Airplanes have ruined the road trip.
I love efficiency and the ability to get to far off places in less time, of course, but there is something poetic about asphalt. Even if it is Nevada desert asphalt.
We’re on our way to West Yellowstone, Montana, from California. There are four of us, each in our own little worlds within the real one. Kurt and I are eating sunflower seeds and looking ahead. Steph and Kelsey are in the back doing the same. The hills are far enough away and just big enough to not move quickly.
Back in the time of wagons this took a long time, but since there was no other method for comparison, it was just the way. No big deal. Even before that, indigenous people moved with food — they didn’t get some friends together to go camp near the Madison River and catch trout to look at them and then put them back.
You miss thinking about that if you fly, and no one brags about that part of the trip. Much of the trip is like that.
Thailand sounds cool, but have you had the trucker blend coffee in Winnemucca?
Oh, the food in Italy is incredible? Well I ate at a Sizzler near the border of New Mexico and Arizona … then visited the next available rest stop that happened to be 23 minutes later thanks to digestive distress, but that’s not the point.
When you fly you don’t have the chance to stop in and see the two-time defending Casino of the Year that’s next to a truck stop right outside of Pocatello, Idaho.
You miss out on brilliant placement of bathrooms in truck-stop casinos. The men’s rooms are in the back so you have to walk by all the shiny machines and bright lights telling you just one spill will win you a new fly rod.
You miss out on dance party radio in southeast Montana where a DJ can go from 2 Chainz to Garth Brooks … and it works. You miss the melancholy of losing that station and the silence of the vehicle. You’re forced to talk. With humans. Conversations become breaks, though you’re still moving, and you wonder how you’ve sat still for four hours without getting bored. You’ve been bored, but you’ve self-soothed without distracting everyone around you with a fidget device. Maybe you’re not bored, you’ve just accessed the part of you that doesn’t need flash all the time. You’ve downshifted to first gear. You’re awake, not much else, and that feels really, really good.
There used to be a time you were enamored with the sheer existence of being alive and things like trees and mountains. Put yourself in a truck for 14 hours, and you get to a point when you can stare at erosion and be mystified. You look at a hill that’s cut into a bluff and wonder, “How did that happen?”
There are other areas you wonder if you’re seeing it as it was seen 200 years ago. All the rivers and creeks have likely been severely manipulated, but the hills, the rocks — you’re looking into the past but seeing it in contemporary color.
You’re in a bit of traffic crossing over a mountain pass and think, “traffic sucks.” No, doing this with wagons, that would suck.
Maybe I’ve just lived on an island in Southeast Alaska too long, but seriously, airplanes have made the world much smaller and the stuff in between is being forgotten. Yes, the land between Reno and Winnemucca is pretty forgettable. I mean, you can get a house for under $50,000 and large swaths of land go for the price of a new truck, but it still exists. It occupies the area between where you were, and where you are.
• Jeff Lunds writes and teaches in Ketchikan.