Road Trip Guide - Page 5 - At home on the highway

Road Trip Guide
- Page 5
At home on the highway
Where we go, how we get there can shape us

By Crystal Paul
The Seattle Times

It might not look like the luxurious travel advertised in glossy magazines, but there is plenty of adventure to be had riding across the country in an old, semi-reliable utility vehicle with practically no plan.

Whenever someone asks where I’m from, I’m tempted to answer “on the road.” Usually, though, I say Denver, because some of my formative years were spent there and it’s often where we landed after some new city didn’t work out like we’d hoped. My family spent so much time traveling back and forth across the U.S. that I feel most at home on interstate highways.

Our trips weren’t like the RV road-trips lifestyle of summer family-trip comedies, nor were they like the debaucherous find-yourself road trips of teen rom-coms. These travels with my family weren’t like the travel I read about in National Geographic or travel magazines. In fact, it wasn’t until many years later, not too long before I became the travel and outdoors writer at The Seattle Times that I even realized that the time I’d spent on the road might be considered travel.

When my family hit the road, it was in a brown-and-beige 1986 Chevy Blazer we’d named Betty. Usually, we’d pack the Blazer with whatever we could fit, including our two cats, and stash the rest of our belongings in a storage space or a friend’s basement.

Then we’d set off for whatever destination promised a better life this time. We’d usually sleep in the car at rest stops, my 6-foot-tall brother cramped in the back seat while my mother and I reclined our front seats as far back as we could.

We lived off of gas-station meals of cheese sticks and boxes of crackers for lunch or waxy doughnuts and milk for breakfast.

Fries and Frosties from Wendy’s were a treat whenever we found a truck stop or rest stop with a fast-food restaurant attached.

Typically, these travels were meant to be one-way trips to somewhere that would solve all of our problems. Or at the very least, we’d put 2,000 miles between us and whatever intangible nightmare we were running away from this time.

We cut back and forth across the country and up and down both coasts. Betty had 250,000 miles on it before the engine blew, just one year before my mother dropped me off at college in a new beater named “The Pickle.”

But we weren’t always moving. Sometimes it was just a trip. There was always something significant waiting at the other end.

We drove to L.A. and Minnesota because I’d found out that I shared a birthday with Naomi Campbell and my brother and I decided we wanted to get rich by becoming models.

We drove to the backwoods in Texas so my mother could reconnect with her mother who was living in a school bus at the time.

We drove from Colorado to Mystic, Conn., where my mother dropped my brother off at the front door of a house where she said the father he’d never met had lived. His father, it turned out, had passed away, but my brother got to spend a few hours looking over family photos with the grandmother he’d just met.

Once, when we were 13 and 14, my brother and I traveled from Maine to Denver on a Greyhound bus by ourselves because we were supposed to move back to Denver. After a few months, our mother called us back to Maine, and we got back on a bus going the opposite direction.

Whenever and however we took these trips, we did it on pennies, often arriving at our destinations on the mercy of the universe and gas bought with whatever coins we