An Adventure Story (1)

The storms seem to have stopped here for the time being, which means the central California coast is flowering in that brief period between the rain season and the fog season. Those of us on hills can do a survey (cautiously’e2’80’94the poison oak is out) to see if there are any ominous stretch marks in the soil; those living in the valleys below can shovel out the last of the winter’e2’80’99s deposited silt and put away their tools until November.

It being nearly May (our rainy season generally runs through March) perhaps it is now safe to write affectionately about rain without being blamed when it comes back for another round.

Remember when we were kids and it was the weekend and Dad used to suggest that the family go for a drive and we were actually in favor of the idea? Or is that a memory implanted by long-ago television programs? Anyway, I think it used to happen, that people would look upon a drive as an entertainment in and of itself.

My deep confession? I still do.

But before you visualize Laurie puttering off on a gently winding country road with her elbow on the window-frame, maybe I should describe what I mean by a drive.

I own ten year-old Land Rover. Some years ago, we were in England (where the beer is above freezing and the maps are works of art) for a period of six months, and hiring a car would have been absurdly expensive. So I bought a used Land Rover Discovery as an experiment, to see if I liked it. And off we would set, up to Oxford, down to Reading, or off to Dartmoor, and I would hand the appropriate map to whoever was in the passenger seat and say, Find me a road.

My kids know me well. They knew I wasn’e2’80’99t asking for a motorway, or the A road (which here we would call a highway) or even the slightly rougher but still civilised B roads. I was talking about the sort of track the Land Rover was designed for.

Once, my entire family got out and walked instead of driving into a bush-choked tunnel that may or may not have had an end. (THEY said they wanted to take a walk. Hah.) But dammit, it was on the map’e2’80’94a D road, o joy!’e2’80’94and Ordnance Survey Maps do not lie. So down the track I drove, grinning like a dog, and yes that cost me 40 pounds sterling to replace the ripped off antenna, and when I returned the car to the dealer for selling it wasn’e2’80’99t quite as pretty as it had been, but the road was there, and it was a drive to remember.

So last month, I was coming back from the Bay Area and, it being close to five o’e2’80’99clock, I knew that when I came down from the hills, I would be creeping for several miles (You’e2’80’99d think people would drive less, now that gas is nearly three dollars a gallon, but oh, no.) So I turned off the freeway onto the back way through the hills, only to find, eight miles down it, a sign saying it was closed. Had they put the notice up a little closer to the freeway it might actually have done some good, but the road crews were somewhat stretched at that point, as we’e2’80’99d had heavy rain for days and trees were dropping like ninepins.

So I, along with a string of cursing commuters, retraced my steps (or should that be, retraced my tracks?) to the main road’s T junction, where all the other drivers turned left to return to the freeway. I, however, sat and thought for a minute.

I knew the road to the right went through, I had driven it seven or eight years before, on a bright summer morning with a car full of chattering family. Now, however, I was about forty minutes from darkness, the rain was still coming down, and the road was not what you would call a county priority. Meaning that if a tree came down, it would sit there until some resident wanting to get home would haul out his chain saw, or until the county finished with the more urgent roads, i.e., all of them. Major problems, rock slides or wash-outs, would just stay there until the county got around to it’e2’80’94not too many private citizens even in the mountains own heavy construction equipment. I really should get back onto the freeway with the others.

But of course, I turned right.

(to be continued)

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  1. Erin on April 17, 2005 at 7:19 pm

    I’m the first commenter on this post! Yay! Um yeah, so…

    My roommate’s favorite thing is to just go for a drive down an unused road. She believes it is the best cure for any emotional ailment; stress, annoyance, melancholia. She has a very sad city car that can’t go very fast and doesn’t do well over rough terrain, but she very much likes to go driving. Put on some good music and roll down the windows and take a drive on a cool summer night. I am usually her copilot on these trips. Haven’t done it in a while because of the uber high gas prices, but it is muchly enjoyable.

    We’re hoping to do a cross country road trip this summer if we can afford it. (*keeps fingers crossed that gas prices will go down*)

  2. Pen on April 18, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Hope this doesn’t sound too grouchy but over here in the UK we pay around twice as much for our petrol (gas) so we have to think very carefully before we drive anywhere that isn’t essential – well, I do anyway.

  3. Jennifer Ice on April 18, 2005 at 8:42 pm

    Hooray for Laurie,
    If you are one for taking the road not taken I recomend chasing tornados in Kansas. My husband did the driving and I was supposed to be navigating, but I often had to toss my hands up and admit I didn’t know where we were because the road we were on wasn’t on our map. We saw Kansas the way few see it and even managed to see a tornado. The most beautiful parts of America are only see on backroads.

  4. riobonito on April 19, 2005 at 4:35 am

    The country road…when to turn back, oh just one more curve or corner..what might be waiting for us, looking forward to part two, as an old Monterey county resident, I remember how slippery those slopes can be!

  5. 2maple on April 19, 2005 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, you dredged up something I’e2’80’99d completely forgotten about for years and, now looking back it’e2’80’99s so ‘e2’80’9cLeave it to Beaver’e2’80’9dish! We used to go out for ice cream on summer evenings and after, we’d play this game on the drive home ‘e2’80’93 my brother, sister and I would pick turns to lead us away from home and my parents would pick turns to take us home. A spirited rivalry developed between the front seat and the back (particularly since back then us youngsters weren’t immobilized by booster seats and seat belts). Somehow, we usually ended up home in about a half an hour or so, but there were days when the back seat declared victory and we ended up in places that none of had ever been in before!

    So it’e2’80’99s no surprise that as an adult, my absolute favorite vacations are when we are gypsying across the countryside with a few goals and not too many specific plans; the things that happen along the way are that much sweeter for being a surprise.

    Erin ‘e2’80’93 I hope you do get to take your cross-country trip. It gets so much harder when the realities of life set in as an adult (family, jobs, etc.) to grab big chunks of time…I’m always suffering from time asthma, two weeks together is a complete luxury now! – Nan

  6. Anonymous on April 20, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    I am reminded of the Robert Frost poem about the road less traveled and how it “made all the difference”.

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