It is 52 degrees outside. That means the dead of winter is upon us once again. It is a dreadful period, and I find myself slipping into a dull state of monotony, looking for an escape from this grisly reality. Normally, I wouldn’t be in such dire straits, but normally we wouldn’t be experiencing springtime in February, either. Instead, we’d be basking in the wonder of winter and the sub-freezing temps that go along with it.
I happen to thrive in winter—a proper winter. I much prefer going out into -5 degrees to the sweltering heat of 95 degrees. I’ve always said “You can always add more layers to stay warm, but you can only take off so much before you’re arrested.” (Sadly, I am always the only one listening to this endless wisdom and, frankly, find myself quite boring.) You can imagine my dismay when faced with the timid, meek attitude displayed by this current winter–the seasonal equivalent of a Corolla driver. So I find myself plotting an escape from this existence.
I tend to prefer fantasizing the old fashioned way. None of this new electronic animated and easy scrolling stuff for me, thank you. I like the old fashioned ink on paper media to escape my reality. I go to the old standard: road atlas*. So, several times during every January and February I will dedicate a portion of the kitchen table, fix a beverage of my choice, grab a pencil, and open up my North American Atlas** to slip into a slow stupor of potential road trips.
I often start off just inside the front cover at the full map of the United States. I find myself giving into temptation as I ogle the curves and dimples of the coastlines. I yearn for the openness of the Dakotas and black earth of Central Illinois. While my eyes are always drawn to the sinfully slithery serpent of the Pacific Coast Highway or the never-ending vistas offered by Route 550 through Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, I am eventually forced to face the reality of my eastern locale and return my gaze to my Mid-Atlantic starting point. (Revisiting the Sawtooths of Idaho will have to wait for either another time or a dramatic relocation.)
I think about my event commitments in the coming months and point them out on the map, as if waiting for a crowd of onlookers to nod in approval. (Even Mika, my faithful Norwegian Elkhound cannot be bothered. She is too busy barking at the Unseen Evil contained in the darkness outside.) From the eventual destination, I look back to my starting point in central Pennsylvania and see what catches my eye on the way. I look for twisting roads, small towns, and interesting terrain. There is always that hope of finding that hidden gem: a waterfall along the road, a special series of curves that feel just right, or that vista that captures you from an unexpected overlook. I have experienced cresting a hill in western New York to see a line of majestic wind turbines attempting to harness nature. Or leaning the bike into a corner in mid-June to find a snow bank leftover from a Pocono winter still surviving in the shadows. These little revelations are worth the wait in traffic and are often the moments that make the journey so enjoyable. You simply cannot plan them, and sometimes they are also unavoidable. The element of surprise is not to be underestimated.
Other elements can be planned out. Museums—oft overlooked—dot the maps with red letters of promise: knowledge and history that is yet to be discovered. Exhibits are preserved for someone just like me to take them in. Guides with a wealth of knowledge and a desire to share it wait patiently. Some of these institutions are even worthy of making a trip just to take them in. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI; Wheels Through Time in Maggie Valley, NC; and Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Leeds, AL are each beckoning to me. (Some with all the subtlety of Foghorn Leghorn in a library.)
There is also the prospect of eating that peppers these potential trips with fresh opportunities to discover new cuisines and eateries. I enjoy stumbling upon a cafe in a small Kansas town. As my brother has pointed out, “You can always judge the worthiness of a restaurant by the number of pickup trucks occupying the parking lot.” (I have also seen this correlation present itself as an indication of the quality of chicken-fried steak in said establishment.) Other times, it is equally rewarding to research possible restaurants and keep an ace up your sleeve. To arrive at a place and share a truly memorable meal with someone you care about can turn a good trip into a great one. The sights and smells and conversations shared within these places are etched into our minds forever. Years will go by before that one whiff of the same coffee blend or aged cheese will take us right back to that place.
Some of these trips will be taken on two wheels and others on four. Moments will be shared with the BMW, some with Nellie, and some with Babe, my Aprilia. Long conversations over longer roads overlooking breathtaking scenery, these memories we will forever hold dear are what seem to make our lives meaningful. The road between them only serves to bind them—and us–together.
*I DO mean old. My newest edition is from 1998. While I always support using the most current and up-to-date information available, I have to admit that the world hasn’t changed that much in the last 15 years. An old atlas will do just fine for purposes of escapism.
**Rand McNally seems to be the sole standard by which all other atlases are judged. It is an excellent atlas, but National Geographic and Michelin also employ some fine cartographers and should not be dismissed. (Although the Michelin regionally-based format takes some getting used to at first, I quite like it now.)