81 at 60 and it feels so good…

Every now and then, especially once you pass the age of 60, you challenge yourself to do something you did in your carefree youth, just to see if you still can and if the deed lives up to the memory.

Some things are best left to the scrapbooks and fireside tales, like my sweetheart taking up pole vaulting again, which he tried after many years out of practice. All I have to do is remind him of the difficulty of fitting his tuxedo pants over the ankle cast and he’s good to stand on the sidelines and coach.

When we were dating, our home base was San Jose. One or both of us used to drive back and forth to Newhall every so often to visit his mom and sister or go to Disneyland. We got familiar with the stops (or lack of, back in those days) on the 5 and often discussed the pros and cons of taking the 101 instead, sometimes opting for a scenic route that was a little bit longer. Once we married and kids came along, the trips became less frequent; we settled in SoCal and my parents lived in the Bay Area. Trips were confined to the occasional holiday. As kids grew up and relatives passed on or moved away, schedules precluded any spontaneous five-hour drives.

My last trip north a few years ago, on a journey to research an art festival in Sausalito, my beloved Saturn Vue nearly blew up, ending our road trip with a humbling and expensive flight home.

So when I set out last week to drive to Sacramento to visit my oldest daughter, 40 years after it had been my habit to just jump in the car and take off, I think I was looking to prove something to myself. Could I still do it without complaining and would it be as fun?

I hit the drive-thru at Starbucks at 6:15 a.m. for a cup of iced coffee (the day was already warm), took the cross-valley connector and jumped on the freeway with no problem.

While I didn’t hit much traffic at all (keeping a watchful eye out for the CHP), the early spring and bright sunshine did facilitate a lot of company in that thousands of bugs felt compelled to hurl themselves against my windshield in a statewide suicide pact. I swear I saw a few panicked faces (dare I say they were “bug-eyed?”) before impact. A stop at Harris Ranch for breakfast included some scrubbing of the glass so I could see the road and a second stop was necessary before I reached Stockton for the same reason. This was worse than any trip I could recollect.

My cousin, who also lives near Sacramento, keeps bees and does her best to educate the rest of us about their plight and challenges. When I saw two honeybees were impaled on my windshield wipers, it became a priority to get rid of the evidence, lest I hurt her feelings. And I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done in some distant relative…

Radio is as messed up as ever in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, I came out of a hill to a mix of Motley Crue and Jason Aldean, prompting me to pull over and find Pandora on my phone. It was interesting on the way back to listen to morning deejays in Sacramento, but once again, hitting the farmlands along the freeway, it was time to Pandora my Miranda Lambert station.

The solitude of the road is something I have missed and one of the reasons I don’t embrace public transportation. When you’re in your car alone, there is time to think, time to wonder and sing off-key with no fear of the car next to you listening in. I enjoyed being able to look at roadside signs and toy with the idea of stopping at some tantalizing restaurant or gift shop (I do Yelp about one, www.mamarock.yelp.com) without taking a vote or settling for fast food. And it’s always interesting to see what cargo is sharing the road with me, although the current port strike must have had some effect on my road companions, as they were few. I found it ironic during a drive some time ago in which I found myself traveling with several semis loaded down with garlic – all headed for the famous stinking rose festival. Doesn’t it actually grow in Gilroy?

Driving up, I was buoyed by the excitement of seeing my daughter and cousin and I made good time (my daughter’s comment: “Holy cow, Mom, you drive like m… uh, I drive like you! Not that we ever speed, on the record…) The visit was great; we saw historic sites, beautiful scenery, ate delicious food, laughed and caught up on each others’ lives and as many relatives as we could remember before getting sleepy.

Heading home, I grabbed the obligatory Starbucks and breakfast sandwich and joined pre-rush hour Capitol drivers. The skies were overcast and grey for nearly the entire drive, making the cheap sunglasses I purchased unnecessary. Along the road, I saw the signs denouncing Congress’s “dust bowl” and reminders that our water shortage is something we need to take seriously. Sadly, some of those signs are showing their age, another reminder that water wars have been part of our state’s history for some time. No mention of the possible high-speed rail proposed to cut a swath from south to north and take traffic off the highway.

Don’t know that I’d take a train anyway. I like my solitude and sanctuary too much. And I get a senior discount along the road.

Where are we going next?

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