So o.k., if anyone, myself included, needed yet another reason to doubt my sanity, how about this?
I recently did a self-styled Cannonball Run, driving 7,400 miles from Seattle to Boston to San Francisco to Seattle to attend work related events in both locations, averaging almost 800 miles per day in my trusty Subaru Outback. In fact, the return trip from Boston to San Francisco was completed in “just” three and half days!
Yeah, I know, there are these modern contraptions called airplanes that can cross the entire country in just six hours. Believe me, there were times when I wished I could abandon my car and hop on a short flight home. But, for the most part, the trip was a great experience.
Before getting into the details, let me answer the question that everyone has been asking me, “Why would drive back and forth across the country?”
Well it breaks down like this. When I’m home, between working, spending time with my beautiful wife and our children, and moonlighting as an unpaid Uber driver for our boys’ soccer games on the weekends, I find it hard to carve out time for any sort of edifying activities such as reading and self-reflection.
It seems that I spend most days in a reactive mode responding to emails, phone calls, meeting, client inquires, and transport requests from my boys.
That’s fine. But, I find that if I’m always reacting to external stimuli, I can, all too easily, veer off from my intended direction (whatever that may be) and without the time to reflect, I may not even realise that I’ve gotten off course.
In short, I felt that I needed some time alone to read, reflect, and plan a course forward.
Doing all that while darting back and forth across the U.S. may sound like an odd choice, but there are two other reasons I wanted to make this trip.
First, I hate flying. I mean, I’ve flown all around the world and do hop on a plane when I absolutely must. But, generally speaking, unless I’m sitting in Business or First Class on a preferred airline for a transoceanic flight, I simply hate the entire flying experience.
For starters there’s the whole process of checking in, going through security checks etc. Then there’s the dreaded sitting in a cramped seat between total strangers just staring at a small screen while screaming through the ozone at 600 mph in giant aluminium beer can.
Secondly, what do get to see when you are flying? A movie or two? But you definitely miss out on all the land down below.
And maybe that’s fine when you are in a rush. But, since I had the time, had the desire to spend some time alone, and wanted to see some of the less populated regions in my country, I decided to drive.
So how was it?
I had forgotten how wide America’s mid-section is. I remember making it to Detroit and thinking, “Oh, I’m almost to the East Coast.” Wrong! I still had another two days of hard driving before finally arriving in Boston.
On the positive side, I had time to listen to two audio books, including Steven Pinker’s 800-page mindset altering masterpiece “The Better Angels of Our Nature.”
Had I taken the plane, I doubt I would have ever found the down time to listen to the complete book. That’s one of the advantages of driving through places like Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota. There’s not much else to do!
Another advantage of driving is getting see some of the most wild and pristine nature in the lower 48. Place like Lake Coeur d’Alene, Missoula Montana, and the Badlands of South Dakota are rarely, if ever, visited by most of the people in the U.S.
Even places much further east like Ithaca New York, the location of Cornell University, surprised me with its’ beautiful rolling hills and colonial townships. And, then there’s Snowy Range in Wyoming, the Utah salt flats, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Tahoe, Lake Shasta, and the Siskiyou’s in Norther California and Southern Oregon and more.
In addition to getting to see some amazing scenery, the people I met along the way were a reminder of how diverse and yet similar we Americans are. And, I think it’s important for all of us, in this era of targeted and highly divisive social media campaigns and conversations, to remember that regardless of our political affiliations and beliefs, that we all really do have a great deal in common.
From big ethnically diverse cities along the coast to small towns in the “Heartland” most everyone cares about family, friends, colleagues, and our country. There are no communities that are happy with violence, inequality, drugs, or unsafe schools. We may have differing opinions on how best to take care of our communities and country, but at the core we all pretty much want the same things.
While driving solo from Seattle to Boston was a great experience that provided me lots of time for personal reflection, I, fortunately, had my oldest son serve as my co-pilot on the return trip. We managed to drive more than 4,000 miles together without driving each other nuts. In fact, he didn’t once ever ask the question dreaded by all parents, “are we almost there yet?” Well done son!
Cruising through the mountains in Idaho and Montana, Little Bighorn, getting pulled over for speeding in South Dakota and being let off with a warning :-), surviving a three-state crossing with only Christian radio to arrive at a gas station in Minnesota that was blasting Led Zeppelin’s Lemon Song outside at the pumps, staying at the Edgewater Hotel in Madison Wisconsin, passing through the pothole infested highways of Michigan, dinner, drinks, and ping pong with good friends in Milford, a fine evening in Ithaca New York, arriving in Boston, hanging out with Dana, Markus, and Kiho, participating in GALA, dancing in the VIP booths at Fenway Park, great live blues and jazz at the Blue Room in Kansas City, 1,100 miles in one day from KC to SLC, the Snowy Range in Wyoming, hitting in 110 MPH somewhere in Nevada, passing through Donner Pass, my first In-N-Out burger, dinner with my bro and his family, my second and third In-N-Out burger, Yak’s in Dunsmuir, good beers, clams, and conversation at the Deschutes Brewery, and making it safely back to the Northwest just to have a Mercedes lose control, spin 360 degrees and slide across three lanes of traffic right in front of us. Whew! Safe at Home!
I did think it was somewhat curious that the billboards outside of Chicago, Detroit and other large cities tended to be promoting legal services, dentists, “gentlemen’s” clubs, and adult stores. But the billboards in places like Missouri and Nebraska tended to promote gun shows, gun ranges, RVs, an “Indoor Shooting Range with 4,000 Guns!,” and yes, “gentlemen’s” clubs and adult stores.
See, even with billboards, we have some common ground!