Is the news stressing you? Gray skies got you down? Maybe depressed because your team bowed out of March Madness early and your arch-rival is still dancing? I’ve got the perfect solution.
Gas up the car, pack a couple weeks’ worth of clean underwear, charge your phone, grab a cooler. It’s time for a road trip. Don’t worry about a plan – just check the weather and let the highway spill out in front of you, away from the storms. Stop planning dinner around the news and wondering if you need to buy one more bag of ice melt for the driveway. This is better than any drug or light therapy box.
Kathy and I recently took a long, slow drive from Michigan to Arizona. We are not the first to make this drive nor will we be the last. We have made it three times and have not taken the same route coming or on the return. Perhaps that’s why we still enjoy it.
But this I know – everyone should take a road trip that covers multiple states and time zones over multiple days. By the time we arrived, I discovered I hadn’t felt this stress-free since November 8, 2016. And it’s not just national and international news that wears me down, but the last few months have not been an easy time to be a Michigan State University fan as well.
On our way, we battled snow storms, rush hour traffic in major urban areas, and the discovery that one of our hotels was surrounded by several $39 a night local options. Typically, any of those would have been a bit unsettling, but we forged on without awareness of any news, and the world continued on.
Okay, there was one anxiety-producing moment for me as it unfolded over dinner one night…
Me: Kathy, I didn’t want to tell you this because I didn’t want you to get anxious and upset.
Me: I think we have a prisoner in our hotel, and I couldn’t keep it to myself any more.
Kathy: Why do you think that?
Me: When I looked out the window of our room onto the small parking lot behind the hotel, I saw an SUV with tinted windows that said “prisoner transport system”.
Kathy: I think there’s probably a good explanation.
Me: I’ve looked all over the room. I can’t find a single place they could shackle a prisoner to.
Kathy: I don’t think they’d stay at a Hampton Inn.
Me: Hmmm. Could be a white-collar criminal.
Kathy: Pam…think about it.
Me: You’re probably right. I can’t figure out how they’d share a room.
Kathy refers to this as “the unraveling of Pam” incident. As it turned out, the SUV was for a company that makes equipment for law enforcement vehicles. The good news was that Kathy didn’t have to help move the desk and prop it up against the door.
This what I know about road trips.
- Don’t set real lofty goals. Our search for warmth took us to Oklahoma City before we could shed our coats, and then, that was temporary.
- It helps if you can act a little silly along the way. We made goofy videos and posted to Facebook.
- Satellite radio is a godsend until one of the travelers imposes this rule: “The next one who changes the station has to find one we haven’t listened to yet.” It’s still stuck on the Spa station. We had already listened to Henry Mancini’s greatest hits.
- You can’t help but become more of an environmentalist. If you don’t have an appreciation for the vast geographic riches in our country and our responsibility to manage them wisely, there’s something wrong with you.
- Your reservoir of empathy and compassion gets tapped and refilled as you witness lives far different than you’ll ever experience. We toured the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque on the same day as a group of students from the Indian School in a small northern New Mexico town. The next day, we left the interstate to drive through their poverty-stricken village. I couldn’t even imagine…
- There’s nothing better than eating at local restaurants. A good navigator can find these with a little help from Trip Advisor.
- The trip is far more interesting if you focus on local sights as well as the destination.
The first sweet morsel was Bartlesville, Oklahoma and by all means, visit this small town the next time you’re driving to Oklahoma City. The original headquarters of Phillips and Conoco who have kept facilities for 4000 employees there, it still has an old money feel to it – in the homes, the developed downtown and the thriving arts community.
From there, we took the thirty-minute drive to Pawhuska, OK and if you’re a Food Network fan, you probably know who the Pioneer Woman is. I wanted to visit “the Merc” (short for Mercantile, a store/ restaurant she has created there) as she calls it on her show and what a surprise when we were given tickets to visit the lodge which is where she tapes the show. As we drove the eight-mile rutted, gravel road, we laughed imagining the first time the production crew came to shoot the popular Saturday morning program.
Next, we left the interstate in Gallup, New Mexico when we set out to find the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona. I’ve wanted to visit this for some time so I was really excited. One room in the post has canned food items and basic kitchen staples like flour, in addition to candy, ice cream and postcards to keep the tourists happy. Another room has rugs and jewelry and other works of art made by the local Navajos for sale to tourists, and the post has been operating like this since 1878. Imagine our good fortune when a Navajo woman brought in small weavings to trade. Frankly, I felt like I had been transported back in time.
An hour or so later, we began our drive through the Painted Desert within the Petrified Forest. The scenes in the desert were striking; the scenes in the forest were as boring as anything on the trip, but I knew the drive would be over in forty minutes, and I could endure that.
That took us to Show Low/ Pinetop (elevation of 6800+ feet) and then on to Payson, a couple of off-the-beaten-path areas of Arizona. Beautiful, breath-taking mountains between Payson and Phoenix.
Seriously, consider a road trip. The good news: It’s cheaper and less personally invasive than therapy, especially when you’re not in a hurry. The bad news: It’s highly addictive, for all the right reasons.
As they say in the southwest… “Happy Trails.”