Three thousand miles is a long way. Think of travel from Disney World in Florida all the way to Seattle's Space Needle--three thousand miles and a bit of change. Long way to drive.
My kids and I saw neither the Mouse nor the Pacific in the past couple of weeks, but we did haul the minivan the distance it would have taken to view both. From our home here in Dallas, we headed east on I-20 to Birmingham, where we spent the night and the next morning with good friends, and then drove through the mountains, past some of my favorite rivers, to land near Asheville, NC, for several days at my mother's summer home. After tubing and rafting and gem mining and jet boating, we piled back into the van and hauled the long way (oops) to just outside our nation's capital city, a ten hour trek that ended with burgers and quesadillas with more family before hunkering down with more friends for a long weekend. The next Monday, before the sun came up, kids and I were back on the road to North Carolina again, and after two quick nights there we arose again before dawn for a nearly 15 hour trek home, my mom this time accompanying us. Two weeks, two and a half kids (my son's friend joined us as far as DC, then flew home), four different beds, and too many McMeals later, we are back in town. Whew.
This really isn't novel, though I suppose it could be one. If you were reading the blog last year, or the year before that (have we really been blogging that long? Wow!), you might realize I make this trip every summer. It's a tradition my kids count on. Usually my husband accompanies us at least as far as Birmingham, where we settle down with the grown-ups for marathon sessions of cards while the kids eat pizza in the other room with XBox controls clutched in their gleeful fists. This year, work and schedules got in the way, so the Birmingham leg was limited to the one night (though it was capped with a nature preserve visit where we got close to a gorgeous injured owl, and ended with the best shake I've had in years, the remnants of which I'll deal with this fall, thank you Weight Watchers). So it was the kids and me, books and novels on CDs, and the wide open highway unfolding before us. America.
When I got home, I printed up a copy of Julie's manuscript, the last of our group to read her work. I realized as I soaked it up in just two quick nights (ladies and gentlemen, the book is good!) that the characters undertake a car journey much like the one I had just traveled. In fact, though I was headed back west and they went east, her characters shared over 600 miles of I-30 and I-40 with our journey home. Funny how that is.
There are so many reasons I adore this annual trip. Not least among them is the fact that I get to see our country, see many of the places and trees and roads that my hopefully future readers pass themselves in the course of their daily lives or travels. We covered ten states and the District of Columbia (well, just me; my friend and I dumped the kids at a water park and hit DC alone one day). Even a quick stop for gas exposes me to a potential reader, a potential model for a character, and I relish those encounters beyond the route I follow here at home.
So many stories are about journeys, physical treks from here to there. I love reading novels with such tales in them. I'll likely write novels with such tales in them. And it matters a lot to me, to my self-image, to my belief of what I provide for my kids, that the roads I read about are roads I might have traveled myself.