Readers share lessons on long car trips

The road trip. It’s an American tradition, climbing into a car and burning up a few hundred or a few thousand miles as a means of spiritual cleansing and a way of just finding out what might lie over the next hill.

To celebrate the Great American Road Trip, we asked readers to share stories of the most memorable auto jaunts they’ve taken. Some were fun, some were sweet and, taken together, they illustrate the greatest virtue of a road trip: the unpredictability inherent in taking one.

Here are a few of your stories.

KEEPING PACER

Diane Albert was almost 22 when she and her friend Jeanne set off in Albert’s 1976 AMC Pacer from Boston in 1977. Their plan was to head to Memphis, Tenn., where Albert, an aspiring songwriter, hoped that a DJ friend might help to get her songs noticed.

"I had a job driving around Massachusetts and Rhode Island for a jewelry manufacturer," said Albert (who now is a songwriter; check out her work at www.HappyRetroGirl.com), while Jeanne "had a succession of jobs. She quit her job for us to go on this road trip.

"We went with no plans, no money, no credit cards. I remember gasoline couldn’t have been more than 39 cents a gallon."

The Pacer — named "Joel" — had no air conditioning, and the duo slept in the car at rest stops when they weren’t staying with friends or family or, one night, in a particularly creepy motel.

They met people, including the family with the deep Southern accents whose kids told the girls they were going to the beach and asked, ‘Wanna cooom?" in a leisurely drawl. That, Albert says, remains "one of our little phrases to this day."

They were hit on by guys in ways that, Albert now realizes, were kind of creepy. She suspects she and Jeanne were saved from whatever could have but didn’t happen only through their own naivete and innocence and a few attentive angels.

While Albert didn’t sell any songs in Memphis, she did, at the request of a few guys the duo had met, play an impromptu concert one night at a gas station. "I sat down by the pump and played five or six of my songs for them," she says.

To this day, they remain amused by the sign that welcomed them to a place called "Bucksnort."

"I don’t know if we were just giddy from driving so long or just too tired when we saw the sign," Albert explains. "We started laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe."

And, they gave some truckers an unintentional thrill on the way home when they removed their halter tops in an attempt to beat the heat. They soon became so comfortable that they didn’t realize why the guys in the truck rig that pulled up next to them were being so friendly."

Jeanne finally realized what was going on and re-tied her top, "but she didn’t tell me for another five or 10 minutes," Albert recalls.

The trip lasted about two weeks. Today, 34 years later, Albert and Jeanne are still friends, Joel still resides in Albert’s garage, and memories from the trip are as vivid as ever.

Would she do it again? "At this age? Oh, God," answers Albert, 55. "No way."

Marriage and kids and adult responsibilities and all that, Albert explains. Then, she thinks it over one more time.

"But if we were single …" she adds, and "with no responsibilities, I think we would do it."

STRENGTHENING BONDS

Lori Isaacs’ most memorable road trip began as a road trip her parents had planned to their 55th high school reunion in Sharpsville, Pa.

Richard and Joanne Bishop bought a new car for the trip and began planning for it a year before. But, in 2008, about 18 months before the reunion, Joanne Bishop died.

The couple would have been married 53 years, says Isaacs, 53, and her father "thought he wasn’t going to go."

However, Isaacs offered to take the trip with him. So, in October 2009, father and daughter set out from Las Vegas to Sharpsville, a town on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

Richard was almost 74 at the time but still "did almost all of the driving," Isaacs says.

They spent three weeks on the road and ultimately traveled 6,079 miles. Their route was deliberately circuitous, their pace deliberately slow and their itinerary deliberately flexible.

"We didn’t have anyplace to be other than having to be in Pennsylvania by the date of the reunion," Isaacs says. "So we stopped at places we thought were interesting and places we had not visited."

They’d been to the Grand Canyon, so they visited Palo Duro Canyon in Texas — often called the second-largest canyon in the United States — instead. They watched a guy participate in a steak-eating contest in Amarillo, Texas. They went to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and explored the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. And, they visited Glen Jean, W.Va., where her dad’s mom was born, to explore some family roots.

They attended the reunion, of course, and visited family members in Sharpsville. And, along the way, Isaacs and her father talked about politics and family and life.

