Tomorrow I’m driving up to Mt Rainier with Matthew and some friends. Reading this, my immediate family may feel a frisson of concern. Not because I’m visiting a semi-active volcano–we do that for fun.
My family is nervous reading this because I will be driving. I got my first permit at 16, like most people in my grade. But I didn’t get my license until Spring of last year, and only because a road trip to Kentucky to see a Black Keys concert hung in the balance.
Some of this is because I’ve lived in cities where cars are encumbrances; a waste of parking-space money and an ill-use of time. Some of this is because, for a long time, I found driving on freeways terrifying. The power to crush half-a-dozen people, often wielded by others between coffee sips and glances at a phone, seemed too much a price for a faster commute.
Instead, I took the train and the bus; I bought and sold several bikes; I walked. I ate blackberries on the wild path between my apartment building and the metro and became familiar with the Street Sense vendors around Farragut Sq. I got to know which sidewalks sloped sideways and which were level, which coffee shops pushed the smells of their pastries out and which kept the AC in. I listened to podcasts and mashups and rock music and rap. I learned my cities by foot.
Since getting my license, when I do drive it is to facilitate a journey. That first trip, my friend and I traded off driving the 12 hours from DC to Louisville and back in a weekend. This April, I drove with Matthew to Montana and back to see Glacier National Park–that’s about a quarter the width of the United States. Matthew and I alternated driving to the Sierras this past August.
In those situations, where I’m driving to see a great beauty, to be near the bones of my continent or the lay of several states-worth of land, the potential price of freeway driving seems worth it. The wildness of exit lanes and the cool-handed-drivers in the far left are all fellow travelers, rather than slip-fingered assassins waiting to swerve wrong into my lane, or become my victim, haunting my blind spot.
I tried driving I-5 at rush hour last week; it was not a good experience. I did it for convenience, using a Car2Go, to get to a trapeze class faster than I would on the bus. After class, I went for $2 tacos with my fellow flyers and took an Uber home. It cost the same and was less of a hassle.
I’ll be driving the same route down I-5 to start tomorrow. There will be things that are different about that trip: it will be early Sunday morning, with fewer drivers desperate to get home before supper cleans up. There will be better sunshine and, hopefully, fewer Mac trucks.
I will also be different on this trip. I will be driving to experience the rare and raw beauty of the tallest volcano in the contiguous United States, a volcano that has not erupted in 1,000 years and is the snowiest of the places that try for that record. The mountain is worth the journey. That will make all the difference.
“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.” ― John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf