Ever since I learned to drive, I've craved the Zen of the long road trip.
In my youth, I'd pack my truck, find a line on a map, and see how far I could get before Monday. I was searching for something I never could describe or find — that unfulfilled search being part of the journey's mystique.
By Day Four of our family RV trip through Arizona, the Chateau Sport, our 26-foot box-home on wheels, was a sanctuary. Everything we needed was within our mobile abode: crackers, cheese, wine, a bathroom and a DVD player.
In Sedona, every other car on the road is a pink jeep for hire that will take you off-roading through the backcountry. While I suggested the easiest ride for the sake of the children, Thing 2 drooled when the guide described the bumpiest route. Never fails. Whenever I think they won't like something, they love it. Bourbon, for instance.
Dolly, the petite and friendly driver on our three-hour kidney-pounder, took us deep into the canyons and dusty trails, offering insights on the native plants, animals and people. Virtually every rock formation in the region has a name: Coffeepot Rock, Bell Rock, Chimney Rock, Cow Pies, Twin Nuns and of course Snoopy reclining on the top of his doghouse.
We stopped for photos against the scenic backdrop, standing on one of the lesser-known rocks. Floyd, I think.
That night after pizza, we lured the girls out of the RV with S'mores. Created by the same devious mind that mixed peanut butter with jelly, Oreos with milk, and rum with Coke, few things close a day better than a campfire, marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers.
We hit the road early the following day for two very important reasons: pie and baseball. There's not much between Sedona and Phoenix, but one dot on the map caught my eye: Rock Springs. In a Google search of this one-horse town, it's hard to find an entry that's not about the pies at Rock Springs Café. The blue highway sign at the off-ramp declares: gas-food-lodging-pies.
It's equal parts saloon, kitschy gift shop and greasy spoon. But all pie heaven. Turtle pie, strawberry cheesecake, mixed berry, apple crumb. Normally it has to be the day after Thanksgiving for us to have such a decadent breakfast.
One of my lifelong dreams was to take my family to Vero Beach, Florida, for spring training baseball. I was heartbroken when the Dodgers left their original pre-season home, but having them a day's drive away made my dream easier to fulfill.
Before the game at Camelback Ranch, we roamed the practice fields watching Manny Mota hit ground balls to minor leaguers; Davey Lopes demonstrating the art of the steal. We saw the pitchers of tomorrow striking out the big bats of today. We saw concession prices that didn't know this was pre-season.
As a father, I'd throw myself before a train to save my daughters. But when Tommy Lasorda sat for autographs, taking children first, I grabbed Thing 1 and ran to the head of a very long line. Shoving a new baseball into her hands, I wedged her between a 300 lb. professional souvenir collector and a Hell's Angel.
I document this publicly so her future therapists won't have to dig too deep. But I got my autographed ball.
That evening, we settled into a desert campground with a panoramic view over Phoenix and beyond. Nibbling hors d'oeuvres of Pringles, salami and yogurt-covered raisins, we watched the sun set over a heated match of Go Fish. When the kids retired to watch “Grease” for the 18th time in five days, the wife and I sat by the campfire trying to discern the stars in the sky from the lights on the land.
By now we'd become accustomed to the sounds in the rig at night. So, when I was awakened by a scratching sound in the depths of the cabinets, I knew we'd taken aboard a stowaway.
Zeroing in on our utensil drawer, I saw a mouse that was no Stuart Little. With my sleeping children in life-threatening jeopardy, I grabbed my flashlight, Swiss Army knife and a tube sock, prepared for battle. But, the children’s mother held me back. On a trip full of memories, she explained, waking in the dead of night to see Daddy in his undies chase a rodent through the RV was one the kids did not need.
Wise, wise wife. As a result, there is a very confused Arizona desert mouse somewhere in the San Fernando Valley right now.
I've driven the deserts, the mountains and the coastal cliffs searching for something I never could place, that illusive contentment and knowing comfort that doesn't fade around the next bend. Through the seemingly endless desert between “there” and home, are the answers; answers to so many lone journeys, so many prayers and chased sunsets.
And my answers are right behind me in the Chateau Sport, enjoying the long road ahead. Two Things and a remarkable lady. I'm home wherever I am, so long as I'm with them.
PATRICK CANEDAY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. See pictures of his road trip on Facebook and at www.patrickcaneday.com.