While I have always gravitated toward airplanes as my go-to mode of transportation for long-distance travel, there’s nothing I love more than the adventure of a good old-fashioned road trip. My passion for road trips began as a child, on family excursions along the Eastern Seaboard and across the Chesapeake Bay to Williamsburg. During winter recess, we would hit the road at dawn and head down I-95 to Florida.
Some of my fondest road trip memories are those that took place in the family’s beloved Ford Country Squire station wagon. It had a champagne gold exterior, trimmed with simulated wood grain paneling, and I would later learn to drive in it.
In my 20s, I enjoyed weekend-long road trips with friends upstate. Those usually took place in a friend’s car, as my first car was a used Ford Pinto that broke down on a regular basis.
After our first anniversary, my husband and I took a 10-day vacation and flew into San Francisco, where we rented a car and drove down Highway 1 to San Diego. Accommodations along the way were affordable since I worked for the Marriott Corp. and received an employee rate of $29 per night!
A few years later, we introduced our twin daughters to the road on family vacations in our Chevy Astro mini-van. The girls named the van ‘Boomy, Boomy’ after we hit a rimmed truck tire on a Delaware highway just before sunrise. Thankfully, the only injury sustained was Boomy’s blown front right tire and bent rim.
Several years later, my girls and I joined a friend and her twin boys on a road trip to see Mt. Rushmore and the magnificent Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota. Afterward, we drove to Wyoming to see the Devil’s Tower, the first national monument in the U.S., established in 1906 on land sacred to the Lakota.
“Are we there yet?” was never a question from my girls, but rather, “Where are we going next?” I’d reply, “Wherever the road may lead!” Our road trips were always about the adventure, not the length of the journey.
This summer, I took a ‘unique’ road trip with my husband… a cross-country rail trip to the Pacific Northwest. So, I researched and booked a rail vacation scheduled to depart from Moynihan Station, thinking it would be a great way to see the country. Much to our disappointment, the first leg of our rail trip to Chicago was canceled, twice. With no other train available to get us to the Windy City, we had to find our own way there. In the 11th hour, I booked the last two remaining seats on Southwest Airlines from Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD)
The next morning, before sunrise, we took the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) to the Ronkonkoma Station. From there, we were shuttled to ISP. The walk through the main terminal to the departure gate and through security was simple to navigate, and our experience through ISP was seamless and one that we will frequent again.
After our arrival at ORD, we took the Blue Line to the city’s theater district, where we stayed overnight. The next morning, we had a fantastic architectural boat tour around the city. Later, we boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder at Union Station for a 30+ hour ride across the Great Plains, past Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, North Dakota, and Big Sky Country to E. Glacier, Montana. The ride along the route was uneventful as we traversed overnight past the cities in the distance and the next day through the broad, almost infinite, golden prairie of Big Sky Country. As we reached the majestic mountains of East Glacier National Park, the view livened with brilliant wildflowers, clear mountain streams, and distant snow-capped peaks. Our two-night stay was at Glacier Park Lodge, the first hotel built by the Great Northern Railway. Inside this historic hotel, Douglas Fir logs tower from floor to ceiling over the Lodge’s grand lobby.
The final leg of our rail journey brought us to Seattle. While there, we had a 3-hour bus tour of Seattle and visited the Space Needle and adjacent Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. Afterward, we rented a car and drove to the Seattle Museum of Flight, which holds one of the largest air and space collections in the United States.
Our last stop was Bainbridge Island, known for its natural beauty and densely forested hills. We visited the Island’s Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, an outdoor exhibit commemorating the internment of Japanese Americans. Built of red cedar, granite, and basalt, the Memorial Wall winds down to the Eagledale ferry dock landing site, where the first of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans were exiled from their West Coast homes and transported to internment camps during World War II. Although a solemn reminder of the vestiges of the Second World War on the Homefront, the Memorial also celebrates the Bainbridge Island community and the many there who defended their Japanese-American neighbors and finally welcomed those who returned home after the war’s end.
Our flight from Seattle-Tacoma Airport via JetBlue brought us to JFK International Airport, where we picked up the Air Train and rode the rails home on our familiar LIRR.
From sea to shining sea, there is much to see in this country. So, next year, when I wonder, “Where am I going next?” My answer shall inevitably be, “Wherever the road may lead.”