable stories in my head. Once in a while I will hit on something memorable and feel the need to write it down in the notebook kept in my backpack so it will still be memorable a week later. These little jottings take only a few moments. There’s a delicate balance between getting a grand idea committed to paper and keeping my head from swirling.
Then there are the stops one must make. On a day-long drive, I am torn between making multiple stops to break up the monotony and taking fewer stops in order to get to our destination sooner. I think the rule is to stop every two hours to stretch the legs and give the eyes a break. I have little tolerance for that level of road-rule dedication, so I’m willing to “hold it” until it becomes an emergency and we have to frantically search for an upcoming exit with bathrooms and possibly a place where I can refill my Yeti with tea so as to maintain the frenzied level of drink to pee ratio. Our travel day becomes a merry-go-round of stopping and going.
Finding food on the road is always a challenge for a vegetarian. The first day out, a nice lunch can be packed into the cooler and shoved next to the passenger’s feet in the front seat because the car is so full of the things needed for the ultimate goal–the week-long rental in the prized destination. Subsequent driving days are more of a crap shoot. On our Maine trip we managed to find a Mexican restaurant along Route 81 in Virginia but had to settle for a McDonald’s somewhere in Massachusetts two days later. I may have whined a bit as we sat in the car chewing on what was supposed to have been a reluctantly-chosen fish sandwich, but was actually two pieces of dry bread with more dried bread in between. I had to drink extra water, which of course meant extra stops down the road.
We made up for that subpar meal by dining at our favorite restaurant in Portland, Maine twice—coming and going. Next day, once happily ensconced in our little home-away-from-home in my ancestral village by the sea, we ate like royalty with our choice of excellent restaurants and a handy grocery store for cooking up a meal or two on our own. Being there is grand. Getting there is actual hell on wheels.
Driving toward home, after our idyllic stay on the coast, we traveled the infamous I-95 heading south. We strategically left the state of Maine late on a Saturday afternoon. We figured everyone on the east coast was either going north or had already arrived, and were nicely settled into their rental units. The Massachusetts turnpike is a notorious bog for cars, trucks, motorcycles (if one is brave enough) and boats on trailers. One could get considerably older by both the jam-up of vehicles and the bad driving of one’s co-motorists. Though we suffered through the slow-downs and weaving 18-wheelers, our trip down the pike would most likely be labeled as bearable by those who drove home to New Jersey on Sunday afternoon.
On Monday, we left our friends’ house in New Jersey, destination Lexington, Virginia. We opted for the gauntlet of Washington, DC and the Baltimore area over going west through Philadelphia. Truthfully, I had to risk becoming car sick by closing my eyes while moving along this stretch of highways, exits and more highways because the tension in my body was enough to launch stroke-like activity in my brain. The speed and sheer number of cars (not even at rush hour) was terrifying. I imagined there are numerous 10-vehicle pile-ups daily along this complex collection of roads. After arriving in Virginia, I finally let go of all the tightness in my muscles. Whereas going north up 81 was a continuous nightmare, going back down south seemed more like a child yelling boo at regular intervals. On the last day of driving, we stopped for some torrential rain about an hour out from home. By then we were in the mountains in Tennessee and enjoyed this tiny interlude in our driving. Home never looked so inviting.
Those who traveled in planes this year had horror stories of their own. High air-fares, cancelled flights, forced overnight stays, lost luggage, really having to pee during the approach to landing. Then there was the risk of COVID–crushed into small spaces with lots of people. Some folks took cruises. This year, to my knowledge, no one was forced to stay aboard a ship, far from home in unwelcoming countries. Needless to say, I don’t do boats.
All summed up, we spent seven days on the road working in visits with people we had not seen in quite a while along the way. This alone was worth the hassle and inconvenience. Lucky for us, some of our hosts plan on visiting us here in Asheville next year. I won’t say this is a quid pro quo situation because I am not forcing the issue, but the idea that they owe us a trip south does want to scurry around in the back of my head what with all the pee breaks, listening to the same five CDs for a week, eating twice at Chipotle, sharp intaking of breath when semi-trucks swerved into our lane and sitting strangled by traffic caused by a few toll booths that need to upgrade to the 21st century still fresh in my memory. I plan to stay put for a while. Of course, meeting up with friends and relatives anywhere two hours away from here is entirely doable. We’ll bring lunch!
Settling into the mountain casita,