COLUMN: Zen and the art of the roadtrip


Trent Jonas

Trent Jonas is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Trent Jonas, Columnist

Recently, I was unexpectedly called upon to travel more than five hours north of where I live to deal with a family issue. Everything turned out okay, but I had plenty of car time—in both directions—to reflect. Among the things I decided as the pavement whipped along under my tires was that I really like roadtrips and, in particular, solo road trips.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve never thought that I didn’t like them. Although, there are some drives that I dread. For example, if you ever want to head west toward the Rockies, or the Badlands, or Yellowstone, be aware that there’s a long expanse of plainness—actual plains, in fact—that add a considerable amount of tedium to an otherwise perfectly fine roadtrip.

But even on those types of journeys, you can usually find something of interest: roadside attractions, diners, pie, local beer.

I mean, who hasn’t stopped to stretch their legs at a corn palace or a historical reenactment of a farm, even though they’re really not all that far off from what today’s farms are like (absent the use of machinery, of course)?

And isn’t it weird that agritainment like a “living history farm” often takes place on actual farms, making the whole thing kind of meta?

On my way back from Up North, as we call it here, I stopped by a light house, ate some rhubarb pie, and waited for an ore ship to come into port, until, growing impatient (and a little bored), I left the lakeboat’s pilot house bobbing white against the horizon.

Taking the wheel, once again, I decided not to merge onto the freeway, opting instead for the blacktops that slice through the piney forests, across the peatlands, and past lakes that looked like cloud-filled puddles of sky had spilled across the landscape.

I don’t really get moments like these commuting to and from work or running errands or sitting at a desk (which, at least half the time is also a kitchen table). Anyway, there’s just something about being alone in the car with your thoughts (and these days, with Siri and/or the Google bot), taking in the changing scenery, and stopping—or not stopping—whenever you want, and playing whatever music you want; or just riding in silence, nothing but road noises and the Dopplering cars passing in the other direction to keep you company.

Maybe it’s the possibility presented by a roadtrip—that you don’t have to take the freeway, don’t even have to go back, can just keep driving—that is so attractive. Perhaps I should take a long drive and try to figure it out.

Trent Jonas is an English graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.