Thursday, April 11, 2013

Road Trips of Days Gone By

I love to drive. I love to get behind the wheel and hit that open road, becoming one with my vehicle.

When I'm alone in the car, I can travel for great distances without stopping. I would make sure I had used the washroom before I set out, sip whatever liquid I packed and whatever snack I had prepared, and stop only for fuel.

The longest that I've gone without a break, while driving solo, was eight hours (and only one fuel pit stop).

With others in the car—especially, my family—stops are more frequent but are also, mercifully, short. For washroom breaks and fresh air for cabin-fevered kids. Because we have a minivan, we pack coolers with refreshments; we also keep the kids entertained with video games, a DVD player, and their iPods/iPads.

Some of our best vacations have included lengthy periods on the roads. With yesterday's road trip to Mississauga, I was reminded of some of our memorable trips on the highways.

Prince Edward Island:

For three summers, from 2006 to 2008, we packed up the vehicle and pulled out of the driveway at about 8:00 in the evening. Because the drive to PEI is 15 hours, our thought was to let the kids sleep for a good portion of the trip. They were fed, in their pajamas, and tucked into their car seats with pillows and blankets.

They were asleep before we were halfway to Montréal.

I would try to drive non-stop through the evening, stopping only for gas. The first stop would be between 1 and 2 in the morning, not long after we passed Québec City. I appreciated the fresh air and would grab a coffee.

By about 6:00 in the morning, we would make our second stop, in Hartland, NB, where we would take our breakfast in the small park, next to the world's longest covered bridge. Once, we saw a golden eagle fly low along the river. It was spectacular.

The kids would be fed and in good moods, and we would continue, making a stop in Fredericton and Moncton before crossing the Confederation Bridge into PEI.

Me, having not slept for more than 24 hours by the time we checked into our cottage or camp ground, would crash once everything was unpacked. The real vacation would start the next day.

Cape Cod:

Only two years ago and that road trip will go down as one of our more adventurous, not on the way down, but on the way back.

You see, we were there for the week that led up to Hurricane Irene battering the eastern seaboard.

On the Friday before our departure, the day before Irene was set to hit the region, our van's alternator decided to die. What made things worse was that when we took the van into a nearby garage, the shop owner tried, in vain, to find us a replacement part. There was no alternator for a 2003 Odyssey anywhere on the cape. He would have to order us a part and install it on the following Monday or Tuesday.

I ended up renting a car and driving nearly to Boston to get the part. I dropped it off with the van on Saturday morning and waited, all the while the governor of Massachusetts was talking about closing the bridges to and from the cape if wind speeds exceeded 70 mph.

Thanks to the hard work of the garage owner, we had our van back on the road and were off Cape Cod just before the heavy rains came. Our family back in Ottawa was frantically calling us to see if we were safe and they were tracking the storm, offering us suggestions of where we should drive to avoid the worst of the hurricane.

Drive northwest, they urged, try to make it to Vermont.

Vermont was hit pretty hard when the storm made landfall.

Luckily, we trusted our instincts and took shelter in Boston, at a hotel that connected with a couple of shopping malls and kept us inside during Irene's visit. The kids were nervous at first, but because Lori and I kept our heads we had nothing to fear.

I documented parts of our trip on this blog.

Tuscany, Italy:

This has been my favourite family vacation. It is also the trip that the kids continue talking about the most.

One of our best friends was living in Rome at the time, so we enjoyed a few glorious days with her before we headed north. And because of the generosity of our friend, we didn't have to rent a car. She had a small SUV that she didn't use often in her city, so she gave us the keys.

Driving the winding Tuscan roads is one of the greatest experiences of my driving life. The scenery is breathtaking, especially when you round a curve and a Medieval hill town pops out in front of you. Several times, I would have to pull over so that I could take the time to take in the majesty of the landscape, to snap a photo or two.

We rented a villa in the Chianti region, where the view offered spectacular vistas of vineyards, olive groves, and San Gimignano on the next hill. Each day, we would venture to another town: Florence, Siena, Volterra, Pisa, and more.

Driving trips, for the most part are great. As our competitive dance season has officially started, we can expect some time on the road.

And hopefully, the journey will be part of the adventure.

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