Rant 3: Only One Way To See America

by Brian Wilson, on 5/16/99

(Read a personal description of Backblaze here.)

There is only one way to see America, and that is by car.

When I was 8 years old, my family took the first of several epic summer car trips from our home in Corvallis, Oregon to my Grandfather's farm outside of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Mom, Dad, my brother, my sister, and I climbed aboard the 1971 green Ford V-8 station wagon for a one week, 3,000 mile drive across the United States. And after staying a week on the farm, we drove back home again. At the time, we did it because we couldn't afford to fly 5 people coast-to-coast, but I'm glad we drove. That trip was the beginning of my love affair with "road trips", which is definitively the ONLY way to see the United States.

Don't get me wrong, parts of that trip were hell. Randy, my older brother, would spend at least an hour a day picking fights with me (because he was bored), and at 8 years old I didn't like being cooped up in a car for each day's 12 hour marathon drive. But the things we saw and experienced made it all worth it. And it isn't all about the big stuff. Sure, we saw "Old Faithful" at Yellowstone, and we stared down into the Grand Canyon, but you can take an airplane to those places and have those experiences. The experiences I'm talking about are ones you can't get on an airplane. We ate sandwiches at a rest area in the middle of nowhere while smelling the fresh cut green grass, we drove through rolling wheat fields in Kansas that went on to the horizon in every direction while listening to "Rhine Stone Cowboy" for the 50th time that summer, and I held a Coca-Cola in my left hand while driving along in the summer heat with my right hand out the window being blown around by the wind. Simple pleasures and simple experiences which cannot be lived except through a "road trip".

In the years since that first Pennsylvania trip, I've been on many "solo" trips by myself. I spent two months touring the western United States on a motorcycle after college, and I spent 86 days this winter driving around to ski towns on the great ski epic this year. I've driven the 1,200 miles round trip from my home in California to visit my parents in Oregon about 15 times. On every trip I met the most interesting people, I saw the most beautiful sights, and I drove many, many miles.

It's hard to pick which of the many driving experiences I enjoy the most. I enjoy an early morning start with a full tank of gas and a cup of coffee in my hand. I enjoy late nights at 2am listing to loud Pink Floyd music, when it's just me and the professional truck drivers out on the interstate highways. Most of all, I enjoy the surprises. On a road trip out to Colorado to go skiing during college, I had to stop my car to wait for 3 cowboys on horseback to herd 50 head of cattle off the interstate highway. On days I didn't expect anything, I've stumbled into places like Glenwood Canyon, or the Sea To Sky road. These pictures just cannot convey how spectacular the mountains were, and how the sun glistened off the water at dusk that day. Pictures can't give you a feel for the MOMENT that occurred and is gone now.

I truly feel sorry for anyone who closes themselves off to the "road trip" experience. People who think the point of EVERY trip is to arrive at the destination as soon as possible, hopefully sleeping the whole way there. And most of all I feel sorry for anyone who thinks all the interesting parts of the United States are accessible by plane, because they are not. There is only one way to to experience all of America, and that is by car.

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