Today I drove 12 hours from Seattle WA to Ogden, UT. This was a first for me. While I was no stranger to road trips, I’d never driven 12 hours straight before, and even though I had all day to do it, I was nervous that I wouldn’t pull it off.
The day didn’t really start auspiciously. I hadn’t slept much the night before because I was nervous about the drive, and then after I couldn’t immediately fall asleep, I was nervous that I wouldn’t sleep enough to pull off the drive at all. I didn’t end up sleeping much as a result of all those nerves. This happens a lot to me if I’m anxious about something before going to bed.
But now, here I was, on a dark highway, headed East. Enough caffeine and adrenaline in me to kick any weary inclinations from my 4 hours of sleep straight to the curb, at least for now (these thoughts, of course, would come meandering back later in the day. But enough about them).
I saw the sunrise within the first few hours, right at the peak of my driving adrenaline and the caffeine from my first Stumptown cold brew. I left Seattle early, and as I came over Stevens Pass, I was greeted with a glorious gradient of warm and cool tones just outside of Cle Elum. I didn’t take many pictures on my drive, but this sunset was too good to pass up, so I took a (dangerous, illegal, sorry) photo from my car that didn’t do it justice.
Seeing the photo again helps conjure up the moment, though. Buzzing on caffeine and adrenaline, any nerves I’d felt earlier long since shunted to the back of my mind by the comfortable homeostasis that the body settles into during any type of long drive. Driving into the sunrise felt like hope. Hope feels like caffeine and adrenaline: powerful, exciting, and energizing. Hope feels like homeostasis: comfortable, relaxing, worry-free.
After the sunrise, the rest of the drive seemed to blur. Beginnings and ends tend to dominate the memories of road trips, especially long ones. And while I clearly remember the end of my day, ripping over dark mountains and weaving between C.R. England semi-trucks. I barely remember the 8 hours of driving in the middle. I know I drove through thick fog and under bright blue skies. I know I crossed into mountain time in Northeastern Oregon, right outside of Idaho, and that I crossed back into Pacific time again to take a pee break in the middle of nowhere, just to fuck with the automatic time zone settings on my electronics. I know I listened to hours and hours of Haruki Murakami’s “1Q84” (a truly excellent road trip audiobook, and I’d never heard it before and was captivated). I know I developed a newfound appreciation for rest stops as I stopped to pee out almonds, beef jerky, and caffeine every hour or so.
I arrived all of a sudden, at least to my addled brain, crashing into my AirBnb bed with Taco Bell and Netflix before rapidly capitulating to a wave of exhaustion I barely noticed when I had been driving. I’d done the thing. Maybe it was the sunrise, or the 6 cups of cold brew. But I’d accomplished my goal, and the 8 hours still to go the next day seemed paltry, insignificant, compared to what I’d just done.
I didn’t really feel accomplished, though. I’d just driven 12 hours, the longest I’ve ever attempted, and I’d done it in winter weather and in a new car and it had been nothing but smooth. But the sense of accomplishment wasn’t really there. Life is like that, though.
I recently read Out There: On Not Finishing, and I resonated with the author when he bemoans his inability to appreciate the process of running ultramarathons, instead always chasing for the sense of accomplishment that completion brings. I, too, wished that I was better at appreciating the middles of things, especially long ones. In steeling myself to handle the long hours and hundreds of miles that I had to tackle today, I blocked myself from really appreciating the out-there-ness, the sense of enjoying the journey, the bizarre sensation of being alone with my car and the road. I was so caught up in preparing myself for the destination that the journey meant very little to me, it was an obstacle instead of an objective. My journey was less of a jumble of new experiences than a blackout, where I suddenly was where I needed to be and I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d gotten there.
But maybe that’s how life always is: we spend so long preparing to accomplish something that the process of accomplishment isn’t considered. Maybe hope is sneaky like that; in giving us the power to do things we wouldn’t normally dare, it shields us from feeling new experiences. Maybe I should’ve slept more the night before. Or maybe that’s just how road trips go. Idk.