I put over a thousand miles on my car in the past week. My family is all up North and we tried Christmas without them once. It was a little sad and a lot lonely so now I bite the bullet, load up the Backseat Club’s MP3 player with audiobooks and spend a lot of quality time with asphalt but not, thank you, state troopers. I like being in the car for big stretches of time, watching the land slip past, noting where there is now yet another outlet mall or huge subdivision festering on a landscape that used to feature crops or timber. We stop every now and then to check out some oddity (an antique, fully automated Noah’s Ark fitted out with lots of stuffed rats, gophers, small birds and a dove) or historical site. Our visit to Camp Wildcat, site of the first engagement of regular troops in Kentucky during the Civil War, was made memorable by the folks who preserved the site as they explained that the many bullet holes in the restroom roof were made by local marijuana growers who didn’t have as fine an appreciation for history as one might hope. We were perfectly safe, they assured me, because each of them had weaponry in their trucks. A subsequent visit to Cowpens National Battlefield seemed quite tame in comparison.
The concept of distance is funny. As my little car is slurping up the miles I often think about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first time away from her family in These Happy Golden Years, when she goes off to teach at her first school. She is miserable and has no hope of respite because twelve miles (six each way) just for a weekend is just too much for the family horses. For Laura twelve miles might just as well have been the nearly 1400 that I travel. She covered many more miles than those twelve in her lifetime and in addition to her Little House series for children she wrote about her travels in Little House in the Ozarks, West From Home and On the Way Home, all found in the adult collection. I’ve read and love them all but it is those twelve miles that most often come to mind.
Two other writers leave me thinking about travel while I’m scouting for the next Pilot station out in the wild. John Steinbeck is perfectly capable of putting his reader right in the middle of a landscape with just one paragraph and his Travels with Charley: In Search of America is lovely. William W. Starr’s Whisky, Kilts and the Loch Ness Monster: Traveling through Scotland with Boswell and Johnson is a newcomer to the shelves but I promise, if you give it a try you’ll be thinking about Scotland for quite a while after you’ve returned the book. Try out either for the next long trip and see if those miles don’t just slip away.