Every summer, I make the pilgrimage to Laguna Seca, a racetrack that needs no introduction to any gearhead worth their salt. The undulating 2.238-mile circuit is home to iconic fixtures such as The Corkscrew, which at this point, we’re probably legally obligated to mention when talking about that stretch of tarmac plopped on a Monterey County hillside.
Whether it be spectating the MotoAmerica and WSBK races (sadly, WSBK hasn’t returned for a few years), tackling a track day, or a club race, the annual trip to Laguna is one of the many reasons why I look forward to the summer months—that, and I genuinely believe that “rolling our clocks back” is an archaic practice that serves no good for humanity. The days are shorter naturally during the winter months, but who wants to start flicking the lights on at 4:30 p.m.? I digress.
It’s a trip that takes the same path—stretching my legs at the same familiar stops, fueling man and machine with only the finest gas station cuisine. I take routes that are as reliable as my promise that this year, I’ll wake up early and pack my meals for the day—a carbohydrate-fulfilling prophesy, as it were.
There is something that’s been nagging at me over the years. Having traversed the 400ish miles in the confines of my truck and aboard any number of motorcycles, the trip to Monterey seems to take far longer than the way back. The distances, routes, and fuel consumption are all unchanged. Yet, the journey into the fickle-weathered Monterey Peninsula always seems to make the hands of time appear as if they’re being pulled through molasses.
After the races are done, or my tires are spent, I seem to rip home in the blink of an eye, no matter the mode of transportation, arriving back to the garage with more than enough left on the clock to order my favorite post-track-day meal: Pizza—a reward with no equal, especially on those sweltering summer days where you’ve sweated enough to fill a kiddie pool.
You see, people far more brilliant than yours truly have investigated matters such as these and dubbed this phenomenon “The Return Trip Effect.”
There are several explanations as to why it occurs, starting with the basic premise that familiarity makes the trip home seem faster. What’s new or, in my case, not recent is somewhat engaging. All is absorbed with intent. When headed in the opposite direction, the sights, sounds, and smells of California’s majestic Central Coast are blasé.
A headier take on the matter has to do with the perception of time, as we’re more likely to be focused on its passage by worrying about things like being late and all those stress factors that come with it. We are in a heightened state of awareness.
A colleague had similar thoughts while scarfing down some BBQ between sessions. He went further, considering that our brain chemistry is altered when anticipating a story, and relief sets in once the job is completed. That I can buy, mainly because it makes our lives seem slightly more grandiose than they are.
Heading into any project comes with demands, expectations, and preparations. Whether those preparations are physical, mental, or both doesn’t truly matter, but I believe it builds a foundation for these feelings to exist.
Once on the road, we begin to fixate on the minutia of our goals, stacking them on said metaphorical foundation until they’ve created some grand vision in our minds. That might be called anxiety to some, though I think this is probably how I work to some extent.
Sometimes that can work against us. We build up an insurmountable fortress of expectations and, instead of enjoying the experience, it becomes a burden. That is the last thing you want during a track day, race weekend, or, well, anything.
Once in the thick of any situation, my take is to become something of an experiential “yes man,” taking things as they come and aiming to hit my goals along the way. That applies to nervous jitters before a ride or race because we’ve looked forward to these things all week, all month, or longer.
As much time, planning, and effort are required to get that track day, ride, race, or what-have-you in the bag, it’s often all over within a few short hours. The energy put in doesn’t necessarily equate to what you get out of it, although you’d never have those experiences if you didn’t put in the hours.
So, I’ll toss another explanation for the “return trip effect.” Perhaps it’s about reliving those flash-in-a-pan moments, laughing with friends at the pro races, spinning laps, and where things can be improved. Maybe we spend the return trip reliving those moments again and again, until we’re parked in front of the garage, only a few minutes from ordering pizza.