By the time we arrived in Oceanside we had traveled 3,175.8 miles and spent 70 hours and 45 minutes in the car. If we’d driven straight through from Elgin it would have been a little over 2,000 miles and it would have taken less than half the time.

We liked our way better.

With the exception of a brief break to visit the Oceanside Sunset Market, walk the pier, and capture the setting sun while surfers played in the Pacific Ocean, we spent the next two days catching up on some work and preparing for the San Diego Travel and Adventure Show.

Oceanside Night Market

That show was the impetus for the whole trip, but it was no longer the reason. After everything we’d seen and done over the last two weeks it almost seemed like an afterthought. We went through the motions: printing the poster, buying the candy, ensuring the one set of dress clothes we packed was still presentable, and taking care of all the other minutiae involved with shilling your product at a trade show. It was not our first rodeo.

Except this time the product was different. It was a brand new website and a book that hadn’t been written because we were in the process of living it. This new product was a love of small towns and open roads and the treasures that make this country great.

This new product was me, the dream I’d had since I was ten. Standing there, in that booth, handing out Starburst and Tootsie Rolls and Dark Chocolate Dove in the hopes that some of those thousands of travelers would want to learn more, was raw and vulnerable and scarier, by far, than the previous two shows.

It was also fun.

Road trips capture the imagination like no other travel. There’s an innate sense of freedom when you shut the car door and make that first turn onto a road to anywhere. Over the weekend we heard story after story of road trips past. A woman traveled in a camper for years with her partner, who had passed, and religiously journaled their experiences, so when she gets lonely or feels wanderlust she can reminisce through her own words. A motorcyclist got caught in a hailstorm in Sturgis and was miffed when a cop tried to roust him from the vendor’s tent where he’d found shelter. Didn’t stop the cyclist, though; “I’m always looking for road trips,” he said. An older couple was giddy as they told us their story. The day after he retired they jumped into his Miata and drove cross-country from San Diego to Florida. Then he said to his wife “want to see your sister?” and they continued to Vermont. The sly gent told her the car wouldn’t run if the top was up, so they drove in the rain and snow. “It went right over the top!” they exclaimed, laughing and smiling the whole time.

Even when the show was over, the stories continued. That Monday my sisters- and mother-in-law and I played in the tide pools at Point Loma and I struck up a conversation with Mona, who’d been volunteering at the Cabrillo National Monument for nine years. The next day she was leaving on a twenty-day road trip. She was going to see all of the California missions and was going to attend mass at every one. Since not all of them have daily services, she would have to zigzag across the state, but she had it all worked out.

Pacific Ocean and tidal pools at Point Loma, San Diego, California

We had been exhausted when we arrived in California, but hearing that joy of wanderlust and exploration expressed repeatedly, by people young and old who were so eager to share their passion, was as refreshing as if we’d had a month of perfect, restful sleep. We’d had some slight doubts about how we’d survive the return trip. After the show, those doubts had disappeared and we knew we’d be ready to get back on the road.

The only problem was, we didn’t know where we were going! With the exception of camping in Joshua Tree and a visit to Goblin State Park (one of the freakiest places I’ve ever seen), we had nothing else planned. Nada. Yet, despite being a person who puts more work into researching campgrounds than is probably healthy, I wasn’t worried. Four out of the first thirteen days of this trip had been unplanned, and they turned out just fine. If nothing else, we had a reliable vehicle, maps, and a tent.

It also helped that we were at the Travel & Adventure Show. After we set up on Saturday morning I scouted out the other booths and came across the display for Bishop, California, “Gateway to the High Sierra.” By the time I returned to our booth our visit to central California was planned.

Many of the towns and parks from Utah’s Canyon Country were also at the show, so I grabbed some brochures and maps and asked for some advice on camping spots (which we completely ignored). Our return trip was coming together and we left the show in better spirits and shape than when we’d arrived.

We stayed with Jim’s parents for a full week, but we felt like we barely saw them. Between work and the show, plus trying to figure out where we were going on our way back, there was little time to socialize. As we backed out of the driveway we both started tearing up. While we were anxious to get back on the road, it just didn’t feel like we’d had enough time.

Next time, we promised each other, and soon.

We had made it halfway. Over the next ten days we would more than double both our mileage and our time in the car. We would see snow and sand dunes, drive a treacherous trail and get stopped by cows. We were amazed by what we’d already seen and we weren’t even close to being done.

It was time to go, so we headed east, towards a land of jumbo rocks and spiny trees.

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Road trips capture the imagination like no other travel. There’s an innate sense of freedom when you shut the car door and make that first turn onto a road to anywhere.