When we were growing up in America, there was no jumping on a flight for a holiday of surf yoga in Costa Rica, or catching up with the family yacht as it island hops through the Dalmatian Islands. If you were going on vacation, you were getting there in your car.
For me, the road trip is de regular and each trip comes with its own anecdote. Here are my top ten road trips:
10. PENNSYLVANIA TO FORT LAUDERDALE. SPRING BREAK BABY! My very first adult road trip was when my university roommate, her boyfriend and I decided on the last day before Spring Break to drive to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in my mom’s Chevy Chevette. With no room booked, we drove through the night, parked in a lot and then fell asleep on the beach. I woke up five hours later with severe sunburn, which made sleeping across the handbrake in the front of my car a bit more painful than it needed to be. We made it a whole week sleeping in the car and showering on the beach. Tequila and sun poisoning helped the time fly by. We broke down somewhere in Georgia, in the middle of the night, on the way back.
ps: I lied and told my mother I was going skiing. I told Sister 2 where I was and made her responsible for my safety. Not too sure she appreciated that. Thank you S2!
9. PENNSYLVANIA TO SOUTH CAROLINA My friend and I drove to Hilton Head, SC. We were a bit young for the golfing set, and renamed the place ‘Spife Island.’ This name had something to do with a plastic spoon-knife, but I can’t recall what that had to do with the boredom we named it after. We stayed at her friend’s apartment, which was nice because we each had our own Papasan chair to sleep in (sarcasm, though truthfully slightly more comfortable than the front seat of my car). My friend was driving when a small child jumped out of a bush and frightened her so much she gassed the car into reverse and hit a parked car.
8. ROUTE 66 My husband and I planned a romantic drive from San Fransisco down the Pacific Coast Highway. When we collected our rental car from the hotel car park, it had been broken into and we had to wait for the window replacement people to arrive. Late start and all, we hit the road, only to have Daughter 1, who was an infant, contract a raging case of nappy rash. The romance of the drive was hindered by bumper to bumper truck traffic throughout the entire route, and the screaming infant in the back seat.
7. GERMANY TO AUSTRIA Husband and I drove from Koln, Germany to Innsbruck, Austria. The fun of driving fast on the Autobahn was dampened when I was sandwiched between two 18 wheelers when my middle land ran out. This was my interpretation of events; I have been told that there was never a middle lane.
6. CROATIAN COAST We drove from Dubrovnik to Trogir in an attempt to catch a ferry to Korcula to see the birthplace of Marco Polo. The ride there was fine, except it was 99% cliffside driving and we were an hour late for the last ferry. The drive back was a problem as the rental car headlights didn’t stay on if I let go of the switch. I had to drive back to Dubrovnik in the dark, on a cliff, with one hand steering and one hand holding the headlights on
5. BOLOGNA TO FLORENCE We attempted the romantic drive again this time with a road trip through Tuscany, Italy. I will never forget my rented Fiat Panda, which was a very basic manual. Driving from Bologna to Florence was one big crying fit (both of us) as truck after truck sped past me. Thinking that the back roads would be less stressful, we got off the motorway only to find the secondary roads to be very hilly. There was a two-lane road intersecting at the top of one very tall hill, and I absolutely could not get the car up over the hill. I drifted back and stalled enough times to make the man behind me hijack my car and drive it onto the other side of the road. I cried the rest of the way to Florence and refused to drive another inch. When I returned home and called my mom to tell her the story, she said: “Well why didn’t you just use the handbrake?” I wish I would have been clever, and bold enough to reply “Why didn’t you teach me how to drive a stick?”.
4. BOSTON TO VERMONT The first time I drove my kids to summer camp in Vermont, Sister 3 and I paid far too much attention to the GPS (remember this for later) and continually got stuck going down roads that ended randomly in bushes, which scraped a great deal of paint off of the rental car. It took us three extra hours to find the camp when we were actually lost on its property.
After finally finding the entrance to the camp, we dropped the kids and went to a small local hotel that was very busy with other camp families. We had a lovely dinner and a rather large bottle of wine (I recall an inappropriate french fry re-enactment of a guy from our high school bouncing on the high dive, wearing a speedo) and then got a massive case of the giggles reminiscing about my sister’s old boyfriend and his propensity to wear white belts and bury enemies in his parking garage. The next morning we came down for breakfast with our fellow guests, greeted by stares afforded only to loud, crude drunkards. oops. We left through the screen door without letting it hit us on the way out.
We then drove to Killington for some hiking. We had no shoes, poles or hiking gear of any kind. We did have some peanuts and energy shots. Hiking this part of the Appalachian Trail is very easy and very beautiful. We laughed and laughed while enjoying nature, exercise and the marvels of technology as, even in the middle of nowhere, S3’s annoying next door neighbour was able to reach her by cell phone to spread neighbourhood gossip. The hike was so much fun, I could not wait to discover a new trail the following day.
