The Solo Mountain Drive

Mt. Rainier from a car

I love a long solo drive to the mountains.

I have trouble relaxing at home.  There are always things I should be doing.  Big things, little things, I feel like I don’t deserve to straight chill knowing that they remain to be done.  And the list of things never ends.

Maybe I like these long solo drives so much because I’m not supposed to be doing anything other than driving.  There’s nothing to clean, organize, or accomplish except to pass the time while getting from point A to point B.

What exactly do I love about these drives?

The Space

An empty passenger seat can be a luxury.  It’s nice to be able to lay things out on it instead of on the dash or in the back.  I can crumple my Dunkin Donuts bag and throw it on the floor.  I’m not bumping elbows with anyone, or smelling their farts.

A car passenger seat with trash on the floor
Car mullet – neat on top, trashy on the bottom

In the trunk, I’ve got my gear – mine.  Nothing sticking up to block the rear view.  Things aren’t crammed in, crushing my camera or my food.

Having everything laid out the way I want it allows me to free my mildly OCD mind and appreciate…

The Weather

The weather always affects the mood on a long drive, especially when I’ll eventually be outside in it.  This is magnified tremendously when I’m alone.

Sun and blue skies, cool dry air coming in the windows – I feel like I’m already on a summit.  Consider the similarities between flying down a highway and standing on a peak – a strong wind blows, you’re essentially cut off from the world, and you can’t stay where you currently are.  On the highway or the mountain, you’re not done until you’re off of it.  Days when a drive feels anything like standing on a summit are good days.

Orange clouds at sunset in Washington

Just like when I’m taking photos, I often prefer a cloudy sky on a long solo drive.  The destination is out there, hours away, lurking in the fog.  Will the weather get worse as I get closer?  Will I even get to start my hike?  Will I finish it?

The less than perfect weather days are also great times for thinking about the tough stuff.  Family issues, problems with friends or relationships, and that kind of thing.  I feel like meditating on something troubling for a few hours in the car followed by challenging myself physically immediately afterward does a lot of good for anything that’s troubling me.

The weather is also a big factor when it comes to choosing…

The Music

My Mountain Drive playlist gets the most airtime in fair weather.  It’s been my standard for a long time, and has remained largely the same since it’s last major overhaul a few years ago.  It’s mostly upbeat, energetic stuff, but it contains its share of the slow and the weird to break up the flow.

Included with over 100 other songs that remind me of being outside are my core mountain themes.  A few…

  • End Credits – John Williams (this is the Jurassic Park theme)
  • Punching in a Dream – The Naked and Famous
  • Know Your Onion! – The Shins (and a handful more Shins songs)
  • Africa – Toto (I know, I know… but I actually do miss the rains down in Africa)
  • The Legend of Zelda – London Philharmonic Orchestra & Andrew Skeet (same class as JP theme – maybe better)

And you’ll find a lot of stuff from Gorillaz, Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes and more.

It’s not as lame as it looks written out like this.

A screenshot of a playlist for a long drive to the mountains

When the weather is making me moody, I tend to slow it down.  Rome, by Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi has been playing a lot in these situations.  It’s short – I run through it a few times in a row.  It’s been Morcheeba and others before, and will be something else in a few weeks.  This stuff changes more – it’s not in the playlist for a reason.

Weather doesn’t always determine my music – I can listen to songs I’d be embarrassed to play with someone else in the car.  Maybe my voice is scratchy the day after a hike because I’ve been sucking down cold, wild mountain air.  Maybe it’s because I was yelling along with Taylor Swift to stay awake.  Who knows?

Knowin’ Where You’re Goin’ (or Not)

The control over the layout of the car and lack of anything to do, the effects of the weather, and the extra push in the desired mental direction provided by the musical selection make for some good mountain thinking.

They all combine to frame the mind’s picture of the destination. Sometimes that frame overpowers instead of compliments the picture.  Sometimes it’s almost invisible – but never completely.

As the odometer climbs, the anticipation builds.  Maybe it’s for an easy stroll in the woods, or it could be for an epic adventure.  Somewhere familiar.  Somewhere new.  Maybe there will be people where you’re going, maybe there won’t.  Positive energy, anxiety, or both.

Whatever it is, all it can do is intensify until the drive is over.

Tip:  if things get too intense, you might have to pee really bad and just don’t realize it yet.

A tree lined road in Washington state

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