by Jennifer Batchelor
When I was younger, my dad and I would take a ski trip for my birthday every year. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a Red Roof Inn and a couple of days on the modest slopes of western Carolina. For all my awkwardness and lack of coordination, I’m actually a pretty decent skier. We always had a great time.
One year – my 13th birthday, if I remember – we decided to try out a new resort. We weren’t certain of the best way to get there, but my dad was confident we could find it without trouble. This was before there was GPS or Google Maps. Although even if we’d had them, they likely wouldn’t have worked in the backwoods of North Carolina.
Dad had taught me how to read a map though, and I sat shotgun playing navigator, in his rear-wheel drive Lincoln town car. The directions indicated we needed to take Beech Mountain Road; Dad spotted a sign for Old Beech Mountain Road, and we assumed that’s what the map meant.
Before long, the paved road had given way to a gravel one, covered in ice and snow from a recent winter storm. Steep dropoffs lined both sides and more than once we took a wrong turn that led us off the road entirely.
It should have been scary. We should’ve fretted about being lost forever in the woods of North Carolina, or at the very least we ought to have worried about sliding into a ditch. I don’t remember being afraid though. We laughed and joked as we slid around one corner and then another, eager to make our way off the mountain to an audience who would appreciate our tale of a wrong turn that became an adventure.
Eventually, we ended up at the ski resort, nearly two hours later than we had intended. As we checked in and got fitted for our gear, the guy adjusting the bearings for my boots to snap into the skis asked how our morning had been so far. When I’d finished telling him, he laughed as he said, “Oh wow. Y’all really took the scenic route to get here, didn’t you?”
Dad and I took three or four of those ski trips before our tradition petered out. Twenty years later, the only one I can remember in any detail though is the one with Old Beech Mountain Road, when we took a wrong turn, got a little lost, and ended up with one hell of a story. The irony of the story was how out of character my dad was. He’s “destination-oriented,” typically more concerned with speed and timeliness than with the journey. Efficiency is his guiding principle, and the apple did not fall far from the tree. I organize my grocery list in order of the aisles at the local store.
My friend Erin lives on the island of Oahu; her husband is stationed at the Army base there. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a drive she took up to the North Shore. She explained that the fastest way to get there is an inland highway, but there was also a second, longer route. That one hugged the rugged coastline and offered amazing, postcard-worthy views. “When you’ve got the time, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “You always take the prettier route, even though it’s longer. It costs you nothing but time.”
Her words have been rattling around in my brain ever since. They remind me of the first anniversary trip my husband and I took out to the California coast. We took four days to drive the 400 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, following the windy path of Highway One. With no agenda or itinerary, we stopped at countless scenic overlooks and followed coastline trails to discover purple sand beaches, impressive rock cliffs and a waterfall flowing directly into the Pacific. It was the most magical vacation I’ve ever taken.
I don’t know if it’s my age and realizing nearly half my lifetime has likely passed by, or if it’s being a mother with the inherent inefficiency that children bring to your life, but I hear the echo of Erin’s words and I think about my favorite stories and I realize perhaps I’m getting it wrong.
Who wants to look back at the end of his or her life and say, “Wow, I sure lived efficiently?” The number of my days has already been set, and I’m waking to the realization that the point of this life is not to proceed to the end with as much speed and precision as possible. In the future, when my grandkids spare me a moment to listen to one of my stories, I’m not going to regale them with tales of met deadlines and moments that unfolded exactly according to plan.
I’ll tell them about Old Beech Mountain Road and how the scenic route always makes for the best stories.