I wrote a piece last year for Men's Health magazine about the benefits of a solo road trip. It sums up pretty nicely the reason I launched this tribe, so I thought I'd share it with you here. (Text source: menshealth.com)
>>>THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO THIS WEEKEND IS TAKE A LONG DRIVE BY YOURSELF<<<
>>>Hitting the highway with no destination in mind might be the stress-busting therapy you’re missing<<<
I found the road by mistake. I’d gone out for a brief drive late one Saturday morning last spring and, suddenly itching for a bit more alone time, decided to investigate a state park I’d heard good things about—170 miles away.
So I drove. And drove—down the interstate, onto rural routes, and through twisty back roads in the forests of north-central Pennsylvania, for no other reason than that I had an urge.
Wrapped up in my meditative solitude, I missed a turn and found myself at the head of a blocked-off road. The barricade bore a “Local Traffic Only” sign, and beyond it stretched a strip of fresh, inky asphalt, winding and unblemished. They hadn’t even painted the double-yellow yet. The virgin road beckoned.
After deputizing myself as someone with local stuff to do, I slithered my Audi S7 past the barricade and thundered down what turned out to be 5 miles of empty, tree-lined curves. I cued up a fast beat on the stereo and cranked it. The car growled through every arc, and the sun cast a high-speed flicker of shadows from behind the bare trees.
It was fun. Exhilarating. And when I hit the end of the new asphalt, I wasn’t ready for the adventure to be over. So I turned around and did it all again—twice.
This is the marvelous thing about automobiles. You can set off for somewhere in no particular hurry, find a diversion, and explore. Even if you don’t find your own private racetrack, that’s okay, because if you’re drawn to the road, the drive is the prize. It could be a quick lap around the neighborhood to untangle some mental knot, or a spontaneous, hours-long tour through Nowheresville for some torque-inspired contemplation of life’s mysteries. If you own a set of keys, you can buckle up, take off, and solve your problems anytime you feel like it.
When the topic of driving came up in a thread on Reddit last year, hundreds of users chimed in to proclaim their enthusiasm for road blazing, often without a destination and simply to unwind. “My car is my therapist, the drive my therapy, a good playlist the soothing words I need to hear,” one user posted. “Anytime I’m upset or just need to think, I just start going and don’t stop until I feel better.”
Men know this innately: Driving is an activity uniquely suited for mental percolation. “Going out for a drive lets us reflect and come back with greater insights,” says Eric Klinenberg, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at New York University and the author of Going Solo. “There’s something about being in the driver’s seat—with the sense of control it affords—that lets you think productively and solve problems.”
Science has his back here: In a 2012 study from George Mason University, researchers found that when it comes to brainstorming, individuals are more productive than teams, thanks to the heightened ability to focus that solitude provides. If work and family gobble up your mental bandwidth, a Saturday morning drive—or hell, a lunch-break cruise—might be your only chance to clear your head so you can actually hear your inner monologue. “People long for productive solitude, time to be alone in their heads to work through problems without the distraction of social media and e-mail,” Klinenberg says. “We need time and space to reflect on who we are and where we’re going in our lives, and how we can change the things we want to change.”
There’s a restorative quality here too. While research has linked long commutes to stress, depression, and anxiety, driving simply because you want to has the opposite effect: It makes you feel good. And that’s even more true for guys who really care about their machines. “The car functions as an escape vehicle for many people, especially young men,” says Leon James, Ph.D., a professor of psychology who studies driver behavior at the University of Hawaii. “It can restore the feeling of freedom. The movement of the car in the turns and the desire to feel the engine obey the driver are part of the fun.”
Given my own shredding of those forest roads in Pennsylvania, I can hardly disagree. It’s hard not to imagine myself as the next Jimmie Johnson after I stitch together a fast-moving sequence of back-road S-curves. And the stability control and suspension systems in many modern cars make that fantasy even more vivid.
This can even be helpful in a crisis. Want to know who told me this? Jimmie Johnson. “Assertive, confident drivers who’ve pushed their limits are safer than timid, uncertain drivers,” the NASCAR champ said when I asked him what it was like to drive alongside us regular schmoes in his daily life. I’m sure Jimmie sleeps better at night just knowing I’m out there.
Ultimately, reaching automotive bliss is about fine-tuning your own experience, and that’s where the solo drive is most useful. As much as I love road-tripping with my family, I wouldn’t have barreled down that slice of paved paradise if my wife and daughters were with me. And I certainly wouldn’t have done it three times in a row. Only in solitude could I truly immerse myself in the experience. “Being alone in the car is part of the attraction,” James says. “Going where one pleases is another part.”
So what’s your ideal escape? Maybe you see yourself in a pickup truck on a dirt road, blasting Metallica. Or maybe it’s a Porsche 911 with the equalizer optimized for Daft Punk as you cruise along urban streets. Or if you’re a sophisticated type, you may see yourself in a Lexus, playing Vivaldi on a jaunt through Big Sur.
When you drive, you think. You imagine. You get into character, sing along to the music, and put metaphorical miles between you and whatever it is that was bothering you back at the starting line. A drive is a short escape, but it’s meaningful. And to the man with a car, it’s always available. My own Pennsylvania route was hardly the Pacific Coast Highway, but the drive was exciting and invigorating and wildly different from my daily commute. It took me to a new place—and not just literally. All I had to do was turn the key, hit the gas, and open my mind.