Dirt in your skirt blog

Day 136… Road Trip

Posted on October 21, 2011 by Margaret Schlachter

“Stripped of yourordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes – with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.” -Michael Crichton

Traveling solo is in many ways like being in the woods alone. I am not talking about airline, train or any other form of public transport, no I am talking about the solo road trip. The time with you and you alone in a car for hours and hours on end can offer the same solitude found deep within the trail away from all that is comfortable and ordinary. Since about eight hours of my day was spent in a car crossing several states today it sparked this thoughts of past trips. I have learned to embrace the solitude that accompanies these long travels, let the memories of past trips fuel this post.


Road trips are an American pastime about as American as apple pie. Pictures of Clark Griswold and family driving across the country to Wally World come to mind when I think road trip, or Thema and Louise with the top down on the convertible. Nothing is more American. As with everything I do, I like the road less traveled the path less beaten. I have for different reasons traveled in my car around the country twice, once partly solo and the second time I was completely solo. The second was an important moment in my evolution as I went out West for a relationship and came back East solo in all aspects of life.
The first one opened my eyes to the vast diversity that lies here in our country, it helped me deprogram after four years of college. I saw the sites both iconic and Offbeat, Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Carhendge, Yosemite, LA, Los Vegas, St. Louis Arch, Field of Dreams, etc… I spent 36 days traveling over 10,000 miles, only about 3 days of that trip were solo, but it gave me the first taste of just what it is like to be in the car alone. My day spent driving from Portland, OR to San Francisco down the 101 still holds some of my most vivid memories from that whole experience. I learned how to take in spectacular sites and moments alone, soak in the beauty and learn how to entertain myself in a car for twelve hours. This trip opened my eyes to being alone, remembering back to how I felt in moments of the drive to San Francisco, I remember having to fake confidence through parts of the Redwoods and at times questioned my ability to cover such a distance alone. This is much of the same way I felt when I was first on the trails of Vermont running alone as the sun set and I was forced to finish the last two miles in the dark, with only the headlamp light to guide me. 
My second trip was truly the one that opened my eyes to the power of the solo road trip. I was headed to Montana for the summer. My trip out took about four days. During that time I was completely alone, and because I deplore the interstate and feel if you want to actually see America you need travel down the original routes. So instead this trip after reaching Chicago I headed up the Mississippi following the river to its beginnings in Minnesota then took Route 2 across to Whitefish, Montana, my home for that moment in time.
My human contact was limited to check-in people at B&B’s and motels along the way, and the random gas station attendant, or the bartender at the restaurant. I spent hours without uttering a word to a single person. During this trip I learned how to eat at a restaurant alone, how to change a lightbulb in the car, but really the most important thing was I learned how to be with myself. This was and is the hardest lesson to learn.


It is during this time, alone with yourself, that your brain takes over and all the memories and thoughts that are filed away in our everyday life seem to burst out. For when you are surrounded by the plains of Montana where you travel for hours and feel as if you are not moving. It is during these times that it gets uncomfortable, as life decisions are questions, past relationships revisited, current relationships questioned, and at times even hopelessness can take over. As with distance running the highs of solo travel are heighten with the time and distance, creative thoughts burst out all around, future ambitions and goals seem to roll out like the carpet of asphalt in front of the car. 
You are forced to look within yourself and see what is underneath the surface. Thoughts and memories have ways of presenting themselves along the long stretches of road. As you fall deepen down the rabbit hole, a calmness emerges when the realization hits that being alone has empowered you. It has empowered you to see within yourself those things many spend a lifetime running away from.
It is dealing with the unknown that lies ahead on the road and trail that compel me to venture out as each experience fosters change and growth. The woods offers the same sense of clarity for me, it gets ugly at times along the way but I emerge a better person each time.