James Taylor released a song in 1976 called, “Nothing Like A Hundred Miles.” Whenever I’d hear it, I longed for the road and for the sight of that yellow line disappearing behind me in my rear-view mirror. I loved the refrain:
“There’s nothing like a hundred miles between me and trouble in my mind. There’s nothing like a hundred miles somebody show me the yellow line.”
The lyrics have stayed with me all of these years, rumbling around in my head as I envision black tires moving along faded asphalt. When I get restless, which is often, those words roll into the back of my throat and up to the tip of my tongue, and then I know that it’s time for a road trip.
I’m not sure when my love affair with the road began. Maybe it was the summer my mother and I loaded up my tiny Honda Civic 1200, which had no air conditioner, and drove from our small North Carolina town all the way to Portland, Oregon. My mother was 54-years-old and she didn’t think twice about the driving conditions or how she’d fare on such a long trip. She had boundless energy and in fact, years later, when she turned 70, she traveled through Europe for the first time.
I was 17 when we drove to Portland. Each time we crossed a state line, I entered a new world where a surprise seemed to be waiting just for me.
In Kansas, we made a pit stop at a gas station. As I opened the door to the ladies room, I heard familiar voices and then I saw two faces I knew, girlfriends from my hometown who were on an adventure of their own with a teen camping tour of the West. We screamed and giggled because honestly, what were the chances? We were on a dusty road in the middle of the prairie, 900 miles from home. Kansas opened me up to the possibilities of finding magic anywhere, even in a run-down gas station surrounded by empty fields.
In New Mexico, my mother and I drove along two-lane roads weaving my car through towering pink canyons. One late afternoon I saw a blue flashing light behind us, so I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. I rolled down my window and a police officer wearing a cowboy hat appeared over my left shoulder. I’d never seen a cop wearing a cowboy hat. He glanced at our license plate and asked us what we were doing so far from home and if we realized that we were speeding. We told him that we had no idea. He looked up at the sky for a few moments and then he told us that $55.00 should cover the fine, so we handed over our cash. Later, after he was gone, my mother said that she hoped he bought himself something nice with our money.
When we drove back home and crossed the North Carolina state line along the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, I told my mother that I hadn’t seen anything prettier than these ancient, green hills that I had grown up in. It’s amazing what you learn out on the road.
My husband had a different travel experience during his formative years. He lived overseas so he grew up with transatlantic flights and Eurail passes. After we married, I had to convince him of the glories of the road. One summer when we were in our mid-20s and living in the Midwest, I said “Let’s drive to California!” And he said, “Are you crazy?” But once I got him on the road he leaned his head back, shut his eyes and said, “This is great.”
By the time we made it to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, he was smitten with stark beauty and vast space. But then our air conditioner broke and I began to worry that he wouldn’t think all of this driving was fun anymore. As we neared Nevada, a casino appeared on the horizon and when we reached it we went inside to cool off. It was the first time we’d seen a slot machine and after we’d used up our roll of coins we got back in the car and drove to Oakland, California in the cool evening air.
A few weeks ago, I began to hear the rumblings of the old James Taylor song rolling around in my head. Our son was going on a high school spring trip soon so my husband and I would have some days to ourselves.
“We have a whole week,” I told him. “Let’s go somewhere!”
“How about Santa Fe?” he suggested. “You’ve always wanted to go there.”
He knew what was coming next because we’ve been having the same conversation for thirty years. He suggests a flight and I offer an alternative.
“Well,” I said, “We could always drive somewhere.”
He said that would be fine. He’s a good sport, my husband. Although I do sometimes acquiesce, and travel his way.
I flew to Italy with him a few years ago and I must say, those nine hours of my white knuckles and constant fear that the plane was going down any minute and we’d never see our children again were worth it once I stepped onto the streets of Rome. I was thrilled to be in the Eternal City but I sure was glad when our plane landed safely back home so I could start planning our next road trip.
I got out my map to see where we could go while our son was away. We began to make plans, but then we began to have doubts. Maybe the driving would be too hard on my husband’s fragile back. Maybe we were getting too old for long road trips. Maybe I needed to load up on Xanax and fly away to some far-off land. Instead, we drove to Nashville, Tennessee.
Music City was great and on the drive there we discovered a winery that makes a delicious Cabernet, a beautiful University in the Cumberland Plateau and the factory where our favorite cast iron pots are made. There were so many surprises waiting for us out there along the Tennessee roads.
We hope to travel a lot in the years to come. And I will fly when I must. But all I really want is for somebody to just show me the yellow line.
Amy is a contributor to The Huffington Post and blogs at The View At Midlife.