I love being a passenger on a road trip...

I’ve done and seen many wonderful things and been to lots of new places during my road trip and I want to share them. But I was thinking that since the vast majority of my time was spent in the car and engaged in the act of driving, I should start there.

I’ve actually learned a lot about driving in just the past few weeks. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am NOT a driver. If I can get someone else to take the wheel, for a 15-minute drive to the movies or a multi-hour trip, I’m all for it. My desire to never get into a car is one of the main reasons why I moved downtown, so I could walk everywhere. Some of my friends (and one of my sisters) love to drive. It’s always been inexplicable to me.

I’m not saying I’m now a convert. Sadly, when thinking about this trip, I didn’t REALLY take into consideration the sheer number of hours I would be driving. But Marion and I have put 10,000 kilometres behind us in the past three weeks. Yes, I said Marion. Not sure if it’s a throwback to Mrs. Cunningham from Happy Days but ever since my very first brown Mercury Zephyr (donated to me by my mother, and fixed by my wonderful friend Ian after an unfortunate ice storm-induced Zephyr-meets-light pole incident), my cars have always been Marion. The name is solid and dependable, what you want a vehicle to be. Yep, I like Marion.

But I digress…

Ten thousand kilometres is almost more than I’ve put on her since I bought her in 2009, so it was a test for both of us. And I have to say, we both performed admirably.

My car in front of a Redwood
Marion just as we began our Mattole Road adventure

Most of it was pretty boring: steady highway miles, endless traffic in Vancouver rush hour, construction congestion along the California coast. (First thing I learned? The importance of an awesome road trip soundtrack! Thanks Travis and Kate for your suggestions.)

But then I came upon the switchbacks that reminded me of roads in Bosnia.

That’s where this trip changed for me… There’s driving and then there’s driving. It’s probably not socially acceptable to compare California to Bosnia and I wouldn’t dream of it, except for Mattole Road, a narrow road which meanders through the Redwood State Forest over the pass to the Pacific. Parts of it were cracked and uneven, some edges looked like they just melted away and dripped down the side of the hill. In other places, there were potholes big enough to put the freeze and thaw heaving of a Canadian spring road to shame.

But it was this combination with the switchbacks that was the most interesting driving. The technical aspect – clutch in, shifting gears, acceleration/deceleration, avoidance of hazards – and the constant attention needed was something I have never experienced before. I felt like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief, careening down the side of a French mountain to escape the police or in (pick your choice of) James Bond car chase scenes. An obvious exaggeration but it was really quite exhilarating!

At the top, I stopped to take a picture of the valley behind (pictured above) and as an older gentleman got out of his car, I beamed, “That was some ride, wasn’t it?” but he clearly misunderstood my enthusiasm when he grumped, “It was terrible, let’s hope the rest of the drive will be better…” Harumph.

I also learned that I can do epic treks in the car if I have or want to… My longest and most exhausting day was the 12-hours it took to get from northern California to my friends’ place in Palm Springs (air conditioning is your best friend. I also learned the importance of pre-trip servicing.). If I hadn’t been so anxious to just be there already, I could have taken another day, but I really felt the need to see them. Sometimes, even though you’re having a marvelous time with new friends, you just need the familiar around you. My headache quickly went away when I was met at the door with a wonderful hug and a gin and soda.

And also for the first time in a very long time, I literally slept in my car. It’s not something I needed to re-learn, but it was actually really comfortable. Even sharing it with a mountain bike, a cooler and an exploding suitcase (what is it about car camping that invites packing anarchy?). However, I’m not 20 anymore and I will avoid it unless I’m desperate.

I’m now only a few hours from home and I’ll be happy to get there. I probably won’t get into my car for a while but at least I know if I can or have to, it won’t be the end of the world. Marion deserves a good rest and a shampoo and wax for being such an awesome companion.

And, ahem, speaking of social acceptability, I should probably do the same!

And the last thing I learned was that daytime running lights are NOT regulated or common in the U.S. and they don’t turn on their headlights until almost completely dark. So I’ve had a couple of near-misses with vehicles I couldn’t see! Be careful out there and shoulder check…

New experiences lead to re-thinking old ones

Valley view from mountain

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