We stopped and dipped our feet in a sparkling brook before heading off the mountain. It wasn’t until we got back to the can that I noticed a bulletin to ‘beware of the bears’. This killed my dreams of becoming a full-fledged mountaineer and growing leg beards as a face beard is out of the question. Later that evening, Daughter 1 asked me if she should worry about the deep red line that was racing up her leg. Seems that that sparkling brook was filled with MRSA, and we enjoyed a nice little road trip to the emergency room. Her injury ceased the hiking for the rest of the trip. I was so disappointed (relieved) that we could no longer hike (we would not be eaten by bears).
We drove all over Vermont before picking up the little ones. It was my first time through New England, and I loved it so much I forced the kids to go back to summer camp for the next 9 years just so I could drive them there, more often than not with D1, S3 and Friend Beth, in tow.
The car company never charged me for the scratches on the car. Thank you, Avis!
3. LOS ANGELES TO LAS VEGAS My mother had a thing for Vegas. One summer, S3, my girls and I collected mom from S2, where she lived with her family, had three Happy Meal dinosaurs with movable appendages for mascots and braved the scorchingly forboding Death Valley to cross the Mojave (pronounced mo-jav-eh) Desert toward Sin City. S3 always drives on road trips (keep that in mind for later), which makes her VERY good company to keep.
Barstow is a town in California exactly midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It is also the home of Calico Ghost Town, where my children were desperate to go. I planned a one night stop over so we could enjoy the blessings of Barstow. This was August and the temperature was 112 (41C) and the only reprieve from the heat we had was to descend into the pretend gold mine at the ghost town. My mother was not impressed. We abandoned Calico quickly to seek shelter at the Radisson. My mother, who never took her shoes off in hotel rooms and always took her own pillowcase, was again not impressed, with either the hotel or the undying nature of its cat sized cockroaches.
We left well before check-out time.
The temperature was worse in Vegas, limiting our agenda to poolside time squandering during the day, and gambling by night. My planned helicopter flip over the Grand Canyon and excursion to the Hoover Dam was voted down by all and quickly aborted. I have still yet to see either. I had pre-booked Cirque de Soliel and was excited to surprise everyone. I dragged them all, including my mom who had trouble walking distances, and friend, Beth, who had flown in to spend time with us, to the MGM Grand only to find that we were there on a wrong day. When I started to cry, the house manager found seats for us.
Thank you MGM Grand!
And I still have those dinosaurs.
2. COASTAL CALIFORNIA The summer following that one, I planned a road trip up the coast of California, taking another stab at Rt. 66 and the El Camino Real to San Francisco across to Yosemite National Park and then back down to Los Angeles.
There were problems even before we arrived in L.A. I had planned this road trip for months, but now had to shorten the time allotted. And, unfortunately, like this summer and every summer before, California was on fire. We found ourselves one step ahead of the forest fires for the entire trip-including once when we took an unscripted turn off road and found ourselves lost on Leggett Army Base. As we are driving through, unaware that we were on an army base, all radio stations were blocked except for the army station, which played the theme song for Smokey The Bear on repeat. A fitting song due to forest fires for sure, but just a tinge Twilight Zone. Finally, we freed ourselves from subscripted service and found ourselves, of course, on the top of a cliff on a dirt path. My mother, oohed and cringed and cried during the entire descent, and made very good use of her Oh Shit Car Handles. We were lucky in that we, A: didn’t get shot, B: didn’t catch on fire, C: ended up right next to San Simion, the home of William Randolph Hearst, which was, conveniently, our next destination.
We got to Monterey just in time for a cold snap and a biker convention. I learned way too much about canning fish and then we got the heck out of there. By this time the fire was consuming Yosemite, so we turned around and headed back through Carmel. We had lunch in a cafe where our waiter looked an awful lot like former Carmel Mayor, Clint Eastwood, before he went off the Conservative Republican rails, so we claimed him as a celebrity sighting and took his picture when his back was turned.
Back close to L.A. two days early, we stopped in Ventura because if the band America could write a song about it, it must be ok. It really wasn’t. They did have a cute little old town bit with an original picture house where I forced my family to watch Mamma Mia.
There have been many other road trips, but I am already to Number One on my list of most memorable road trips ever.
All of you zero readers, followers and fans of mine will know that I really do love my spa breaks. I had been talking about this for years, and finally managed to convince two of my sisters to go with me to the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs and Resort Spa in New Mexico. I had never been to New Mexico and was very interested in Native American healing and spirituality. I had also read a great deal about the artist community in Taos and was keen to check it out.
