It hit me about the time we reached the curvy section of I-80 in western New Jersey and the distinctive hills flanking the Delaware Water Gap came into view: This is a road-trip summer.
I hadn't really lamented the lack of cruising vacations in recent years, but I had noticed it. I wasn't taking long trips in the car from May to September, at least not to new, undiscovered places. There was a wedding in the Outer Banks in 2007, but we had planned to fly down to Virginia Beach and drive from there -- until our flight out of Newark on Friday night was canceled and, afraid that I wouldn't get there by early afternoon to join up with the rest of the wedding party, we took a cab home and got in the car at 1 a.m. and drove through the night. But that was done on the fly and our time in North Carolina so short, it didn't have the feeling of a road trip. More like a travel recovery.
Otherwise, most of our trips in recent summers have been to Casey's family in western Pennsylvania or up to familiar haunts in Maine. But something about this summer feels different, and I love it. It started with a quick overnight to Washington for a baseball game in mid-May with some college buddies. A week later, we commenced a partial repeat of last year's Memorial Day week visit to the Pine Tree State, but we started with the holiday weekend in Boston and Cape Cod and added a night in Bar Harbor, leaving us time for a day trip up Route 1 to Lubec and the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse on the U.S.'s easternmost point.
Then we had last weekend's jaunt out to Cleveland specifically to see the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and cap the day with an Indians game. On the way, we stopped off at Bucknell for lunch, then did the same on the way back. And in the morning, a few hours from now (how many is yet to be determined; it depends on when I get to sleep after work), I'm off on a solo drive up to Maine to meet up with my college roommate for his bachelor party: two nights of camping and a day of rafting on the Penobscot.
Even before the Maine trip, which will add just over 1,000 miles, round-trip, the car's been roughly 9,434 miles this summer -- and I've been in it, if not driving, for just about all of them. I looked over my mileage records and this is only the second 8,000-mile summer I've had since buying the car in June 2000. Just based on the odometer readings from the first fill-up after May 14 and the first one in September, only the summer of '02 had more miles than what we've compiled this summer -- and a lot of those 9,891 ticks were accumulated on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike as I commuted 60 miles one-way to work.
So now it's time to get on that road once more, to enjoy the mystery of a solo adventure, even if it's just crowded interstates until Augusta and then a group camping weekend once I roll into Millinocket.