Several times a year we make long roadtrips. We drive to Florida or we drive to Maine, or we go on some summer excursion that takes us to places we’ve never been before. Road trips are great because there is no hassel of airports, airplanes, security checks, and baggage claim. We have the freedom to depart whenever we want, shorten or extend our trip as we see fit. We can divert easily to some place that catches our eye. The only limitation is time.
There is a strangeness to road time that I notice when we drive. We are generally not in a rush on these trips. Especially when driving long distances, we know that we will leave early in the morning and arrive at our final destination sometime the following afternoon. We have a hotel reservation, but no sense of urgency to get there. And yet, I find that as the drive progresses, the road creates its down sense of urgency.
I do the driving because I don’t mind it. It means I can listen to audiobooks for hours on end as I drive. Kelly handles “cabin resource managment,” which takes the strain of worrying about the kids off me as I drive. The beginning of the drive is always the worst part–driving out of any metropolitan area is tough under the best of conditions. Once we are south of Stafford, Virginia, however, we leave the metropolitan areas behind. This is where I began to relax. Our car has all sorts of features that make driving easy: progressive cruise control, blind-spot detection, lane drift detection. I set the progressive cruise control once we are on the open road, and I can go for hours without touching it again.
And yet… as the drive progresses, something about road time makes me want to go faster as time wears on. For the first few hours, I can settle four or five car lengths behind a truck that is doing 70 MPH in a 70 MPH zone and be perfectly content. After several hours, however, I’ll go to pass a truck or a car, and after that, settling back in at 70 MPH or 65 MPH doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. I feel like I am not making progress. I can’t explain why this is but I have theories. For instance, despite the highway signs that indicate speed saying “Speed Limit” we tend to treat those as minimums. Nearly everyone on the road is driving 5-10 MPH behind the “limit.” That alone gives a sense of urgency. If I am driving 72 MPH in a 70 MPH zone and nearly every car is passing me, I feel somehow like I am being left behind. Behind what, I have no idea.
Then, too, when I work out the math, there is no signfican different between driving the speed limit, or 10 MPH above it. Over the course of an 8 hour drive, driving 75 MPH instead of 70 MPH saves 5 miles every hour–which amounts to maybe 4 minutes per hour or half an hour over the course of 8 hours. In other words, driving 75 MPH gets me to my destination 30 minutes sooner than driving 70 MPH. But I am in no rush, so what’d the big deal about 30 minutes? It just means we’ll sit at the hotel 30 minutes longer. It also means 30 minutes more of audiobook listening. And yet, I still feel that sense of urgency as the hours slide past.
The trick is, it seems to me, not to pass cars. Find a spot and a decent speed, and stick to it. Relax. Enjoy the scenery. Listen to audiobooks. Chat with the family. There is no rush. And that sense of urgency a false one. All of this is good advice. I only wish I had the discipline to take it.
Written on March 6, 2022.
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