The Ojo Caliente spa opened in 1868 and is one of the oldest natural health resorts in the country. The spa and the surrounding region is steeped in Native American history, and it is interesting to read their history on the website: http://ojocaliante.ojospa.com
The spa is a one hour drive from Sante Fe and a two-hour drive from Albuquerque. The flights were a little easier in and out of Albuquerque, even though it is much harder to spell that Sante Fe. Ojo Caliente has four natural spring pools; arsenic, Lithia, iron and soda, a larger pool that is a combination of all of the waters, and a mud pool for a healthy dose of embarrassment (we will get to that later). Though it was pouring, we spent our first day at the spa, being massaged and testing out the waters.
There are two restaurants on site, and since there is not much in the outlying areas of Ojo Caliente, it is good to plan to eat your meals at one of the two. On day two we woke for some yurt yoga and then jumped into the car for white water rafting on the Rio Grande Gorge with New Mexico Adventures. The Lower Gorge is one of the most popular rafting trips in New Mexico. It is a good trip for beginners, which we were, and has class 111 and 1V.
To get to the meeting place, we had to drive (S3, she always drives) what appeared to be down the side of the Rio Grande itself. The road was dirt, of course, and S2 replaced my mom with her screaming and made good use of her Oh Shit Handles. We only got lost twice finding the meeting place-and were soon on our raft with a few other families.
The area is very beautiful and peaceful and there were only a few spots on the river that was rough. Though I have been teased my whole life for my short stature, I was smug on this trip as my petite feet were the only ones from us three that could fit inside the foot holder-on er- thing. I was safe in the raft, where my sisters could not control their feet, and there are no Oh Shit Handles on a rubber dingy. When we reached the end of the course, we were encouraged to jump into the water. My sisters were not having that, but I jumped in with glee and coasted down the river. The problem came when it was time to get back into the raft and my upper body strength, exerted during the rafting course, was severely depleted. We had practised pulling people back into the boat before we left, and now it was up to S2 to save my life. She grabbed me by my life jacket straps and hoisted me into the raft. Sadly, she hoisted me directly into her crotch and I flopped around like a fish, unable to get myself out! It felt like an eternity, both for me, my sister and everyone in our boat who was forced to watch my very pale and flailing behind.
Back to Ojo for some much-needed massage.
The next day put on our coolest outfits and headed to Taos for our day of culture and creativity. There was no shortage of laughter as we followed the GPS to the one time/part time homes of writers Julia Cameron, DH Lawrence, Dennis Hopper, Aldous Huxley and Julia Roberts etc.
I am not saying that any of this is my fault.
We followed the GPS right, and then a left off of the main road, passing an ominous sign that read ‘no through traffic’, continuing on to a dirt path (again). We thought nothing of this, as the road was pretty clear, and we passed several parked RV’s along the way. That was until our GPS announced that we had reached our destination while we were in the middle of a field sign posted Taos National Park. I told my sister to persevere, saying that surely the town was just beyond the clearing. Her reply to that was “Well, what about that sign that said no through traffic.” My memory is a bit foggy, but I believe I said that sign was probably just for trucks.
So we persevered.
We were soon three women in a rented SUV driving straight up a mountainside on a ski path. Sister three is a very good driver, but even she was having a difficult time holding the car steady on a 60-degree angled dirt path strewn with boulders and a cliff on one side. We drove straight up for about 30 minutes. Where was flipping Taos???!!!
Then it started to thunderstorm. So now we were three women in a rented SUV on a 60-degree dirt path (cliff on one side) that was eroding under the tires of the car. It was around this time that panic started to set in and we frantically searched for cell phone bars to call for help. There were no bars. Sister two and I got out of the car to push or guide it up the hill. I’m not really sure why because it was more likely we would have ended up under the car should it have slid off the road. At one point, S2, in her floral skirt and brand new white sneakers, attempted to move a boulder out of the way so we wouldn’t have to drive around it. Do any of the natural springs at Ojo cure hernias?
I ran ahead, in flip-flops in the mud, to see if Taos was up ahead, or at least a place where we could turn around or maybe even get a phone signal. All I saw was more UP. I tried to recall Bear Grylls survival techniques I may have picked up while flicking through the tv stations, but nothing came to mind except that I would probably have to drink pee and possibly eat my sisters. I may have started to cry-I didn’t want to drink pee. Defeated, we climbed back into the car. The rain eased up and we drove on…and UP.
We soon reached a plateau and our descent was expected. But around the next bend was just more UP. S2 finally got a signal and called her husband in New York. How he was going to help was a mystery, but at least someone would know where our bodies were. He called the Taos National Park forest rangers, who in turn called us (I am sure I heard laughter in the background). The operator told us to just keep heading south- as if we didn’t know that already. To be frank, it hadn’t occurred to me to watch the car compass or to, in fact, head south. We just wanted to head OFF. Low and behold, after three hours on this damned mountain, as soon as we hung up with the ranger, our compass pointed south and we began our descent from Hell back to Earth.
