The quintessential road trip involved a motorized vehicle, a map, and never-ending snacks. At least, that is the way I grew up. Me, and my siblings, would pile into our parent’s station wagon. Its dark wood-panelled sides carved with scratches and dents from previous memorable trips. We have distinct zones in the car. Each child with their specific spot and no one, or their limbs, could cross those lines. Falling asleep on a long road trip was no exception. Outside the windows, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band providing our travelling soundtrack, was our adventure. Our movement from something mundane to something new.
I was fortunate they placed me behind the front passenger seat. My seat was a window seat with views of the passing countryside and townships. No cars and big boxed trucks for me. I watched as we passed each power line seeded in farmers’ fields and daydreamed I was riding my horse beside the car. The Canadian Pony Express of One, whose horse must jump each power pole shadow or trip and fall behind the car we chased through the provinces. It was a shadow horse, a dark wisp of memory, racing alongside with me on its back. We never missed a jump and raced the car until the clouds stole our shadows away.
All road snacks came from the home kitchen. Our mom would prepare everything ahead of time and ration one piece of the overall picnic at a time. It was the first staged, 12 course meal of my life. Where we each had something sweet, salty, sour followed with water to cleanse our palates. My favourite was the course of crackers, pickles, and cheese. To this day, it is one of our travel snacks. With a side of homemade sour pickles to compliment the fattiness of the cheese. Delightful, easily handled by all. On the rarest of occasion, we would stop and eat fast food. We never ate it in the car. Car snacks were from the house only. Fast food was for when mom felt we needed to stretch our legs, use the toilet, and maybe she needed a breather from being in the car with the minimum of 4 kids, and sometimes the addition of a husband and kittens.
Our destinations were usually unknown to me, unless we were visiting family. Perhaps my parents planned, I don’t know. I know we were going somewhere new, somewhere interesting, and my shadow horse raced along to join in with the adventure.
I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.Douglas Adams, the Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
As an adult, I travel the same. The shadow horse has gone, replaced by whatever vehicle I, or my partner, are driving. There are road snacks, some from my kitchen, some from a roadside fast food place. I now know the general direction we are headed. Though we have an idea rather than a set destination. We prefer to leave all options open and be spontaneous. It keeps the adventure alive.
But in times of Covid, where road trips are limited, I have turned my escapes to books. I usually join a book club in the town we are living in to explore the area. We choose local authors or stories that took place in our area. Book clubs are a great way to explore new genres and authors. But now, with book clubs moved online, I have changed to reading about my area.
On our biking trip a few weeks ago, I came upon a Free Little Library. In it, were several novels, self-help books, and best of all The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. The title might be dry, but what I saw was a trip through American. A trip through space and time, and all provided within the 768 page book.
The origin of my newest book. You can see it peaking out in the middle of the lower shelf.
Tales from the 1700s through the 1900s. Exploring internal struggles and external journeys. From as far north as Alaska down through XXX. The best part was, I could jump and hop through space and time. My shadow horse could return and leap between the stories wherever my fancy took me. Yes, I am climbing the walls and returning to the imagination of my childhood. I quite like it.
My first destination was the Catskill Mountains following the adventure of Rip Van Winkle, written by Washington Irving under his satirical pseudonym, Diedrich Knickerbocker. Rip Van Winkle, while running to escape the terror of his wife and his domestication, meets the spirit of Henrick Hudson, explorer for the Dutch East India Company. Henrick offers Rip a flagon of alcohol he consumes amongst the eery silence. Other than the sounds of ninepin bowling. Rip drank so much he settled into a deep sleep.
Rip… was one of those happy mortals of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who… would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound.Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle
When Rip woke, he found his gun rusted and his dog, Wolf, missing. Upon his return to the village, he found the place and people changed.
The very village was altered; it was larger and more populous. … [Rip] began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched.Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle
Yet after he realizes he had slept twenty years, Rip is relieved. He does not have to run away from responsibility and his wife any longer. Now he can live with his daughter and idle, guilt free, in the village. His adventure, having a drink and a nap, ends his responsibilities.
After enjoying the tale, I looked into the folklore Washington Irving used to inspire the tale. Peter Klaus, a German folktale, inspired Rip Van Winkle. Perter, a goat herder, was led to “twelve grave old knights” who appointed him to set up the ninepin game they were playing. He took a drink of their alcohol, then fell to sleep. He woke to find his sheep missing and everything changed.
The people whom he met at his entrance to the town were unknown to him, and dressed and spoke differently from those whom he had known there.Johann Karl Christoph Nachtigal, Peter Klaus
Both characters take a twenty-year nap after drinking from the strange individuals who met them. Both grew long beards and returned to dilapidated homes. Rip though, is grateful for his release from the tyranny of his wife and chores. Rip Van Winkle also had a political change.
So, by reading one short story in my new-to-me book, I have travelled to a village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains, and to a village in Europe. I learned they named the Hudson River after a Dutch explorer for the Dutch East India Company from the 1500s, and that he and his crew may haunts the Catskills. All in less than 10,000 words.
I miss travel, but I love to explore. My new to me book is filling that void.
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