The long road home

I’m heading out of town today to visit my family in the next state over. It’s about 475 miles between my parents’ house and mine, which is the one and only thing I do not love about where I live.

Most of the road is two-lane state highway through country just like you see in the picture above. Traffic is generally light to non-existent, as are people, towns and amenities.

Since I moved away in 2002, I figure I’ve made the trip back more than 40 times, at least four trips a year. In the first few years, the trip scared me because there were mountain passes to cross and I worried about the possibility of bad weather and being all alone out there in the back of beyond, where the deer and the antelope (and the badgers and the coyotes and the raccoons and I don’t know what all else) play on and around the highway. But after so many years, I know that road and I suspect it knows me at least a little bit as well. We have an agreement not to give each other any trouble, so the animals stay on its shoulders until I have passed.

One cannot be too attentive or too wide awake for this crossing, so I’ve mastered the alchemy of all-day alertness with a carefully calibrated intake of caffeine, sugar, protein and carbs, as well as strong peppermint gum (Altoids brand was best, but it’s been discontinued), water and fresh air. One thing I don’t travel with is music or other audio stimulus, though, which confounds many people I know. More than eight solid hours alone in silence? Nobody I know could or would do that. People have offered to buy me an iPod adapter or Sirius satellite radio service just for these trips. What they don’t realize is that when you pay attention to the journey, it’s actually quite engrossing.

The landscape changes dramatically as I head west, from urban freeway to agricultural fields to canyon lands along a river to the sagebrush range, then over the mountains and through the forests to another urban freeway in an agricultural valley. The weather is always changing. The sky is enormous and the cloud formations are fantastic. Interesting things sometimes happen, like the time I had to stop for several minutes while a large herd of cows and very young calves was moved from one pasture to another over the road by a motley band of non-professional cowpokes and a pack of darting cattle dogs. The cowhands, all on horseback, were male and female and ranged in age from about 5 to 75; maybe they were all from one family. It was a joyous procession that was fun to sit and watch.

But should I start to nod in spite of the passing show, Rudy, being the service dog at heart that he is, helps keep me awake by barking fiercely and frantically at every passing semi truck, RV, school bus, dump truck (anything over height or pulled by a diesel engine, basically) and motorcycle (he has a special animosity for them; I don’t know why). He can appear to be sound asleep and there will be nobody else on the road except us for as far as I can see ahead and behind, but he will spring to life just as that one semi in the past 30 miles rolls by. It’s uncanny. And it annoys the heck out of me, but it’s really his one fault so I’ve learned to live with it.

Except for the barking, Rudy is a great traveler and Reggie is even better (meaning: she does not bark at anything). They are both well-behaved in the car and patient with the long stretches between rest stops. A road trip is our favorite thing.

At the end of the road is that big old house that I am always happy to see and my parents, waiting for me with warm hearts, open arms and seemingly limitless hospitality. Just as her mother always did, my mother greets travelers fresh from the road with “Are you hungry? Can I fix you something to eat?” Dad always asks “How was the trip?” and helps me carry in my 16 pieces of luggage (I know how to pack light but since I don’t have to, I don’t  bother–I bring everything). I love coming home to them and being cared for as only parents can.

At the end of our visit, after the hugs and thank yous and I love yous and have a good trips and see you soons and goodbyes and sometimes a few tears on both sides, I turn around and head home again–to my own little house, which I am also always happy to see.

Home for me is at both ends of that long road. I just wish the ends were closer together.

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