Driving lesson

Learning to love road trips after retirement

This winter, with the pandemic on the wane, we decided to drive south to California.

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When I was planning my retirement a few years ago, one of the things my husband was most excited about was having more time for road trips. I smiled when he said that, arranging my face into the same supportive sneer that greets his suggestion to add black beans to almost every meal.

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“I love that idea,” was my response before changing the subject.

I am 62 years old and have managed to avoid long car journeys for the most part. When the boys were little and the three of us had to drive just seven hours to British Columbia to vacation with my parents at the family timeshare, I was known to stop and spend the night at half way.

“My car is too small and yours smells like dog,” was my response if a friend suggested a road trip. It seemed like the future was always the best place for a long drive.

This winter, however, the excuses have failed. With the pandemic waning and nothing but free time, we decided to drive south to California. We went from Edmonton to Calgary without incident, and I proudly covered exactly half the distance for an impressive total of 90 minutes. Thereafter, the road trip roadblocks quickly turned into a pileup.

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Driving on the highway is my biggest problem with road trips. For one thing, it’s often windy across the Prairies, with real tumbleweeds crossing the road in southern Alberta. (Can a farm be far behind?) Second, there are transport trucks. (I remember next to nothing from high school physics except the terrifying Bernoulli principle. Look at it.)

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My husband is a soldier in these difficult circumstances, offering to go all the way. But if there’s anything less enjoyable for me than driving, it’s sailing.

“Pinch, pinch,” my husband says as I frantically push the map function on the phone screen.

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“Where is the south?” is my inevitable response.

Also, the food is bad on car trips. Snacks that seemed like a good idea when packing the cooler, like bananas, give off noxious fumes quickly. Even good snacks, like chips, break down over time.

Given that I’ve set the stage for a few excruciating days between home and the San Francisco Bay Area, you might suggest planes are tailor-made for people like me.

But here’s the thing. While the drive south was nerve-wracking, by the time we returned north a few months later, there had been a change. My knuckles were a little less white during my shift. I was able to listen to a podcast or stick my hand in a bag of peanut butter cups without worrying about being distracted by my focus on the road.

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It’s hard to say what precipitated the change. Maybe it was just surviving the first half of the trip. Or maybe it was because we were on our way home, each mile on the clock bringing me closer to the comfort of my own bed.

But actually, I think it was Kanab Creek Bakery, a French bakery and cafe located in southern Utah. Like many good things in life, the coffee was unexpected – a buttery slice of Paris nestled amid red rock that heralded our soon-to-be arrival in beautiful Zion Canyon.

Parking lot close to Springdale, we took the tram up the canyon on a warm spring day. There must have been school holidays, as children dotted the hiking trails – straddling their fathers’ shoulders, hand in hand with their grandparents. It reminded me of hiking along mountain trails in the Kootenays with my kids and parents all those years ago. The sky was brilliant blue and cloudless, meeting the sheer rock face that rose from the bottom of the canyon in a breathtaking moment of Mother Nature.

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After that, the hours in the car passed peacefully punctuated by a final stop at Trader Joe’s in Salt Lake City – did I mention my fondness for peanut butter pots? – and one last night in Butte, Montana. There, in the hotel breakfast room, we met a lovely family with three children five and under and a fourth on the way. The three-year-old regaled us with stories, including the time her parents accidentally ran her over with a golf cart (no harm done and a good anecdote for strangers in hotel lobbies .)

Crossing the border into Canada at Carway, I found myself a little sad that the road trip was almost over.

As I took my last turn of the wheel, the wind on the highway was barely noticeable. Even the transport trucks seemed smaller.

The road trip was growing on me.

— Liane Faulder writes on national postit is Life in the 60s column.

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