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Road Bonds–The joy of car travel

I’ve been a fan of the road trip since I was a kid. I have fond memories of traveling with my parents and three brothers in mom’s olive green Ford Country Squire wagon, resplendent in all its woodgrain glory. Being the youngest, I sat in the rear-facing seat—in the wayback—absorbing every sight from the confines of my rolling fishbowl.

Still today, I find car travel so much more enjoyable than by plane. You can listen to your own music, have wonderful, deep conversations, eat when you want, and be comfortable. Plus, you get to see the great scenery.

When our own two kids were growing up, my wife and I took them on road trips all over the US. Except for the lack of a rear-facing seat, the experience was just as memorable. So when my now-25-year old son Ben inquired about attending an IndyCar race with me this summer, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for the two of us to hit the road and reconnect. We looked at the racing calendar and picked the Mid-Ohio round of the series. I hadn’t been to Ohio’s classic road course in more than a decade, but it’s one of my favorite tracks and a nice nine-hour drive away.

The first ingredient in a great road trip is a worthy steed. Since Honda was the title sponsor for the Mid-Ohio race, I thought it only fitting to drive one of their vehicles. The ridiculously nice folks at Honda offered up a new for 2019 Passport for the journey.

The Passport was perfect for the task: plenty of room for people and cargo, built-in trailer hitch for a bike rack, and good ground clearance and AWD for the track’s notoriously muddy campground. Plus, Honda’s legendary ergonomics and driving comfort make long trips effortless. The Passport shares a platform with Honda’s Pilot SUV and excellent Ridgeline pickup. Initially the Passport might seem like just a more rugged version of the Pilot. While it shares the same wheelbase as its bigger brother, the Passport is shorter with less overhang and more ground clearance. The Passport is esentially a Ridgeline SUV. Which is not a bad thing.

We mounted up my Thule box on the Passport’s standard roof rails, put our bikes on the back, and hit the road. The drive from Connecticut to Mansfield, Ohio, took us across the seemingly endless ribbon of Pennsylvania’s route 80. The light traffic and well-marked lanes were a perfect test for the Passport’s Honda Sensing driver-assistance suite. The adaptive cruise control works smoothly, with less drama than some other vehicles exhibit when a car pulls in front of you. It slows you down, but in a calmer manner. The lane keeping works fine and is a marked improvement over the last Pilot I drove with less ping-ponging. The overall driving dynamics, from steering feel and handling to ride comfort and braking, are as good or better than any other mid-size, two-row SUV/crossover.

The Passport’s interior features plenty of storage and a great infotainment system. I applaud Honda for going back to actual knobs for volume and tuning. Traditional left and right knobs work better than every other solution I’ve seen and are easy to use without taking your eyes from the road.

Traveling by car gives you the opportunity to have unhurried discussions. Conversations with Ben always flow freely and ranged from architecture (Ben’s profession), to politics, to movies, and of course, cars. At the halfway point, we stopped for fuel and lunch at a Dutch Pantry Family Restaurant in Clearfield, Pennsylvania.

Carbed up, we motored on. Ben is always introducing me to new music and interesting podcasts so I let him handle the entertainment. We laughed out loud to episodes of the comedy podcast “Punch Up The Jam” and expanded our brains with the always excellent “99 Percent Invisible.”
We planned to go right through to the track, but a billboard caught our attention: “Grandpa’s Cheesebarn, this exit.” Since we needed to stock up on food for living in a rental camper for three days, why not start with cheese? Could you do that in a plane?

The camper was a new 29-foot unit set up right alongside the track. It was a great setup for the weekend where we were woken each morning by the scream of engines. We decided to drive up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Friday evening to take in the museum and grab a fun meal in Cleveland.

Having the bikes allowed us to take in the racing action from every part of the sprawling facility. Which was another advantage of traveling by car: bringing extra stuff. The trip home was quicker as we had work to get back to, but the conversations continued. A few days later, Ben sent me a note about what a great time he had. Me, too, my boy. Me, too.


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