Highways and byways
“Great kid, huh?” I say jocularly to the cashier. I’ve just realized we have no opener for a can of tuna fish, and my son, who dislikes tuna, has called from across the aisles, “That’s your problem.”
“Great parenting,” is her flat rejoinder.
Is she kidding? We were.
Roy and I are in West Virginia; and as we conclude our drive to the remote ski area called Snowshoe, we can find no grocery store. I must buy our food — for the next three days — in a gas station.
Roy says it’s fine, he’s in the mood for Pizza Bites, but I am in shock.
And so proceeds our road trip, undertaken for the unusual amount of time of two weeks. I haven’t taken so many consecutive days off since … probably before Roy was born. Nor can a parent-teen journey be counted on to be peaceful. Parents don’t know anything.
“Great parenting,” I repeat throughout the weekend, whenever my son — who, on this trip, turns 18 — mouths off. “See? What you say reflects on us.”
“That burned, Mom, didn’t it?” he says of the clerk’s riposte. “Admit it.”
Roy has long yearned to go to two mountain-bike races, the second in North Carolina, back East.
“Mom,” he’d said, “I’ll look at any college you want.” He also agreed to read books. And I wanted to see my family, especially my newly adopted nephew, in Maryland. And so we are here madly zigzagging around four states. Arriving, we looked at our first college, while my mother kindly prepared a birthday dinner for Roy; my sibs, stepsister and cousin arranged to attend, and my brother brought the baby, at whom we all gazed mesmerized, jostling to hold him.
Per rental-car age rules, Roy can’t drive, much as I wish he could spell me. Instead, as we wound five hours to Snowshoe Mountain, he offered opinions.
“It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re so sketch [sic],” he declared of my driving. Never mind that I haven’t had a ticket since 1988, an accident since 1989. Roy believes that in my rental van — miraculously given to us for the same price as the intended small car — I drive too far on the outside of the road.
“This van’s bigger than your car at home, I’ll give you that,” he added.
Three years ago I toured with my other son, now halfway through college.
We drove to campus upon campus in New England, him sleeping in the passenger seat. I’d wake him, or try to, to see vistas or landmarks.
He’d struggle up on an elbow, sink back down.
Here, as we passed through broad valleys, deep and dappled green forests, I’d exhort, “Look at the view, Roy!”
“I was just admiring it,” he’d claim.
“You were admiring the backs of your eyelids.”
Reaching Snowshoe, we blunder around seeking the course, the riders, a bike shop for repairs. I am a bit at loose ends. At races in Colorado, I have more to do. My husband, friends and I, attending in various combinations, hike the familiar ski mountains and can pack along bikes or climbing gear. Here I try to work and make some calls, but Internet is difficult, and cell-phone reception near impossible. I worry about the expense of this trip and amount of time away.
“Look at this as an opportunity,” my mother says. I’ve already seen one son off to college; mourned and adapted to the change. Next year Roy will depart. “It’s a once-in-a lifetime chance to spend this much time with him.”
In fact, Roy and I are mostly good road-trip companions. We found that out when we looked at colleges in Southern California, and he caught the spirit and insisted on visiting seven, and we drove around and came up with trip jokes that are now household vernacular.
I hang out, help Roy, hike the mountain, and come to love Snowshoe, with its huge views on either side into infinite soft blue ridgelines. Roy sees friends, practices the course, discusses lines and strategies. We park the van by all the bikers’ campers and trailers and trucks, with their bristling tiers of bike racks and tall stacks of spare tires.
Walking across the village plaza one evening, we see fireworks (to celebrate the local chili cook-off) and I notice smiling watchers draw their children close. Everyone says it goes too fast, and it does.
— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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