By Vernon Felton
Two muddy bikes are perched atop the car. The cooler is packed. The tank is full of 87 Octane and the highway stretches before us. Our options are endless.
God, I love road trips. There's something about summer and the call of the open road, the wanderlust, new trails, new rides. Freedom.
I give the clutch some love, drop the rig into first gear and ease out into traffic.
"I gotta pee!"
Clutch. Reverse. Back into the parking lot.
I am at wit's end. It's just nine o’clock in the morning and it's already been a long, long day. "You just went to the bathroom! You just went. That's the third time in two hours. How could you possibly have to go to the bathroom again?"
I am dangerously close to losing my shit. We've been on the road since six in the morning and I'm sure that I could have covered more miles by now if I'd just gotten out of the damned car and walked to the state line.
My four-year old, however, clearly doesn't share my sense of urgency. "I went to the bathroom," she says, "and I saw a fairy and I talked to the fairy and they asked me to play in their castle and I forgot to potty."
This explanation doesn't even begin to clarify the situation. Ten minutes ago, I walked my daughters to the bathroom door and watched them enter the public restroom. I then sat sentry outside the ladies' room for 15 minutes before they came out. How can anyone spend a quarter of an hour inside a public restroom and fail to actually use it? I turn to my 8-year-old, who has become something of an interpreter since her younger sister is basically speaking Klingon all the time. "Well," my elder child explains. "We went to the bathroom, but we started playing the princess game and then, um, we kind of forgot to go pee. I really have to go pee too. Can we go pee again?"
Ah, the joys of road tripping with kids.
Thirty Years on the Road
There, of course, is a lot to be said for never strapping your bike to a car at all. Few of us truly explore every nook and cranny of our own backyards. We should. There's almost always something great waiting to be discovered within pedaling distance of your front door. But no matter where I've lived, I've inevitably found myself wondering what roads or trails lay on the other side of the state line. Ever since the California Department of Motor Vehicles forked over my learner's permit, I've been making stabs for parts previously unknown.
Marin, Point Reyes, Sonoma, Lake Tahoe, Markleeville, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Asheville, Atlanta, Brevard, Buffalo, Burlington, Boise, Boulder, Crested Butte, Charlotte, Downieville, Greenville, Eugene, Flagstaff, Fruita, Grand Junction, Humboldt, Keyesville, Moab, Ithaca, Santa Cruz, Sedona, Steamboat Springs, Sun Valley, Park City, Port Townsend, Vancouver, Squamish, Toronto, Whistler, Winthrop, Zion…
I've been zigzagging North and South, East and West for nearly thirty years now.
It's not as if the riding on my own home turf falls short. There just comes a point during every year when I want something different: different people, different dirt, different riding styles. Different is, for lack of a better word, good. At some level, road tripping simply satisfies an inevitable itch to explore the unknown.
Scratching the Itch…in a Mini-Van
Scratching that itch used to be a simple matter of loading up the car on Friday night, hitting the road and waking up sprawled in the backseat of my car in some strange and wondrous location on Saturday morning. From there, it was just a wonderful blur of new trails and friends, followed by a happy limp homewards, in time for work on Monday. Awesome. And simple.
Making road trips happen now … isn't simple.
It's a campaign that requires planning, strategy and the kind of commitment that I'd once associated with marriage, joining the Marines or getting a Maori facial tattoo. Do the kids have a ballet recital this weekend? Can we find someone to babysit the chickens while we're gone? Do we have enough diapers loaded under the backseat? Barf bags in reach of the front seat? Enough Sesame Street coloring books?
How about hotels? Sleeping in the backseat of our dumpy Tercel used to cut it when I was in my 20s, but you do that with a couple of kids and a smelly Pitbull in the back and someone will report you to Child Protective Services. So there are hotels to consider now. Dog-friendly hotels. Hotels within riding distance of the trailhead because now the riding comes in shifts as in, "If you watch the kids from eight to noon while I ride, then I'll take the noon to five shift."
But first you've got to actually get there.
That's what I'm attempting right now. There's a trail out there waiting for me to lay knobbies all over it, and I'm dying to do precisely that, though you'd be hard pressed to guess this if you saw me standing outside the ladies room again, looking, for all the world, like some kind of lurking, middle-aged perv. My kids are, theoretically, using the bathroom, though they could just as well be in the middle of imagining that they are dragons. Or maybe they're playing tag or dancing or, anything, really, other than emptying their bladders. Keeping kids focused on the task at hand is like trying to juggle hungry piranha.
This too will pass. I breathe deep and slowly count to 10—the same thing I tell my kids to do when someone dismembers their Malibu Barbie or calls them a "poo-head". The annoying bits of the road trip will fade. Ten years from now, I will only remember the ride and the fact that the kids made me laugh until it hurt at some point in the trip. Eventually we will load the spawn into the car seats and they'll drift off to sleep. My wife will eject the dreaded Elmo Sings Along cd and we'll play something on the stereo that doesn't encourage homicidal thoughts. The road will tick by beneath our tires and… We. Will. Get. There.
It's still a road trip. It's still riding. It's just…different now.
But that's okay. That's the whole point of taking a road trip in the first place, right? To experience something different.
Different is good.