It takes a long time to drive the length of the West Coast. I've done it a handful of times, first when I took a road trip with my then-fiancee-now-wife in our BMW station wagon. That trip had us clinging to the ragged edge of the coast on Highway 1 and took around three days of 10- to 12-hour stints behind the wheel. Then I did it again when I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles in a giant diesel Penske moving truck that I jokingly named Imminent Domain.
Since moving to LA, though, I've always just flown home to Seattle. It's the difference between a 2.5-hour flight or 22-ish hours behind the wheel, so it always seemed like a no-brainer. But with the last year and a half being what it is and air travel seeming scarier than it ever has, I opted to make my first trip home in two years in the driver's seat of our. And because COVID-19 has a funny way of making emotional distances a lot longer than physical ones, I decided to do the drive with my mom.
The plan is simple: Mom flies down (she has less fear of catching the 'rona on a plane than I do) and hangs out for a day or two to see my wife, our cats and our newly rented house. Then we pile our stuff into the TLX and set out for the Pacific Northwest. I'm getting close to 40, she's getting real close to 60, and in the spirit of Danny Glover's Roger Murtaugh, we both agree that we're "getting too old for this shit" and decide to break the drive up into two days.
We get up early on the first day and head out of Pasadena. Because I want to show my mom what I do for a living, we climb up into the Angeles National Forest and take the famous Angeles Crest Highway to Palmdale, bypassing the hated Grapevine (aka I-5 North out of Los Angeles and into the Central Valley). She is a generally nervous passenger, so I delight in taking the TLX through the fast, sweeping corners at speed, waxing about the excellent handling characteristics of the 2021 TLX thanks to its dual-wishbone front suspension and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
As we come down out of the mountains and into the blasted wasteland that is Palmdale, we're already laughing and making jokes about how much my dad would love that road and how my mom hated riding with me as a younger driver because I "didn't use the brakes enough." It's the most effortless conversation we've had in years.
That conversation aspect is a large part of why I wanted my mom with me on this trip. We chat on the phone a couple of times a week usually, but it's rare that we really talk. Being stuck together in a car is a chance to reconnect after years of distance, and it seems to be working.
From Palmdale, we head west to hit the arrow-straight slog that is Interstate 5 north through the middle of California. It's all citrus groves, almond trees and stockyards as we blast along, dodging overly ambitious produce truck drivers passing one another on this two-lane freeway. The Acura, as expected, is eating up the miles, its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine quietly buzzing along, the 10-speed automatic transmission doing its level best to return decent fuel economy. However, as we've seen since our TLX arrived last year, those mileage figures leave much to be desired -- on this trip, I'm only seeing 26.8 mpg. The suspension, set in comfort mode, soaks up imperfections and offers a real luxury car experience when paired with the comfortable interior, which is welcome on a trip of this length.
The miles fall away and the scenery starts to slowly change from dusty brown to gold to green as we get closer to Sacramento. Then the landscape changes dramatically as we get up to Redding and into the mountains near Lake Shasta and its drought-receded shores. The road starts to get twisty again as we wind up into the Siskiyou Mountains and make our first overnight stop in the lovely little town of Ashland, Oregon -- best known for its yearly Shakespeare festival. The drive up to this point took about 12 hours, and neither my mom or I are feeling particularly tired, proof of the TLX's comfort.
Day two takes us through Oregon, which we both hold dear. Her, because her brothers and sister both live there, and me because Portland was the first place I lived that was really like home after moving away from my family. We stop and visit my uncle outside Portland in a town called Gresham, best known as the home of Chris O'Donnell's character in Scent of a Woman (it's pronounced Orygun, guys, not Ore-uh-gon).
From there, it's a short three-hour drive through southwest Washington and up to the Olympic Peninsula and my parents' house, a little more than 1,200 miles from where we started in sunny Pasadena. I spend the next few days visiting friends and family and picking up a project motorcycle (in many, many pieces) before hopping back in the TLX, cueing up some audiobooks and making the drive home alone.
This trip proved to be a perfect reset, both for me mentally after a year and a half of staying home and for my relationship with my mom, who, despite not being especially old, isn't going to be around forever. It's easy to forget the power that cars have to do things like this for us. They give us the freedom to move around our country, but long hours behind the wheel without regular distractions like Twitter or Netflix forces us to escape from our escapism and be present in the moment, for ourselves and those stuck in the car with us. In short, I needed a trip like this.