There are two ways to get to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area (South Shore, at least):
One, you take 580 to I-5 (not “the 5”) and drive through this horrifically boring stretch to Sacramento, where you hop on 50 and go over Echo Summit.
Two, you get to Sacramento and then either take 16 to 49 down to Jackson and take 88 past Kirkwood to 89 and come into town that way. (You can also take 50 into Placerville and get on 49 straight down to Jackson from there.)
(Technically, there are three ways if you count taking 80, because that takes you through Sac too, but I only take 80 when I’m heading directly to Truckee or Reno, not Tahoe.)
When I was a kid, and we were on our way to Tahoe, my brothers and I would groan in the back when we got to Sac and Dad would start saying “oh, look, the car wants to take the road less traveled!” and take the turn from 50 onto 16. It was pretty, sure, but we were always glued to our books or Gameboys or whatever. Or we’d be going out to dinner or to a soccer game or whatever and Dad would take some random side street instead of the main roads. “Are you lost?” Mom would ask sometimes. “No, just taking the road less traveled,” he’d reply. And we’d all (Mom included) roll our eyes and patiently wait for “the car to find its way.”
I don’t remember when I first heard or read “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, but I was pretty young. I remember I was immediately taken by the obvious symbolism: that the most popular, well-trodden path wasn’t always the right or best way.
As we got older, we started egging Dad on when he’d take “the road less traveled.” We even started asking outright if we could go through Jackson instead. Once, in college I think, I was driving home from Tahoe myself and, at the last second, took the turn onto 89 instead of going straight on 50. For me, it wasn’t just a chance to go a little slower, deal with fewer other drivers, and take in the scenery — it was a challenge to see if I could do it without getting lost (I may or may not now try to cover up getting lost by saying “We’re just taking the road less traveled, relax.”)
Over the years, I read “The Road Not Taken” dozens, if not hundreds of times. Gaining strength from it when I was making a tough choice, when I wasn’t going along with what was “cool” or “in.” My favorite meaning of it, though, is the literal one. Taking Hwy. 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) instead of 101 home from college. Driving through Jackson instead of Placerville. Taking surface roads instead of the freeway. Seeking out the less-used path when hiking. Reminding myself that sometimes it’s okay to take a little more time to get wherever I’m going. Sometimes it’s worth the extra gas. Sometimes I need to not follow a map or whoever’s ahead of me, but trust that I’ll find a way to get wherever I’m going.