By Kasie Whitener
The return journey was 548 miles, nine hours, all interstate, and took the better part of a Monday with no other plans. Coming off a U2 concert in Philadelphia, Father’s Day spent with Dad and my sister, the distance was worth it.
Rain splattered the windshield and the radio sang U2 songs from the Greatest Hits album. The Jeep barreled along, 70- to 80-miles-per-hour, chewing up the distance and carrying us home. The Shenandoah mountains rolled around us like vibrant green waves undulating on a fresh, damp sea. Meadows laced with wire fences and dotted with rolled hay arched into the sunlight, pulling away from tree pocket borders of dark summer shade.
“I want to run,” sang the radio, “I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I want to reach out and touch the flame. Where the streets have no name.”
When I talk about how many miles I put on the Jeep, how long I spend behind the wheel on road trips, people marvel. For some, road travel is something to be dreaded: a necessary evil in the vacation plans, an alternative to pricey flights.
For me, road trips are freedom.
When life is muddied with details and obligations, a good road trip sets me free.
I love the churn of the miles, green paddles lining the road ticking of the distance, pushing mental math through me as I calculate time and speed.
I love the interplay of trucks and minivans and cruise control and passing lanes.
I love the sleepy exit towns with mom-and-pop lunch buffets and 1980s-era gas pumps.
I’ve been driving that route – I-77 through Charlotte to I-81 through Roanoke and Lexington and Harrisonburg to I-66 through Manassas – for more than 20 years. It’s aged with me. I know its turns and speed traps like it knows my moods and frustrations. When the truck traffic gets heavy south of Staunton, it breaks into a third lane to ease the pressure.
Road trips break open the nostalgia in me, let it bleed over the today-ness and tomorrow-plans that consume me. I remember family trips and Dad blaming his farts on passing trucks. I remember college trips and the ‘Songs to Bellow To’ mixed tape.
The road between where I am now and where I used to be is stacked with when-I-stopped-there stories and almost every mile of the journey from South Carolina to Northern Virginia has some perfect detail I should write down someday.
I get more from the road than I give it. The road answers questions for me.
What does the character want? To be valued.
What is the story missing? Raise the stakes.
Like a writing coach, the road talks me through the work I left on the laptop on the desk in the house far away. The road stretches out, teasing the details from the work, offering perspective, offering freedom, offering inspiration, until I return and create.