The unknown places can sometimes be the greatest hidden gems.
The unknown places can sometimes be the greatest hidden gems.
2019 Bucket List

The Case for Traveling Slowly

Do yourself a favor: book shorter legs and stop in unexpected spots. You might be surprised at all the little treasures you find.

The unknown places can sometimes be the greatest hidden gems.

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When I was 30, I owned a sporty Volkswagen Golf, and I loved to tear around in it like I was Michael Schumacher. On road trips, I’d turn on the radar detector, peg the engine past 90 miles per hour, and stretch the gas in my tank to fumes to minimize stoppages. I timed my gas station breaks like Indy pit stops.

Traveling with Artemis, the Airstream, has put an end to that nonsense. Like it or not, long, fast days are the antithesis of pulling a travel trailer.

For one, the Chevy Colorado, while perfectly adequate for the task, is on the small side of the truck spectrum. With some 6,000 pounds of trailer behind us fully loaded, we’d win no races. And Artemis can get a bit wobbly much over 65 miles per hour, especially in the wind, a near-constant in the West. We also burn through gasoline when hauling, averaging no more than 13 miles per gallon. Frequent gas stops are mandatory.

At first, the dawdling pace offended me. I wanted to hurry up, go farther, see it all. An early stop felt like a failure because it might mean missing out on some park or wilderness or mountain down the road. I was clinging to the impatience of my youth.

Yet I’ve learned that one of the joys of living on the road is that you can make it up as you go. If we drive to a new location and don’t like it, we can move the next day. If we’re fond of a place, we can stay a week or a month. There’s no set agenda, no itinerary, no endpoint.

Exploring the in-between pitstops can lead to the best adventures.
Exploring the in-between pitstops can lead to the best adventures. (JJAG Media)

It isn’t only about pacing, either. It’s about seeing what’s around you rather than looking down the road. Jen and I discovered this again a few weeks ago in southern Colorado. Following a job at 4UR Ranch, our plan was to beeline to Summit County. Google Maps said the drive would take four hours, which seemed reasonable, if aggressive, after several days of dawn-to-dusk shooting. But once in the truck, we were both exhausted and dozy. We only made it to Del Norte, 40 minutes down the road.

The last time we stopped in Del Norte was maybe 12 years ago. What was once a poky little place has grown up. In the past, the only reason to come here was on climbing trips to Penitente if you lost a piece of gear, which might be replaced at a dark little hardware store that doubled as a climbing shop. Today, there’s a hip brewery, Three Barrels, a freshly renovated historic hotel with a quaint bar, the Windsor, and a bustling outdoor shop called Kristi’s that’s brimming with gear for climbing, biking, fishing, camping, hiking, and pretty much anything else you might want to do.

The guy behind the counter at Kristi’s raved about new mountain bike trails in the area and offered me loose, photocopied maps. It reminded me of Fruita two decades ago. Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t resist the lure of new trails, so I persuaded Jen to wait, then pedaled up Spruce Street toward Lookout Mountain and the recently constructed Pronghorn System. I didn’t expect much, but the trails turned out to be excellent. By the time I returned, it was late afternoon. We didn’t want to drive into the night, and we had another map of new trails, just 20 minutes up the road. So we decided to hole up at Penitente Canyon Campground and have a run and ride in the morning before continuing north. Like the Pronghorn system, the trails at Penitente were unexpectedly good: reminiscent of Buffalo Creek, minus crowds.

We were so smitten with this bit of Colorado that we’d have spent another couple of days there if it hadn’t been for an appointment in Summit County. Instead, we begrudgingly packed up and rolled out. As we slowly rambled north, it occurred to me that we’d have never seen Del Norte if it weren’t for Artemis. For years, we’ve sped past it en route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Denver, and we would have continued to do so. It’s not a destination that ranked on our list. And yet we’ve already vowed to return in autumn—maybe sooner.

Jen and I have recommitted to traveling shorter distances and pulling over in places we don’t intend to stop. From a bar stuffed with fine bourbons to hills brimming with new trails, you never know what you might find. Besides, even if my 30-year-old self would roll his eyes in scorn if he heard me say it, I’ve come to prefer cruising to racing.