Confessions of a Lifetime Traveler

(C) 2019 JJ Shaun
On the road again.

I spent the first half of my life traveling. Being born into a military family has had its advantages and disadvantages. I never saw it as a Bad Thing™, and I never felt traumatized by having to pack up and leave my friends when I was growing up. Up until moving to a landlocked state half a lifetime ago, I transferred on average of every three years or so.

For me, packing up and moving to a new place meant making new friends, seeing new sights, and having new adventures. My siblings and I would be our own best friends for a while, then we would land at Dad’s latest command, and spread out to make new friends. We’re still close, but have grown in different directions, as siblings are wont to do. Outside of family, my (two) oldest friends go back to junior high school. Using the internet and social media, I have been able to reconnect with some of my old high school friends and acquaintances.

I still love to travel. Not long after First Reader and I met, we took an extended road trip. Now, if you want to know how well a relationship will last, spend three weeks with your beloved traveling the country in a car. You will find out just how compatible you are—or aren’t. We found out we’re well-matched, and twenty-five years later, we still look forward to our next road trip. Which we’ll take in a few weeks.

We’ve taken some memorable trips, many of them on two wheels. One of the first happened days after I picked up my new motorcycle, which was only days after I got the “M” endorsement on my license. We took a day ride to Wyoming. Now, if you’ve never been to Wyoming, you might not be aware that it is known for its wind. The wind blows in that state All. The. Time.

Experience on a motorcycle is essential. Without practice, you won’t know how to react in many situations. Before I got my endorsement, I participated in Motorcycle Operator Safety Training (MOST), which gave me experience (at low speeds) in turning and, more importantly, skidding. But no wind. If you are considering buying a motorcycle, I strongly recommend you enroll in whatever riding safety course your state or region has to offer. I learned enough to keep me alive during that first year or so on a bike, and I consider it the best money ever spent.

So, the first day-trip I took, we rode two hundred plus miles. I rode in the wind, on a gravel road through open range, on the interstate, at night, and at night on the interstate, in the rain. Almost all of it with my lanky fifteen-year-old son on the back. Except for the gravel road (all sixty miles of it), First Reader carried him then.

The gravel road was the most interesting (OK, scary) part of the ride. Up to that point, I’d only ridden on pavement, and my bike was a bit top-heavy. Because it was a cruiser style motorcycle, it was equipped with standard street tires, so they were pretty slick for a ride on gravel. I led while she followed. At one point, I topped a rise and stopped dead. About thirty feet away, in the middle of the road, stood the biggest damned bull I’d ever seen.

We stared at each other as his tail swished back and forth. I’d gotten a bit ahead of First Reader because I felt like I sat there staring at this animal for half an hour (it was probably more like half a minute, though). I didn’t know whether to rev my bike, honk my horn (it only worked sometimes), or back away slowly, so I just sat there and waited. As soon as First Reader topped the rise and honked, the horned menace cleared the road and followed his heifers out to graze.

An hour-and-a-half later, we hopped on I-80 and played dodge-truck for the next forty-five minutes. If you have ever driven I-80 in either direction, in any state, you know it is the preferred route of many coast-to-coast truckers. That highway is scary in a car, imagine what it’s like on a motorcycle. Our little troupe has ridden that road many times, and we still don’t like it unless we must. We would rather ride the US Highway system because of the scenery and the more relaxed speeds. Sometimes we don’t have that luxury, though.

More recent motorcycle travels include riding US Hwy 1 from Seattle, WA, to Crescent City, CA, before we ran out of August and had to head home. If you’re interested, check out our Adventure on a Motorcycle. Admittedly, I haven’t kept it up for the last year or so. I’ll use the excuse of life getting in the way. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

First Reader and I still like a good road trip in the car, too. Of course, that’s how we travel when the weather is not conducive to riding a motorcycle. Frostbite is no fun. We took our first road trip right after Christmas the year we met. Even in a 4×4 vehicle, we had some hairy-scary experiences.

The most memorable was after leaving Nashville. We crossed into Kentucky and bumped into an ice storm. When the weather is icy like that, I prefer to allow more than enough distance between me and everyone else on the road so that I have time to react with caution. Well, this time, despite my care, the traffic bunched in around us, and a muscle car raced around everyone on the interstate. Until another vehicle pulled into the left lane, and we saw brake lights, that is. I got to watch a rollover accident in my rearview mirror that day.

Winter travel is always a treat.

Just last year, we had to take an extra day coming back through the woods and over the river at Thanksgiving. We pulled off the highway early because the weather had begun to drive in from the west. Two of my grandkids were with us, and we needed two rooms, so we pulled off a couple of hours before I wanted to and settled in for the night. The storm shut down the interstate until after 3:00PM the following afternoon.

We thought ahead and hunkered down for one more day. I played a card game (Munchkin®) with my grandkids while the wind howled outside the hotel and First Reader watched TV. It was nice to slow down for a minute, but it didn’t make the roads any less treacherous the first hour or so on the road. The ice patches forced us to slow down even if others sped by like the highway was dry.

Even in winter, I prefer to drive rather than fly. I love to fly, but I miss the best of what this country has to offer. Maybe that’s because when I was a kid, we didn’t fly anywhere unless the military paid for our flights. We drove everywhere else as a family. I learned to love a good road trip because of family time spent together. My dad was a Road Warrior™, as were my brothers, and am I.

I love seeing the best of this country and its people. And to me, the best way is up close and personal.

How about you? What’s your favorite mode of travel, and why?

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