Freedom Ride

Or, an ode to the Road Trip

When you mention "road trip" to a lot of folks, it usually leads to a delighted exclamation along the lines of "I love road trips!"

 Paul Bunyan & Blue at the Trees of Mystery

Paul Bunyan & Blue at the Trees of Mystery

What's not lo love about road trips? For me, one of the greatest pleasures of road trippin' is the opportunity for serendipity: you can stop any time, for any reason, and decide to take a side path, or cosy up to some killer crumb-cake in a new-to-you local cafe just a little off the interstate.

 Anderson Valley Store

Anderson Valley Store

In 2006, the company my husband Steve worked for imploded and right before Christmas he was unexpectedly unemployed. Since I was self-employed, and had no immediate need to stick around, we looked at each other and decided that our annual holiday trip to my Mom's in California would not be by air, but by road.

 Prairie Creek Redwoods

Prairie Creek Redwoods

Since moving to the Northwest in 1981, I have made the trip down I-5 and 101 many dozens of times. But this would be my first trip with Steve, and he had never seen the Redwoods, so unquestioningly we'd take the 101 route: I-5 to Grant's Pass (or, Grass Pants as our friend Simone calls it), over the coast range to Crescent City and thus south. Other years we've gone as far as Eugene and then turned right for the Oregon Coast. There's a lot of variations to try.

 Oregon Dunes

Oregon Dunes

I don't remember at what point the trip was christened Freedom Ride—I have not doubt it was Steve's coinage—but the name stuck, and except for 2011 we've done Freedom Ride every year.

 Mt. Shasta

Mt. Shasta

I know, it's not a realistic choice for most people to take off two and a half weeks at Christmastime and make the family visit via road—there's work, and school, or the family lives too far away to conveniently drive. At some point we may not be able to do this anymore, but for now it's how we spend the turning of the year from darkness to light. We'll do it as long as we can, because it's cherished time together.

There's something comforting about stopping by the same cafe every year, taking the same hike every year. As a creature of habit I enjoy the things that stay the same as much as I do finding new places. Every time I take the trip from Washington to California and back I feel more connected to this bioregion: this band of mountains and rivers and beaches, this land of redwoods and chaparral, dunes and estuaries, oaks and farms, little towns and the jewel of the Pacific Coast, The City that needs no other name.

Air travel is undoubtedly convenient, but unless you're rich is almost always a soul-crushing pain in the ass. You're captive from the beginning of the process to the end: your itinerary is fixed, you're stuck in whatever hellhole delays and cancellations put you into, you're crammed into a tin tube breathing everyone's holiday germs. Can you tell I dislike flying? It's often the only way to get where you need to in a timely manner, but the road is always our first choice.

We tend to keep a pretty leisurely pace on Freedom Ride: no marathon driving sessions for us. We stop a lot and always take a few days where we hang out someplace nice and go for hikes & explore. We're partial to funky cafés with amazing coffee, strip-mall Thai or Mexican food, and older motels. One of the highlights is the few days we spend with our good friends in San Francisco: we walk, and feast, and take in the sights. So simple, so priceless.

 Because Coffee, Eureka

Because Coffee, Eureka

And, when it's time, we get to come home to Lopez. The best part of coming home is seeing everything a little bit fresh, but still the same. It's a habit of mind to see the same things every day, every season, and yet recognize the tiny things that shift and move, grow and pass away. Everything is always changing, nothing is permanent. So we pass through the same towns year after year, feeling a little more at home on this long road.