America: Independence on the Interstate

 

California VineyardsI have no fear of flying. I just don’t love it. I find it disorienting to board a plane in one city and land in another, having missed all the landscape and all the people in between. Give me a roadtrip in America any day.

When I made the decision to move from Portland, Oregon to attend college in Claremont, California (40 miles east of L.A.), I knew I wouldn’t make that move on an airplane. Each year of college, I made the drive south at the end of summer, and north again at the end of spring. Sometimes these migrations were short, other times I dragged them on for weeks, but each time I got in the car and turned onto the on-ramp for Interstate-5 I felt my soul buoyed by the fact that I could go anywhere.

The end of the journey was always where I planned to end up; I never had a drastic moment of change where I decided to abandon school and work a bookstore in Texas instead. I was and still am happy with the two homes I’ve created for myself on the west coast.

In between these two points on the map were myriads to explore, and I did, usually with the company of a close friend or family member. We would stray off I-5 to take the highways 1 or 101 for a stretch and then return to the fast moving freeway cutting through swaths of agricultural land. Sunset Bay State Park, Oregon. Ashland, Oregon. Mount Shasta City, California. Humboldt Redwoods State, California. Each of these places we would stop, and when we left I would feel as if a bit of the unknown had become known, a new familiar place for me to return on my next migration.

Sunset BayEach place we filled with memories of our own. Swimming in the cold Eel River off the Avenue of the Giants. Watching the California state capitol building lit up for the night in Sacramento. Driving hours out of our way simply for ice cream sundaes at Fenton’s Creamery in Oakland. Stopping in Santa Cruz for a gypsy punk concert, and then continuing tired and drenched in sweat later that night. Listening to the birdcalls that in the dead of night make me imagine too vividly the predators of Jurassic Park. Making the final push through the grapevine as temperatures and altitude both climb. Upon leaving each place, whether it was a picturesque rest stop, a secluded camp ground, or a travel channel featured restaurant, had burrowed into my heart and come with me.

When I go back to Portland for Christmas, winter storms and snow make the passes in the Siskiyou Mountains temperamental and occasionally dangerous, so I fly. Invasive body pat-downs, waiting areas filled with stressed and weary passengers, the cries of toddlers as their ears pop all set my own nerves on edge. My spine tingles with the general discomfort of the mode of travel we’ve all chosen for its convenience.

The summers, though. I eagerly anticipated the sight of Castle Crags and each familiar off-ramp and detour. The 14 hours of driving (if you do it all at once along the 5), never gives me that unsettled feeling of powerless waiting I am overwhelmed with at the airport. When you drive it, every turn is in your control. On the interstate and state highways and scenic detours I no longer feel like I am waiting to arrive home—the whole route is home now, and each return is with pleasure.

About the Author: Ariel Bloomer is just returning to the States after a year of teaching English in Bulgaria. In the future, she hopes to write novels, work with university students, and drive the Ring Road in Iceland. You can read about her travels in the Balkans and her upcoming battle with reverse culture shock at the Unintential Explorer.

Eel River CA

Independence

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