A few days ago, I threw some clothes in a bag and jumped into my 2017 Toyota Tacoma 4X4.
I needed to get out of Portland, Oregon. Bringing a new magazine and website — Linkage — to life is fun, but it’s also exhausting. A road trip is always the solution to a tired, muddled mind.
I wasn’t sure of the exact destination, but I was pretty sure that I would be in the sagebrush country of Central Oregon in about two hours. Snow was forecast, and my Tacoma 4×4 — a slow, sturdy rig with the gritty ability to handle any weather or road — was the perfect choice for this spur-of-the-moment trip.
The truck almost steered itself onto State Highway 26, and I hit the snow a few miles from Government Camp — a little town amid several ski areas — on Mount Hood. The first snow of the year always shows who is ready and who is not.
Most of my fellow drivers were in sportier rides than mine, but they were sliding and slipping all over the road. The excellent Tacoma ground on regardless of snow and ice.
The snow pelted the windshield as I passed cars marooned in chain-up areas. Then the road tilted down into the series of gentle curves that signal the eastern side of Mount Hood. By now, the highway was almost deserted and pure white with a tint of blue. I rolled the window down, and listened to the tires squeak through three inches of fresh snow. The cold air carried the scent of pine sap.
I realized just how free I was at that moment. A network of asphalt was ready — like a massive, ever-branching river — to carry me away.
In 40 minutes, I could pull into the small town of Maupin, Oregon on the Deschutes River. I always have fly-fishing gear in the truck. In fact, this truck is always stocked with everything I need for camping, fly fishing and road trips. Trout are eager biters during a snowstorm.
But, oddly for me, I wanted to keep driving.
I steered the truck through the Crooked River National Grassland, where pronghorn antelope and mule deer stood still and dark as the bright snow fell. I drove along the Crooked River, which flows through a rocky basalt canyon right out of a western movie. I stopped the truck at a deserted campground, opened the tailgate and fired up my camping stove to heat up some soup.
The river water looked like black ink — or maybe wet asphalt — against the snowy banks. Trout rose in little dimples, even as clear ice formed on riverside boulders. The only sounds were the hissing stove and the soft burble of running water.
Where to go? I could keep on driving to the tiny ranching towns of Mitchell and Dayville — all the way to the Idaho border at Ontario. Then, I could drive up or down the massive Snake River. Or I could then pull onto Interstate 84 and drive another 230 miles or so to Sun Valley in Idaho.
My head spun a little as I imagined all those roads, all those adventures.
Wherever you live, a road is ready to take you away — for an hour, a day, a weekend, a month or the rest of your life. Roads are the rivers of our car life, and they flow over the landscape, constantly beckoning to us.
When I was a little kid, a man named A.O. Hill — my uncle — told me that how you get somewhere is more important than actually getting there. He also told me to find moments of beauty in each day.
When my uncle retired, he spent the rest of his life driving his 1971 Oldsmobile Delta 88 — with a green brocade interior — all over North America. His oil field tools rusted behind his house in Oklahoma, but his poetry remained bright and sharp.
I always asked him where he was going next.
“Oh, on down the road,” he’d say. “On down the road.”
I ate my soup, stowed the stove and got back into the truck. It was time to get on down the road.
What is the road telling you these days?