There is something about being on the open road with little idea of where you’ll sleep next, no notion of what will make you stop the car and get out, no polite interactions with a companion as to what comes next–just making snap decisions on how your day will progress. In 2001, I loaded my car with a few camping supplies, a selection of western and midwestern maps, a suitcase, and an early model of a laptop computer. I had a few places in mind at which I wanted to stop, but I had little in the way of a schedule.
One of my first stops was Oklahoma City. The National Memorial there for the victims of the 1995 bombing had recently opened, and I felt a strong need to experience it. Seeing the glass-based chairs, each inscribed with the name of a victim, is a sobering encounter, and the pictures of it at night have an even greater profound effect. Many people were wandering through the memorial, but it was unnaturally quiet. Visiting this memorial was truly a moving experience.
There were two kinds of spontaneous stops that I tended to make. As much as I love to travel with my husband, I think that I work hard at asking only for stops that I believe would be pleasing to him as well as me. When you travel alone, you can give in to the whims that strike you – it’s a liberating experience. The two kinds of impulsive stops I made, one of which sort of surprised me, were for artisans and tourist traps. I’m not sure what that says about my character. I don’t want to think about it. I loved seeing the work of local artists, and while I didn’t have much room in my car, I did make a few purchases of jewelry and ceramics. I still enjoy a large ceramic fish hung in a wrought iron metal frame/stand. I usually try to be all grown up and show proper disdain for obvious tourist traps, but the lure is there, and I succumbed on occasion. I spent some time at a buffalo ranch where horse-drawn wagons ferried camera-wielding tourists out into the “wild” to drive among the buffalo for photo ops. I wish I were a better photographer because the one picture I could find of this life-changing adventure was of some teeny tiny little buffalo far in the background of lots of open country. Apparently, I didn’t wait for the optimum moment.
The one plan I did have in mind was to travel up California State Route 1, which is also known as Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway. It is famous because it runs along the scenic coast and has spectacular views. I am so glad I did this because parts of it are now closed due to landslides and erosion. This was a truly magnificent drive. At the time, I had one of my first cars with a sunroof, and I drove with the windows down and the top open from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I’d like to say I drove with wild abandon, but the road is not a straight shot (very curvy), and there were a lot of steep drops. Still, it was an amazing drive, and I would love to do it again.
One thing that I wanted to bring home from my trip was a collection of photographs that I could use as inspiration for my artwork. I am the ultimate amateur when it comes to painting, and I am not good enough to indulge in plein art (painting outdoors from sights, not pictures); I need a photo to study. Because I decided to take less-traveled highways after I left California, I passed through many forsaken towns in Nevada and Utah with interesting abandoned buildings. I took many pictures of these fascinating buildings with their fading signage, peeling paint, and rusting hardware. I found inspiration in some of these pictures when I came home, creating more reminders of an excellent adventure
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. So, now I’m fully retired, have a nice low-mileage car to jump into, and have the yen to travel, but my husband is also retired. So now I love the adventures we jump into together. We are comfortable in our retirement, so we can travel overseas or cross country to visit our children and places we’ve read about in books. It’s just another chapter in our lives, and I’m loving it just as much as my spontaneous adventures of the past. There’s room for both in my life.
Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.