It’s time to drive gravel roads that cut through the hardwoods. To creep along sandy trails that meander through sprawling forests of pine. Driving off the pavement is one of my favorites. I enjoy opening the windows, smelling the fresh air, listening to the sound the tires make as they explore unfamiliar terrain.
I am meant for the backroads.
Some of my happiest times are when I am in a four-wheel drive with my wife and kids tooling around paths in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know that they enjoy it as much as I do, but they humor me. I don’t go as deep into the unknown when I am with them. If the road makes my wife stiffen in her seat and she starts looking around warily, I turn around.
When it’s me and my daughter all paths can be traveled. With fishing and camping gear in the backseat, we are great adventurers navigating muddy two-tracks, uneven ruts, rocks, water holes, and fields. We count butterflies and birch trees. Stop to talk to turkeys, squirrels, and deer. We laugh when we plow through deep water and it sprays like a geyser into the air. She giggles when we fly up and over steep hills.
“My belly!” she shouts.
We reach places others can’t and set up camp. We drive stakes into dirt, put up the tent, gather kindling and wood to build a fire, and before long, we have our home away from home. We talk about how we miss Mom and Julian, but we know they don’t understand. They don’t see what we see, and that’s okay.
We appreciate the stickiness of a hot day. The shivers of a cold night. We don’t mind bugs, coyotes, the strange sounds that tingle our guts and make us stay up late and talk for as long as it takes to sleep. With stars that glint and streak, crickets and frogs that sing, there’s no place else to be. Until morning. When we eat fried eggs and bacon cooked over the fire pit in our cast iron skillet. Then put on our waders, gather up the poles and lures and bait.
“Where are we headed, Dad?”
“This way seems right.”
And we hike together toward the sound of water rushing in the distance.