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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Along the Scenic Route(s)

"George felt the Piranha surge forward, the big reliable stirling engine recycling the hot air for more and more efficient thrust."

          - Harlan Ellison, Along the Scenic Route

In 1969, writer Harlan Ellison -- a man I am privileged to call a friend -- wrote a short story entitled ALONG THE SCENIC ROUTE. The core setup of the piece was that driving had become, under the right circumstances, a blood sport. In the story, set in the near future, the main character, a middle aged man, is drawn into a challenge with a snot-nosed youth in a hopped up power car not too dissimilar to the then popular Muscle Cars such as the Mustang, Camaro or Firebird.

In many ways, this 1970s fantasy has solidified itself into part of our collective culture, with Road Rage and other forms of insanity peppering our daily commute as well as impacting, usually negatively, plans we have for travel time. (Recently a trip to San Diego was canceled because my wife and I got thirty miles down a hundred mile drive, hitting excessive holiday traffic enhanced by a distant car accident, turning our expected hour and a half total drive into a three hour marathon just to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be. After a quick discussion, we pulled off, called the friends we'd expected to join -- letting them know not to expect us -- and found ourselves a much quieter (and closer) pocket of Southern California to explore.)

Harlan's story has a resonance for any of us who spend a good deal of time on the road. Roughly half my regular trips involve a road element of some kind that transcends the usual commute between airport, hotel and destination. In many cases, I deliberately book an Open Jaw flight to enable me to drive between sites, particularly when those areas are close enough that the inconvenience of the airport far outweighs some time spent on the road.

So it stands to reason that anyone who spends quite a bit of time behind the wheel would look to find ways to enliven the drive without resorting to violence. I, personally and to borrow Harlan's title, prefer The Scenic Route.

When I'm faced with getting from Point A, let's say Portland, and Point B, Seattle, the obvious choice would be to drive directly up along Interstate 5. It's a two and a half hour drive if the weather and other drivers don't get in your way, and is through some lovely country. No doubt. And certainly at the time span it's preferable to checking in a Portland Airport well before a flight, then waiting in line and fetching your luggage at the far end (whether it's from the overhead bin or baggage claim, you still have to go through TSA checkpoints and drag the stuff along with you).

So I opt for the road. Recent trips have taken me down highway 180 between El Paso and Carlsbad, New Mexico. From Reno to San Francisco along Interstate 80. Ambling through the Tonto National Forest on the aptly-named Apache Trail Road. Through the North Dakota and Minnesota countrysides. And the aforementioned Portland to Seattle trek.

And whenever the option offers itself -- and provided it doesn't add extensively to my time on the road -- I will look for something other than an interstate, preferring instead the more intimate and carefree time on a highway or or more local drive.

Sometimes there simply are not other options. Essentially the ONLY route between Reno and San. Francisco is the Interstate, unless you side-trip through Lake Tahoe, which adds more than an hour to the already five hour drive. Not that it isn't gorgeous, because it is. But again you must weigh the impact it will have on the overall trip.

The fun of a road trip is to see the world from ground level. The problem with doing that on an Interstate is that the flies by at 60-70 miles per hour, is largely populated with chains and shopping malls, and can suddenly descend into a commuters' Hell if a single semi pirouettes itself into the guard rail.

Given that most people bypass the highway and go straight to the Interstate, driving by highway or local road can often be a relaxing and fascinating experience, and certainly allows the driver to participate in the areas they pass through. Stop at a local diner for lunch. Drive through beautiful countryside and actually pay attention to the scenery around you. Bypass the insanity of the other drivers and rediscover in many cases a more leisurely and rewarding environment, not dedicated to simply getting to Point B, but enjoying the journey along the way.

Yeah. It might take a little longer. But if it's not too much more you may arrive at Point B in a better frame of mind, refreshed and relaxed, and certainly the better for having seen a world the Interstate commuter might have simply passed without a thought beyond getting to the next mile marker.

As for me, you'll often find me


(All quotes from Harlan Ellison used with the permission and copyright of the author.)

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