Where to go and how to get there


My dad loved maps. Trip planning was his favorite pastime, and it didn’t matter if it wasn’t his trip he was planning. If someone he knew even mentioned that they heard about someone else going on a trip, he planned it for them. The dining room table would be covered in folding maps, atlases, scribbled notes on scraps of notepaper. He drew arrows, and lines, and annotated every town and scenic overlook and point of interest on the proposed route.

Once, when I was driving from the east coast to Washington State to get on a ferry to Alaska for a job, he had me roaring across the plains at breakneck pace so I could get to a certain truckstop that he had heard made the best cheeseburgers in the country in time for dinner. Don’t get me wrong; it was a great cheeseburger. But that cheeseburger was the only reason I was even in Montana!

Our family trips were always major productions. We moved so frequently, each summer holiday was a relocation process, involving cars, trains, planes, boats, dogsled (no, seriously, that happened twice), water buffalo (also totally true), ambulance (nobody was injured, it was just a very small island and that was the only available vehicle), elephant, you name it, I probably rode it on my way to another new home. We always took a broadly circuitous route, detouring hundreds of miles sometimes in order to see all the things on his carefully crafted itinerary.

“Guess what? We’re going to see the World of Pigeons!”

       “Really?! Is that on the way?”

“Well…sort of. Not precisely. Okay, no. But: World of Pigeons! We can’t miss seeing that!”

He was also the master at packing anything. Luggage, grocery carts, car boots, trunks, cigar boxes, whatever, he would pack and repack until it was the picture of Tetris perfection. We never left on time, but by George, our shit was well sorted!

Some of you who know me well are laughing now, as apparently I have inherited this trait. When I pack for a month-long trip to Europe, it’s a process of several trial runs before I get it organized to my satisfaction. But, much thanks to my dad’s habits, I can indeed pack for a month in a 40L backpack, and still have room to bring home books. It helps that I’m small.

My dad died before smart phones existed, and I often wonder what he would have thought about Google Maps and GPS, and the precision manner in which most people travel now. He was fond of gadgets, so I think he would have loved the ability to find weird stuff to look at or places to eat en route. But I bet you anything he would still have relied on his heavily highlighted, post-it noted, folding maps and atlases. They were like topographical travel journals by the time he was finished with them, dog-eared and coffee-stained, road weary representations of the miles covered and the adventures had.

After I reached adulthood and was traveling on my own, I always followed his plans, without question. He had traveled extensively, knew people everywhere, and constantly read about places he had not yet been, so he had, by the time I was a young adult, a rather encyclopedic knowledge of world travel. Every Christmas he gave me a new road atlas, pre-loaded with his handwritten liner notes about places he thought I might like to go, and names and addresses of people he knew in each state or country he suspected I might pass through that year.

No matter my destination, in geography as well as in life, he was the guy to get me there with the most interesting experiences along the way. And isn’t that the whole point of it all?

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