It was the weekend I drove across America: I left Phoenix after work on Friday and pulled into North Carolina before breakfast on Monday. I was hauling macadam.
But to paraphrase Mr. Bernstein from Citizen Kane, “There’s no secret to piling up miles, if all you want to do is pile up miles.”
At any rate, I logged 1,886 miles between work on Friday and sleep on Sunday.
People sometimes ask me if driving doesn’t wear me down, but it doesn’t. There is nothing I find as relaxing as spending a week on the highway, watching the scenery scroll by and the sun roll around heaven all day.
I get up at 5 each morning and count a hundred miles on the odometer before stopping for breakfast. You notice the difference from one edge of a time zone to another: On the same day, 5 a.m. can be black night in Williston, N.D., and broad daylight in Pensacola, Fla., both in the Central Time Zone.
It gives you a cosmic feel: You know you are moving across the arc of the planet’s edge. In Saskatchewan you can watch the grain elevator behind you sink below the horizon in your rear view mirror, like the sails of a ship dropping under the curve of the earth, just as the next elevator breaks the surface in front of you. You are always on the top of a mound that falls off to every side.
The point of this particular dash across the continent was to collect my wife, who had been visiting her mother in North Carolina, and continue on our vacation, making a great loop across the Northeast and back through central Canada.
I left the office at about 4 p.m. on Friday and drove the 289 miles to Gallup, N.M., where I stayed in a chain motel and ate supper at a tiny, empty dive, where a Navajo woman made a great turkey sandwich.
Saturday took me from Gallup to Oklahoma City, some 725 miles. I could have gone further, but I did some sightseeing in Endee, N.M., and in Amarillo, Texas.
Sunday, I stopped for a couple of hours in Arkansas, but still managed to make 872 miles, stopping in Kingston, Tenn., just short of Knoxville.
I usually avoid the interstates, but to waste as little time as possible before joining my wife, I took I-40 most of the way, playing dodge-cars with semis, terrorizing slow-moving RVs and watching my odometer spin like a slot machine.
The next day, I drove across the Smokies, up along the Blue Ridge and down into the Piedmont, managing to cruise through Andy Griffith’s Mount Airy.
There are some disadvantages to this kind of travel. Meals, for instance, are either awful or non-existent. Mostly, I keep a box of Fig Newtons in the back seat and gnosh occasionally. The entree is beef jerky bought at a truck stop; I’ve become quite a connoisseur of jerky. A liter of bottled water sits on the back floor.
When I do stop and eat dinner, it is uniformly greasy, oversalted and overcooked. And don’t even mention the salad bar.
Then, it’s into the motel room for a night’s sleep before getting up again at 5, to see the dull light in the east spread out along the fuzzy line that separates the sky and its brightening clouds from the ground below and the road that stretches toward the rising sun.