When I think of summer, I think of road trips. I think of cramped back seats, novels read in one sitting, and my Dad buying mentos at every gas station. I think of our scratched Proclaimers CD, milkshake stops, and miles of Nevada desert. Most of all, I think of my father. I’ve travelled Europe, French Canada, and Mexico City with my grandparents, but some of my fondest travel memories are piling into my Dad’s 2001, white Ford F-150 with scratched paint and questionable breaks and hauling 3,000 pounds across endless miles of sagebrush and state lines. My dad is truly the king of road trips, and this past road trip is the crowning jewel.
From a week of straight rain on the California coast to terrible campsites to stacks of stinky seaweed on Mexican beaches, something always goes wrong on our road trips. This time, the car popped a tire on a rural gravel road leading to a small town just outside Glacier National Park. Of course, at this point, the sun is setting and there’s no other cars in sight. I insist that my Dad lets me learn how to change the tire, so the whole affair takes twice as long, and when we’re finally done, we’ve missed our window to check into our AirBnb. We turn the car around and drive into the tingling, ethereal air that can only be made by combining those few minutes after the sun sets and breezes of wild, unpolluted air.
The pleasant atmosphere is broken by the worst sound I have ever heard. It is a wailing so filled with pain and desperation my ears ring and I can taste a metallic sting on my tongue. When we find the source of this agony, we discover that a man crashed his car and was thrown dozens of feet from the road. I try not to look too hard, but I catch glimpses of blood and metal. There are already two doctors and an ambulance on the way, so we continue past. Once in town, we check every hotel, and each one is either booked or out of our price range. Last minute, we are lucky enough to find an available AirBnb and we arrive tired, subdued, shocked, and dirty.
It’s a fresh sunrise and fresh start the next morning, and after a milkshake and tire repair, we make our way past the scene of the accident, past the gravel road our tire popped on, and finally make it to our destination: Polebridge, Montana. It is an oasis; a tiny locket of times past where everything is made of huckleberries, strangers stop to talk, and there are only three buildings on the main street. We eat baked goods, hike in Glacier Park, dive into a river, and stand in a copse of trees looking at the stars and making up our own constellations. It is perfect.
As I said, my dad is the king of road trips. No matter how many challenges we face, he always finds a way to get past them, teaching me something along the way. He manages to make sitting for nine hours in a car that lacks leg room seem fun. Most importantly, he shows me that some of the best things are found in the most unlikely places, that money is not always necessary to have fun, and that I should always pursue the wild, untamed voice inside me that tells me to pick a direction and drive until I find something interesting. And, of course, to always stop for a milkshake along the way.
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