The Great American Roadtrip

two girls in a car on a roadtrip, one stairs out the window, the other sleeps on her shoulder


A couple of friends, endless freedom, the hot sun blinding from the hood of a vintage, maybe rusted out, Ford Mustang. Whether it be youthful expedition or economical migration, right of passage or seasoned wanderlust, roadtrips are practically up for adoption to the Bill of Rights here in America.

The night before I was to go on my first cross country roadtrip—the largest thing I would to that date have experienced; the most overwhelming sensation of excitement and concern that something might go wrong presiding over me like awaiting the verdict of a death sentence—I sat on the shaggy orange of a friend’s just-after-college apartment couch and reveled in the spinning wonderment of what it would be like. A night full of laughter and camaraderie passed over us as quickly as a finger taps the side of a pant leg waiting for the elevator door to hurry up and open already and before I knew it, morning had come.

I hopped into my car, double checked I had an atlas, popped the key into the ignition, and…I was off!

Or at least that was the original plan and for a moment I think I even believed I was moving forward, except that for whatever reason, the battery had completely drained the night before and, being the type of barely 20-something gentleman who knew absolutely nothing about cars that I was, I mildly panicked. The guy at the automotive store assured me, after having found a friendly neighbor to help me jump it initially and listening for each and every seemingly strange and random sound, wondering if I would be able to detect the problem that seemed to be keeping me from my birthright,the open road,myself—that my problem would be easily fixed with the purchase of a new battery. That assessment seemed unlikely to me, but between the chance of breaking down some 500 miles into the desert in the days before “Can you hear me now?” was a given versus delaying the departure date and cutting into valuable vacation time seemed an obvious choice. I popped the new battery in, picked up my passenger, and have honestly and literally never looked back at that life, that person I was before.

And that’s how profound this type of an experience can be. After having crossed the country, after having been—a white boy from smalltime Western Pennsylvania—suddenly thrown into the thick of a bustling, Hispanic downtown Oklahoma City on the 4th of July, buying wood from the trunks of Indian trailer park cars because of the illegality of campfires in nowhere New Mexico, after having my toes stung for the first time by California’s Pacific Ocean and watching massive wildfires burn one half of Lake Tahoe into a smoking sky, even while the water remained crystal blue paradise on our side, was quite seriously mind-blowing. It was that specific trip during which, while also growing my first beard, that it was clear to me that travel would be my life, true freedom would somehow be my career.

So the story goes for thousands before me. For Deadheads chasing festivals and Easy Riders as for Dust Bowl Depression desperationalists seeking new fortune, mountain men and pilgrims alike have crossed this nation via whatever means available in search of a new kind of happiness, hope and seeing the beauty of it all along the way. Those purple mountains majesty, those amber waves of grain, they exist. When Utah first smacks you in the face with its color, warm ranges skirting over white and black outcroppings of something between mountainside and pure magnificence, you can barely recover before the lush of California comes green and back in, the Redwoods raise you up into a whole new, significantly more off the ground world. The craggy edges of the end of Western Civilization, the Pacific Coast growing wilder and wilder as you head further and further up and through Oregon and Washington, as green, lush and magical as the southern deserts are hot, red and mystical.

While I am sure of the beauty of this world as a whole planet, I am only completely holding the proof of it through my own memories from crossing this particular continent in such an on-the-ground, by foot, bicycle, train and car kind of way thus far. But it does, I can assure you, never fail to please.

And so, we set out in search of the roadtrip.