In October, I flew out to Denver to meet my brother, who drove cross-country to live with me for a few months. Our drive to Fresno was spread over two days, and on the first leg, we committed to driving only on back roads.
Jason left a couple of weeks ago. Thinking through our time together, I remembered writing the following about our adventure. I think I’m due for another detour.
There are few icons of convenience more prominent than the interstate: high speed limits posted on endless miles of pavement, free of traffic signals and intentional pauses. To date, I figure I’ve seen 30,000 miles of it–trips between parents as a kid, vacation at the Grand Canyon, a cross-country move (North Carolina to California), a handful of extended holiday trips, and so forth. And if there’s one thing I’ve wanted on every trip, it’s a faster speed limit; I’ve given in to the speed and convenience.
Not this time, though. Not this trip. At least, not this day. Just one day of detours, and without an interstate.
The ride? A 2000 VW Jetta, packed with everything Jason owns, plus all of my gear. No cruise control. No radio. An incessant vibration between 3,500 and 4,000 RPM. And a faulty locking system that sometimes requires you to open the truck, start the car, then close the trunk.
First stop: a neighborhood coffee shop. That powered us through sunrise.
I-25 heads south out of Denver. We looked at the headlights dotted on the road as we passed over, heading west on Highway 285. Before long, we were winding up. And up. And up. When we hit Kenosha Pass, we saw an elevation sign–9,997 feet above sea level. We descended about 500 feet into Jefferson and found a spot to fill up.
Throughout the morning, we passed less than a few dozen cars. We had to pay inside when we stopped for gas–the countryside pumps didn’t have credit card terminals. Perhaps most refreshing of all: we went hours without spotting a fast food restaurant.
We were alert, in tune with our conversation, and our surroundings. Here’s what we saw:
- The sunrise. In the rearview mirror, as we climbed above Denver.
- Nine different types of animal crossings signs, including signs for elk and big-horned sheep. Oh, and people–sometimes they cross the road?
- Deer. Quite a few of them. (We almost hit one.)
- Clean air, and snow-capped mountains.
- Birdhouses dotting the fence lines for miles.
- Four Corners.
- Sunset over the mesas of southern Colorado and northern Arizona.
- The Milky Way. Every star in it, and some falling from it.
After 640 miles, we reached Flagstaff, and we welcomed the stop. The trip took us just over 13 hours, which puts our average speed at just shy of 50 miles an hour. I drive faster than that getting across town.
We woke up feeling relaxed the next day, but ready to to find the fastest route to Fresno. Back on I-40. Average speed: 85 miles an hour.
I don’t really remember anything from that leg of the trip. No, the memories are in the detours.