Is the journey more important than the destination?
I imagine I’m not alone in thinking it would be a pleasure to travel across the USA by road. You could drive East to West: New York to San Francisco; North to South: the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Or drive the length of the Pacific coast from New Mexico to Washington. Undertaking such a journey by coach would provide more opportunities to meet and converse with people, as well as seeing more of the landscape without having to concentrate on driving. A friend of mine and her husband once did it by train. Afterwards all they could talk about – or all I can remember them talking about, it was more than twenty years ago – was the vastness of Wyoming.
Living near the centre of a small island there are not many places that can not be reached within 3 or 4 hours. The distance between the Southern and Northern extremes, Mizzen Head and Malin Head, is a mere 680 km. I have been to both, though not on the same day – or even within the same year! The equivalent journey in the UK, Lands End to John O’Groats, is less than 1000 km.
I’ve been to Lands End but never made it to John O’Groats. The furthest North I’ve been was on a holiday in Oban. At the time we were living about half way between York and Hull. Google tells me the distance from York to Oban by road is 490 km. Our visit to Lands End took place a year later, during a holiday in Cornwall. York to Lands End is a Devilish 666 km. I did not cover the whole distance in a single journey. We would have travelled first to Penzance or St. Ives, before making the journey to Lands End on one of the subsequent days of the vacation.
However interesting a journey might seem, it quickly becomes boring if undertaken too often. Throughout most of 1995 I commuted from Yorkshire to Kent every weekend. I travelled South on Saturday evenings, returning Friday afternoon, a distance of around 350 km. each way. Saturday evenings were mostly traffic free so the journey was easily completed in under 4 hours. Returning on Friday afternoon could take up to 6 hours, half of that time spent in traffic on the M11 north of London.
In July of 1974, when we were living in South Africa, we took a holiday in Sabie, Eastern Transvaal. The drive from our home, South of Durban, a distance of 763 km, is the longest I have ever undertaken. Because of the fuel supply crisis that impacted the whole world at the time, we were limited to a speed of 50 mph (80 km/hr). The journey began with a climb through the Drakensberg mountains on to the central plateau, followed by mile upon mile of dry maize fields before reaching the highlands of our destination. There we spent a delightful period exploring the many geological features of the region. One day we drove down the escarpment into Kruger Park. A light frost in Sabie meant I had to scrape ice from the windscreen before we set off. Two hours later, having driven through orange groves into the bush of the Park, we were sweating in a car without air conditioning, in temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit.
I enjoy driving mountain roads. Hairpin bends, flanked by a rock face on one side and a precipitous drop on the other; occasional glimpses of a sunlit valley below, or of the ocean. The West coast of Ireland is rich with opportunities for such drives. No wonder it is designated ‘The Wild Atlantic Way‘.
For me, though, the destination is always more important than the journey. And these days no destination can be more attractive than one close to the ocean, where I can walk along sandy beaches or cliff top paths, breathing the clear, clean air as a sea breeze brushes my cheeks.