"He remembered my mother several times," Isaacs says. "He brought up a lot of his stories that I had never heard, or remembered hearing, as a young child. He really grew to remember his youth and the things he had accomplished. I learned a lot about him and my mother and other relatives."

"We were always close," Isaacs adds, but, because of the trip, "we share, probably, a special bond now more than we did."

That Christmas, Isaacs presented her dad with a bound journal of the trip that included photos and stories of their time together.

They’ve taken road trips since then and in October are planning a five- or six-week-long road trip. They’ll fly to New Jersey and drive a recreational vehicle to Phoenix, making stops in Virginia and the Florida Keys and along the Gulf Coast on the way.

UNLUCKY BREAK

Sometimes, a road trip’s surprises aren’t pleasant ones.

Consider Francesca Ridgley’s road trip last year from Las Vegas to Virginia to celebrate her son’s birthday. Things started out well for Ridgley, 75, and her husband, Charles, who often take driving trips throughout the West.

Among her most memorable sights on the drive east was the "huge, brilliant, beautiful and breathtaking" moon they saw in Myrtle Beach, S.C. "I’ve never seen a moon that big," she says.

Of course, they enjoyed their time with Ridgley’s son, Ignacio, and caught the local sites and even made a trip to Monticello.

But, as they were preparing to drive back to Las Vegas, a major storm was brewing. Ignacio was concerned, Ridgley says, but they set off anyway.

On the second night of the trip back to Las Vegas, the couple stopped in Lebanon, Tenn., just east of Nashville, for the night. By then, the storm had hit, Ridgley says, and the city was experiencing flooding, and the interstate had been reduced to one lane.

But none of that is what the couple should have been concerned about. Instead, as Ridgley got out of bed the next morning, she fell, hit the nightstand with her shoulder and felt, she says, "excruciating pain" all over the left side of her body.

The desk clerk told the couple that, because of storm-related crises, waiting for an ambulance to arrive would take longer than driving to the hospital themselves, Ridgley recalls.

Ridgley discovered that she had fractured her left arm. Wearing a sling, she left the hospital to continue the trip home. "It took me about eight months to recover from that," she adds.

The ride home wasn’t as pleasant as the ride there, but Ridgley says it still was a nice trip. And, none of it has deterred the couple’s love of road tripping.

"You can see the views and the landscape and the houses and the gardens and things like that you don’t see in a plane," Ridgley explains. "In a plane, all you see is people and seats and, sometimes, the stewardess."

LINKS ACROSS THE LAND

Road trips can be either improvisational or proceed according to a predetermined plan. When Michael Yepko and his father, Robert, drove from Ohio to Las Vegas in 1991, they set out with a definite plan.

Namely: to play golf at every city they stopped at along the way.

Yepko had just graduated from the FBI academy and had been assigned to the bureau’s Las Vegas office. So, he asked his father to accompany him on the cross-country drive.

Their plan was to drive every day from 7 a.m. to about 1 p.m., covering no more than 300 or so miles a day. Then they’d find someplace to stay, grab a bite to eat, ask around for the nearest public course and spend the afternoon golfing.

Louisville, Ky.; Memphis; Little Rock, Ark.; Oklahoma City; Amarillo, Texas, where Yepko recalls tornadolike, "blood-burgundy, mad lavender-indigo" skies. Albuquerque, N.M., Flagstaff Ariz. And, finally, Las Vegas, where Yepko’s dad — who never had visited here before — had the chance to try his luck.

During the trip, Yepko and his dad talked. Yepko calls his dad his navigator and sounding board during the drive. They even caught a few sights that weren’t related to golfing. In Tucumcari, N.M., Yepko picked up a hat that said "Tucumcari" in tribute to Clint Eastwood (the city figures in "For a Few Dollars More").

Yepko’s dad is now 72, still lives in Ohio and has visited here several times over the years.

But from that eight-day trip back in 1991, Yepko wrote down a few lessons. Among them: "You only have one father. Hours in a car and on a golf course will reveal hidden information. Do not fail to say ‘I love you’ every day."

And, of course: "Take more road trips while your health is good."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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