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On the Road Again

The broad, featureless expanse of California's Central Valley passed by outside under a dim moonlight. My buddy Mike was driving the rental car, and we alternated periods of conversation with long stretches of satisfied silence. Just a few hours before we had both been rushing to finish up work before heading off on this long-awaited trip.

Sunset, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

"It feels really good just to be on the road," I said with a sigh.

"I hear you," Mike replied.

Mike and I have done several trips like this and they've been just what the doctor ordered: getting out of Dodge with no particular place to go and plenty of time to get there. In recent years I'm more accustomed to doing these kinds of trips by airplane, but Mike's not keen on flying, so we drive. "Boys' weekend" we've come to call it, and it usually involves long miles through mountains, valleys, deserts, forests—whatever we're in the mood for. We stay in motels so we don't have to mess with the logistics of camping and generally keep complications to a minimum.

I don't know why, but I'm never happier than when I'm in motion. Thinking about the activities I enjoy most, they all involve movement: hiking, running, biking, driving, flying airplanes. It's a cliche to say it's the journey rather than the destination that's important, but it's always been very true for me. Often, movement itself is enough.

In four days, Mike and I covered over 1,700 miles, from the San Francisco Bay Area through the Mojave Desert, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, and Bryce Canyon, Utah. Over all those miles, we never felt rushed or stressed.

Well, there was that climb up the mountain towards Cedar Breaks in a snowstorm—and we didn't have tire chains. My pilot instincts kicked in at that point and I started thinking about personal minimums.

"How about this," I suggested. "If the snow starts sticking to the road, we turn around."

"OK," Mike agreed, and we continued up the mountain. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later the road started turning white, so back down the mountain we went. We arrived at Bryce around midnight, but we arrived. Score one for contingency planning! Besides, we got to see more countryside that way.

I always enjoy getting a new perspective on a landscape, whether it's flying over country that I know intimately from the ground or correlating the passing terrain on the ground with my memory of the birds-eye view from the air. On this trip, I even found myself imagining that birds-eye view of places like Bryce where I've never flown.

But whatever the perspective or the landscape, the common theme in my relationship with it is motion, be it at a walking pace or 180 miles per hour. I find it both exciting and comforting at the same time. There's an odd sense of safety and security in movement that I can't quite explain.

I can't know Mike's internal experience, but he did the majority of the driving on our trip and didn't seem to mind a bit.

"Let's put this on the calendar every year," he said. "Make sure everyone knows about it months in advance so we can make it stick."

"Good plan," I replied.

I'm looking forward to it already.

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