It's Thursday morning, and I'm getting ready for yet another trip out of town. Last weekend, it was an overnight in Baltimore for a wedding; this weekend, we're across the country to San Francisco for another wedding.
Just yesterday, my wife asked about the prospect of taking our kids north to visit relatives sometime in November. "Fine with me," I told her, and I'm pretty sure that trip will be booked today. Come winter break, we're off to a two-week beach vacation in the Caribbean, but before then there will probably be at least one if not several excursions that take us from home overnight.
And we're already planning next year's trips. Our vacation time will be depleted early in the year, so maybe a visit to Washington will have to wait until summer (better weather anyway). Or maybe we'll head back to Europe for Spring Break and go into PTO deficit. No matter what, there will be holidays, and where there are holidays, there seems to be holiday travel.
I don't remember it being like this when I was young. Growing up, we thought it was a very long drive to the next town over -- the half hour in the car seemed extreme then, but it's about 2/3 of my normal one-way commuter drive time these days -- and would make a more significant trip to another major city (an hour or so to Kitsap, almost 3 to Seattle) maybe 4 times a year.
Our big drive, of course, happened during the summer, when we would all pile in the car for a multi-day tour of the US, followed by weeks away from home and a different multi-day tour to get home. That trip was always a unified whole, though, not some casual weekend excursion. And our purpose was always visiting: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, old friends of my parents. This was how you saw people.
Back then, there wasn't a press to get out of town each three-day weekend, and we certainly didn't make last-minute plans with the expectation that we could Priceline a hotel somewhere. Getting a room meant calling around, and since that almost always meant long distance phone charges, you really wanted to know you were going. Not so today: Just book lodging from the road, an experience that 25 years ago would have required advanced technology to coordinate, a ready pile of cash to pay for the room, and a checkbook to handle the resultant (paper-issue) bill from the satellite phone provider.
Our kids, though, are growing up in a vastly larger universe. My oldest daughter thinks nothing of seeing the grandparents. She turns on the computer, pulls up Skype, and calls any night she wants. She considers using a tube hurtling through the sky at 350 mph a totally regular way to get to them as well, though it's accompanied by the annoying rules that force her to put her favorite stuffed dog (cunningly named "Puppy") through the x-ray machine.
The first flight I remember happened when I was about 12. We flew one year to visit the grandparents, and I was thrilled at the feeling of weightlessness, the feeling of motion-without-motion. You could look down at the plains and see vast swaths of ground, not the confined spaces shown through the glass of a car windshield. The horizon took just as long to reach, but instead of being 40 miles away, it was 100 or more. Terrain slid past at a stately pace marked in tens of minutes, but that terrain represented hours of driving.
I was pulled into a new world that day, a world I wanted to experience not as a passenger but as a pilot making my own way over that landscape. Strangely, flying brought me full circle, back to cycling: throughout my now-on-hiatus flying career, I rode to the airport, like a kid going plane-watching. But I would arrive, clean up as best I could, delve into books on flying, and clamber into a plane to cruise at 100 mph around the local mountains, over the ocean, across the plains, wherever I could get those wings to take me.
My early flight photos are a history of getting in shape, where I went from overweight pubescent to slender high school senior thanks in large part to the bike. Airplanes renewed my focus: learning to fly safely and smartly took discipline, attention to detail, careful examination of every part of the plane and flight plan. The bike may have been a vehicle, but it also freed me, both before and after those flights. I would ride to the airport alone and ride home alone, often making detours -- sometimes for an hour or more.
One favorite detour back home brought me to the opposite end of the runway from the FBO, I would take the long way to get there, slide off on the Civil Air Patrol's dirt road, and make my way to the west end, where I could sit in relative quiet and think through life, or maybe just take it all in. The 20-minute ride home never seemed like much, just a short jaunt back to load up on fuel and get ready for the next few hours, whatever they might hold.
Strangely, looking back, I can't even remember when I did homework, though I clearly did it. I can't remember sitting alone and struggling through complex math problems, but it certainly happened. Then, as today, I probably solved most of my problems while riding somewhere, or running somewhere, or flying somewhere.
But none of that was "casual". It always seemed fast in some sense, either fast for being self-propelled or fast for being self-controlled, but never thrown-together with the destination the ultimate goal. That was the appeal. In the end, the trip itself was a potent stimulant.