I’m one of those people who really, really loves to drive–but it has to be the right kind of road. City streets and urban freeways don’t do it for me, and flat, straight Interstate Highways bore me into a coma. Real driving is a workout, where you use your transmission, not your brakes, and there’s no such thing as cruise control.
Turn me loose on one of those wild, western highways that runs through the canyons, follows the rivers, and arrows across the grassy plains, dipping and flowing with the contours of the land. Give me glorious mountain roads with steep grades, hairpin turns, and sweeping S curves that hug the folds of the slopes before cresting the passes in a triumphant rush of squealing tires and whistling wind! And those lonely two-lane byways, where the hazards you need to heed are weather and wildlife and the occasional rock fall or flooded wash, not drunks and distracted drivers who just can’t peel their eyes away from their smart phones. The western U.S. is laced by an interconnected web of beautiful open roads like that, traversing every conceivable type of terrain, from deserts to alpine forests, and everything in between. At the right time of day and the right season of the year, I might even have such a road all to myself.
When I’m driving, really driving, my vehicle becomes an extension of my physical being. My focus is on the road ahead, always scanning, anticipating the curves, the weather approaching, and any potential dangers. I feel the road through the steering wheel as a vibration in my hands and arms. I feel the power of the engine though the gear shift and the gas pedal, and I feel all of it at once as a steady thrumming, through the seat and up my spine, directly into my brain. Truly, I become one with the machine. It’s not about racing or challenging some arbitrary measure of time or distance; it’s about efficiency, traction, mass, and velocity. The terrain and the condition of the pavement dictate my speed; I ride the line that separates hurry from hesitation, and when I strike the perfect balance, it brings me great joy.
When I drive, I love listening to classical music. The zing of the tires on the asphalt adds harmonic counterpoint to Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the Pastorale, which goes fabulously well with any route that takes in sweeping views; it’s as if the curves in the road were choreographed in synchronicity with the soaring strains of the orchestra. A drive through countryside splashed with the colors of autumn, or roadsides lined with wildflowers in the spring, blends stupendously with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Any music that doesn’t distract will enhance, adding a soundtrack to the movie that unspools across my field of view.
When I did the research for Road Trip America’s Arizona and New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips (Imbrifex Books, 2018), I drove every route that’s described in the book, plus a whole lot more, 11,000 miles on some of the most beautiful back roads on the planet. I was looking for natural wonders and roadside attractions, national parks and historical locations, but just as important were the roads themselves. I wanted every Side Trip to include roads that are great fun to drive, so if you love to drive the way I love to drive? Choose a Scenic Side Trip and give it a whirl. By the end of the day, you’ll have a smile so wide your cheeks will ache!
Next up: The Birth of the Scenic Side Trip