Driving was my first love. From the moment I passed my driver’s test and took to the road alone, it felt as if the entire world was opened up to me. I didn’t need a destination; driving was the destination. A trip to the store for a gallon of milk would turn into a 2-hour adventure.
At some point, as most things do, that love started to fade. The change was gradual and unnoticeable. Driving became a chore. Ferrying the kids around to their ever increasing number of events, driving my wife to the airport. Every trip came with a sense of loathing.
That really hit home this year. When my wife and kids asked if we could jump in the car and go to Tennessee for a few days, all I could think of was there was no way I was going to sit in a car for 8 hours. What would the younger me think of this stodgy old man that I had become?
A few weeks ago, Mazda USA invited me to join them for a few days camping in Joshua Tree National Park and to drive a few of their new line-up around the California desert. To be perfectly honest, the camping appealed to me more than the driving.
Most of my companions were seasoned travel bloggers who have been on many of these adventures, As this was my first, I asked during breakfast if anyone would mind if I took off alone for the first day. I tend to be impetuous and prone to not following maps. I grabbed the keys to a Mazda CX-5 and headed out. Although the CX-5 is a smaller SUV, I was quite comfortable given I am 6’5″.
Our hosts provided with maps that would take us by a few roadside attractions. After visiting the first two, I programmed the GPS to take me to the Route 66 museum. Turns out, the museum was closed. It’s only open on the weekend.
Now I had a dilemma. I still had quite a few hours of daylight and quite a long distance to the next attraction. Then I remembered a sign a few miles back to Big Bear, a mountain lake and resort town. Being impulsive, I turned around and headed back to Route 18.
The drive up the mountain was fun, but I still drove it at my usual casual pace. In less than 30 minutes I had ascended over 4,000 feet, and the desert gave way to mountains, trees, and snow. After spending a couple of hours exploring Big Bear, it was time to head back down.
About five minutes into the drive down, something happened. I popped the transmission into manual and tore down the mountain. I was laughing and literally said “Wheeeeee!!” as I drove. Picture this, a man in his mid-fifties, driving down a mountain; laughing and screaming like a kid on a roller coaster. This was not merely transportation in getting from point A to point B. This was a man and a car becoming one and it was thrilling.
Yes, the camping was excellent. Joshua Tree is one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen. Yes, the people I met were amazing, and I hope friends for life, please click the link at the top of this article to read their stories. But I will forever be in Mazda’s debt for reminding me that driving does matter.