It took about 20 minutes to get off the mountain, another five to find the liquor store and two minutes further before we opened our first bottle of wine for the day. We did not really stop drinking, nor did we make it to Taos, nor did we wash the car that was so caked with mud it was seeping through to the interior. People were very quick to tell us that GPSs don’t work on mountains, and my daughter scolded me for getting off of the main road, even though a signpost for McDonald’s was pointing the opposite direction than which we went. Yeah, good advice and hindsight being 50/50. Rookie Mistakes.
We did make it to Taos the next day without getting lost and had a wonderful time. I bought a few prints and my sister fell in love with a particular art gallery. Last year, she and her husband went back to Ojo. She called to tell me that there were photos of us in our swimsuits covered in mud on the lobby promotional slideshow. I started to cry and to demand that they remove them at once! It took her a whole day to admit to me that she was lying. She has since taunted me with mud pictures, all of which is just too distressing to think about.
We also did a ceremonial crossing of the Rio Grande. The bridge and the gorge are breathtaking. So is the oddly high sidewalk drop onto the bridge. As we were doing are crossing (this was back in 2015 when we could almost joke about immigration), S3 misjudged the elevation and tripped up onto the sidewalk, ripping her trousers and nearly tossing her cell phone over the Rio Grande
Finally, before our long drive back to Albuquerque, we attempted to hike up into the mountains that surround Ojo Caliente. We got as far as the sign that read ‘beware of snakes’. We were then told that the lower paths were good to walk but to watch out for the bear. You better believe I was clapping two sticks together the entire time.
**It has recently been pointed out to me that I should really not be at the helm when navigating a car for long journeys (Beth). I should also probably not be put in charge of planning. Case in point: Beth, Steve and I recently did a little driving tour of Wales. We drove from London to Cardiff to see Tintern Abbey and the Caerleon Roman Fortress & Baths. We stayed at the Indigo, a super hip new hotel in Cardiff and ate at Marco Pierre White’s Steakbar and Grill, on the top floor of the hotel. I had planned an extensive drive from Cardiff to Bournemouth, through the New Forest to see the ponies and then to Dover before driving back to London. What I had failed to calculate was that there isn’t a bridge that goes from Cardiff to Bristol and then down to Bournemouth and that I would have to drive all the way back to London and then down to the New Forest. The drive took us twice as long as I had planned that it would, but we did have a nice chat along the way. All good. And I won’t even mention how we almost ran out of petrol.
The same thing happened when S2 and I drove to Portmeirion, Wales. I had planned on a four-hour drive and it took us seven. Perhaps it is a Welsh thing, and not really my fault after all.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL ROAD TRIPS
*ALWAYS BOOK A HOTEL This point is mute now because of booking sites, but I imagine there are those out there who will be keen to play it willy-nilly. And don’t.
*ALWAYS BOOK AN AUTOMATIC Don’t assume that the car will be, especially if renting a car in Europe. Even if you can drive a manual, book an automatic.
*ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN And try to avoid sleeping on the beach. Especially if you didn’t book a hotel room and will be sleeping in your car.
*ALWAYS CLEAR THE BUSHES OF CHILDREN BEFORE REVERSING. That really says it all.
*NEVER MAKE THREE HIGHWAY LANES OUT OF TWO.
*ALWAYS CHECK HOTEL SOUNDPROOFING As a courtesy to the other guests, not as a precaution for yourself. Especially if you get the giggles with alcoholic excess.
*ALWAYS CHECK FOR BEARS Even in the city. You just never know. And the two-stick clapping from Parent Trap really doesn’t work.
*JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE IN THE MOUNTAINS AND THE WATER LOOKS CLEAR does not mean it is free of deadly poison. And always listen to the child with the red line racing toward her heart. There might be a problem.
*WHEN IN DOUBT, AND IN THE WRONG, ALWAYS START TO CRY. Sometimes it pays to be a woman.
*DON’T DRIVE THROUGH THE DESERT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HOT
*CALIFORNIA CATCHES FIRE EVERY SUMMER. PLAN ROAD TRIPS FOR ANY OTHER SEASON. When in Carmel; Clint Eastwood is not a maitre d. Don’t take a selfie with that guy. Sardine canneries are not all that interesting and if you see a California Redwood, tell me what it looks like.
***NEVER EVER EVER RELY SOLELY ON YOUR GPS. Always print out a paper map just in case. Never drive off the main road and always follow the signs to McDonald’s unless you want to be lost on a mountain. Try to avoid your sister’s crotch when rafting and always avoid having your picture taken in a mud bath. That picture will come back to haunt you time after time.