I love car trips. Whether it’s a day trip to Hot Springs or Mountain View or Memphis, a weekend in Branson, or a longer cross-country vacation, I enjoy getting up early and heading out on an adventure. I rarely drive; I’m perfectly content to be in the passenger seat, watching the countryside pass by. This is when my imagination kicks in. That one little house with the lights burning at four-thirty in the morning when the neighbors’ houses are dark … a nurse getting ready for an early shift? A restaurant worker, perhaps, who’ll be serving breakfasts to hungry patrons soon.
I have one of those best-of-both-worlds homes, in some ways. I live in a rural area surrounded by neighbors who raise cows and miniature horses, but I’m only a ten minute drive from two nice sized towns and twenty minutes from downtown Little Rock. What would it be like, I wonder during those leisurely, vacation road trips, to live in a tiny, more isolated town? Where everyone does their shopping at the local grocery, everyone attends the same little school, everyone knows everyone on Main Street? I usually fly to larger venues — New York, San Francisco, Chicago — so I miss the countryside on the way, but I enjoy those trips, too, exploring the cities and wondering how it might feel to live in a highrise within walking distance of markets and theaters and museums.
Maybe because he’s stuck doing all the driving, my husband was never as enthused about long road trips as I was. He prefers to fly for long trips. I’m not afraid of flying, and there are certainly times when I’d rather get to my destination sooner, but you miss so much of the country below when you’re 30,000 feet above it. When our kids were young, we’d confine our whole-family vacations to within a 10-hour drive from home. Galveston, Branson, St. Louis, Gatlinburg and New Orleans were all within that circle, so we visited them fairly often. Beach, tourist town, urban area, mountain resort, Cajun country; each trip was fun in a different way, and always fueled my ever-active imagination.
Early last year, my oldest daughter moved 2,300 miles from home to accept a post-doctoral research position. As much as my husband and I hated to see her move so far away, we also rather dreaded the move. She’d been in an apartment in Little Rock for several years during graduate school and wanted to take her furniture and household items with her, so to save her money, we impulsively volunteered to help her move. She rented a U-Haul truck with a trailer to pull her little car and we set out on that long drive — with my husband behind the wheel, as usual.
We had a fantastic time. We were fortunate enough to have a brand-new truck with comfortable leather seats and plenty of leg room (more for them than me. I sat in the middle. But since I have the shortest legs, it wasn’t so bad). We’d given ourselves plenty of time for the trip, so we stopped often to walk around and explore. Through Oklahoma and Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming, Utah and Idaho and into the Pacific Northwest … several states I’d only flown over in the past.
Miles of prairie … what would it be like to live in one of those houses so far from any town? Dust and tumbleweeds and no trees in sight. So different from my rolling, heavily forested home state. That one tiny house at the edge of my sight, surrounded by a couple of obviously-planted and tended trees. Who lives there? Have they ever lived anywhere else?
The mountains. Cold. More snow than we ever see in central Arkansas. I’ve never shoveled a walk or skiied down a mountain. Back home it was already getting warm, already well into spring, and yet it was 3 degrees when we passed through Wyoming as snow fell around us. We lingered in Utah, awed at the towering black-and-white mountains surrounding us, intrigued by the little farms carved into the bases of those mountains. In Idaho, we spent several hours transfixed by the roaring power of 212-foot Shoshone Falls. We just happened to arrive there at the peak of their flow, swollen by snow melt in the mountains, and they were spectacular.
And the Pacific Northwest. Gorgeous. We explored for days, from the moutains to the Pacific Ocean shores. And loved every minute of it.
During that entire two weeks, my camera was never out of my hand. I kept notebooks close by in case inspiration struck — which it did more than once. My husband and I flew home and while it was nice to get back so quickly, it might have been fun to drive back a different route. Through Montana, perhaps. I’ve never been to Montana. Maybe on a future trip …
I’m also an avid armchair traveler. During my lifetime, books have taken me all over this planet — and into a few other worlds. And it’s always a joy to discover someplace new, to set my imagination free.
As much as I love seeing this country and all its many facets, I set many of my own books in the South. They often take place in Arkansas and surrounding states, because I’m comfortable there. At home. Because I love the South and enjoy introducing my readers to the people and places there.
My new release, THE TEXAN’S TENNESSEE ROMANCE, is set in Gatlinburg, one of my favorite vacation retreats (and from where many of the photos I use in this blog have come). I tried to incorporate some of the local scenery I’ve enjoyed so much into the story of two lawyers-in-crisis escaping to the mountains and finding love and solace there. I hope you enjoy the book. And that it serves as a mini-vacation for you, a pleasant escape from everyday routines.
Until my next chance at a real-life escape, I’ll keep writing … and keep traveling from the comfort of my armchair through the books in my always-growing, to-be-read pile.