The Endless Road
20 years ago this week, my brother, best friend and I took off on a 4 week cross-country road trip. Scott and I had just graduated college and Dave, a few years older, had yet to settle into a serious job. Taking off from western NC, we made an erratic figure-8 across the continental US, staying with friends and family along the way and camping between city stopovers, hitting the marquee national parks wherever we could. As you can imagine, it was an enlightening adventure with a spontaneity and lawlessness well suited for men in their early 20s.
Coincidentally, I’m now heading from the NC coast to the mountains to see my grandparents with my wife and 2 small children. This mini-voyage is reminiscent of my life’s definitive road trip, the one from 20 years ago. The white lines disappear under the car, the trees dip their branches, they gesture and welcome, waving us along. Then and now, my travel companions are my blood, no better people to travel with.
You tend to travel with things that are familiar, the t-shirt that you pack every time, your most comfortable underwear, whatever book you’re absorbed in at the time. You keep those things close to you. You go out on the road with them, the stowable talismans, and they’re part of the voyage. Maybe those items ground you while you set out into terra incognita. But it’s not always leaving and exploring; sometimes it’s returning and it’s just as magical. You have the things that you experience each time you come through. The quirky selections of WNCW as you ascend into the listening area, the unnamed mountain that is framed perfectly through the window every time, knowing you’ll never stop or learn its name, but it’s always there. And your travel companions, the nuclear family that you’ve built from scratch, glued to their seats in various stages of stunned impatience, ready to get there but making the most of every mile and panorama. My sweet grandparents at the finish line in Hot Springs, ready to serve us nonstop meals and marvel at their great grandchildren, buds on the family tree romping right there in their living room.
Once the travel bug bites, you spend your whole life scratching the bump. Cheers to David and Scott. We’re old dudes now, but those memories will keep us young. And thanks to Carrie, Foster and Alice Wren, my new road crew. Let’s see it all.
[Below are a few short entries from my July 1993 travel journal, along with a couple of doodles and photos from the trip. Top to bottom: Dave and Scott, somewhere in Nebraska; Scott in Onion Valley, CA; me, gazing up at yet another wonder of nature, perhaps Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite; pornographic spoof of Mount Rushmore; bubble Arches.]
[DAY 2, NEMAHA, NEBRASKA] “I can’t believe it’s only day 2. We’re realizing that this quest could be easily lengthened to 3-4 months. Every city, town, tree, critter and insignificant bug nation-wide is calling out to us.”
[DAY 5, WOUNDED KNEE, SOUTH DAKOTA] “Besides the Wounded Knee historical marker, there was a Sioux graveyard still utilized by the people. On many of the tombstones, Sioux men with names like ‘Long Dog’ and ‘Running Deer’ held ranks in the same US Army that murdered their grandparents.”
[DAY 8, MOAB, UTAH] “Cruised through Moab, Utah in search of a campground…Moab, the baby Gatlinburg. Got a lead from a convenience store lady to venture up towards Warner Lake off La Salle Mountain Loop Road. The lengthy, winding dirt road kept out RVs, greenhorns and wuss-tourists.”
[DAY 13, VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIA] “Feels like we entered another country: freaks galore, artists, vagrants, gueens, muscleheads, gang bangers, panhandlers. Every variety of person slopped together in a steady stream of psychedelic motion.”
[DAY 19, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WYOMING] “Got to our backcountry site and commenced to get on some dry gear. We set up our tent, ate some chili for dinner and attempted to snooze early. Incessant rain and Grizzly-phobia made for difficult shuteye. Our sleeping bags got drenched, the tent had puddles, everything fucking soaked and the rain kept coming.”