Last week I embarked on a road trip to Squam Lake, New Hampshire, for the Squam Art Workshop. My good friend Arabella suggested we meet up for their Fiber Arts week, and I jumped at the chance for a little creative time. As it turned out, the workshop was the week of Memorial Day, so I took advantage of the long weekend to drive myself there, instead of (shudder) flying to Manchester.
Now, I know how to take a road trip. As a young woman, I drove up and down the country at least 4 times a year, from Florida to New York, home to college. I had a little red Toyota Corolla that I called my Fire Engine – it was covered in hazard stickers I picked up at truck stops – the kind that say “Flammable” and “Combustible” in a big red diamond. I zoomed up I-95 to Washington DC, then headed up progressively smaller roads as I zeroed in on western New York. Along the way I crashed on the couches of friends, gearing my trip around their dorm rooms and apartments. I had ports of call in Gainesville, Florida, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Washington, DC. Depending on the trip, and the passengers, we could take side trips to Tennessee, Connecticut, and Michigan. Back then, a little side trip of 300 miles seemed easy, and was another chance to see a new part of the country.
But to be perfectly honest, I really loved being behind the wheel. I loved the chance to zone out – to get into my theta rhythm, where I could process all the things that happened over my whirlwind winter break, or play with new ways to work with materials, like twine and copper, bread dough and steel – things I would test when I returned to my sculpture classes. I loved the feeling of control, something that was still new to me as a young college student. Knowing I could go anywhere if I wanted to and had enough gas, I drove between home and school with a sense of self-determination I had not known before.
Nowadays, I drive about 10 minutes a day, and try to not drive at all on the weekends. I do all I can to plan longer trips with rush hour in mind, trying to minimize my time in the car. I drive a little Scion xB – the original model, not the new pumped-up version – that is more recognized for its ability to park in a tight spot than to handle long distance driving. I love that little car, but am more likely to load it with groceries than suitcases.
That said, last week I filled that little boxy car with a mish-mash of yarn, needles, fabric, roving, spindles, clothing, and copies of my book to sell at the Squam Art Fair. I felt a rush of fear and excitement as I drove onto the highway. For the first time in a long time, I would head north when I saw the signs for New York, and not continue around the beltway to IKEA. That night I would be staying with a dear friend from high school, Moira, just outside New York City. I drove side by side with tractor trailers and family vans, at first slightly startled by the speed, but quickly adapting to the pace. By the time I was on the Jersey Turnpike I felt one with the road. My mind flashed and sparked, playing with concepts I had been struggling with for weeks, solving puzzles in my knitting, suggesting new ideas for my next story. It was as if the last 16 years hadn’t happened. I felt like I was 21 again, unfettered, creative, and ready for anything.
I looked forward to my time with Moira, and to seeing my friends Julia and Tom, and their little girl Violet, a few days later. But I also anticipated the roads ahead, the winding Sprain Brook Parkway, the fast-yet-scenic I-91 through western Massachusetts and Vermont, and the lush green scenery that would blur past in my peripheral vision.
I managed to make it through three days of my road trip before I started to feel it.
Somewhere past White River Junction, Vermont, as I turned onto a tiny two lane road, I began to think “How soon will this be over?” My left knee was sore from the clutch, my spine was sending spasms up to my neck. And a big Lincoln SUV was going just a little too slow in front of me. The passing lanes were too short, and the SUV was just too fast to be able to pass. I had to get gas, I had to pee. I stopped at a little gas station, filled up, and was dismayed to find there was only a port-a-potty. I decided to chance fate and move on (I do not recommend this). The need to reach my destination became a little more urgent. And I no longer had those flashes of inspiration. Perspiration, more like it. The sun seemed awfully hot for a New England June. And the last 40 miles of my trip continued, in a slightly slow, sweaty, pressured way, until I reached my destination – Squam Lake.
Once there, I forgot about all my pains, though I did find a restroom quickly. I reunited with Arabella, who had arrived just a little before me. We checked in, and began to explore our surroundings. The pine trees sheltered me from the sun, the soft needles cushioned my aching joints as I walked. We wandered down to the lake – a crystal clear pool of tranquility – where I sat on the dock with my legs in the water, rejuvenating my flattened feet and throbbing muscles. While exhausted and sore from my trip, I had made it. I was still a road warrior.
Getting older, I find there are many things I can’t, or no longer want to do. I won’t stay up all night and go to work the next day; I can no longer eat fried food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and I don’t make a presentation unprepared, sure I can “wing it.” But there are some things that I let go, that I thought I could no longer do, that I said goodbye to with sadness. And that may have been wrong. As it turns out, I can still take a road trip by myself, even if I need to stop more frequently, and eat more healthfully. I can still find that peace and power behind the wheel.
And there’s a new gift: the appreciation of the destination. Squam Lake was a beautiful reward, and likewise, at the end of my return trip, there was nothing better than seeing my little rowhouse waiting for me.
Don’t we all have things that we once loved to do, but somehow got lost along the way? It may be that we move a little slower, more carefully, or less frequently, but inside, we are all still the giants, the warriors, the artists, of our youth. And with the wisdom of experience, we might even be better than we think.