My neck is a little sore.
For the last two weeks, I've been driving an average of about six hours almost every day weaving my way out West, but I've finally made it to Los Angeles and the only real casualty is my neck.
So all in all I'd say I’ve had a pretty great time.
Starting in Detroit, I said good-bye to the family, hopped in my car, and drove my way down to South Bend where I made my first stop and slept in my old house and in my old bed. While there, I was even lucky enough to see some friends and a few professors and advisors (who at this point count as friends too). Next up was Chicago where I visited my old job as well as some more friends. After that, I swung through Spring Valley, Minnesota to stay the night with family, but considering each of these drives were only about three hours or so, I can't say my journey really started until after I finally broke out of the Midwest with my first nine-hour drive from Spring Valley to Rapid City, South Dakota.
This was also when I decided to break out my camera and start teaching myself how to take pictures that weren't of people drinking out of urinals, or faces covered in cream cheese, or just feet, but instead, were of subjects that were a little prettier to look at, much to my mom's delight and maybe yours too if you liked what you saw in the slideshow above.
And if you did, there's plenty more you can see just over here.
But more than just a chance to take some urinal-less, cream cheese-less, and feet-less pictures, this drive gave me a small glimpse into just how beautiful our country really is. Unfortunately, that beauty can sometimes be a cliché that’s taught to us Americans from a young age, and so I’ll admit that it’s always been a little hard for me to completely comprehend. Fortunately, this road trip helped proved the meta-cliché that most clichés are rooted in truth, and so cliché or not, I found that my old friend, Ray Charles, was right when he sang "America the Beautiful," a song which was on my mind (more than "Georgia On My Mind") quite a bit during the last two weeks.
As such, I just wanted to mention some of the highlights of my trip. I’d like to start with what turned out to be the best/worst decision of my trip (depending on when you ask me): a small last-second route change between Denver and Salt Lake City in order to watch a certain total solar eclipse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Although this small last-second detour ended up adding sixteen more hours of driving, I’ll say that by the end of it all, I still believe it was worth it. Watching the eclipse along the 100% totality line in Jackson Hole was a once-in-a-lifetime event that resulted in the video you can watch below as well as new friends including the kind people who gave me the solar filter which allowed me to take these photos of the eclipse plus a French family who were also road tripping through America and who said I can stay with them if I ever find myself at Cannes. They also loved Brigsby Bear, which is more reason to call them friends.
Nevertheless, this small last-second detour did in fact present me with a few challenges. First, all of the hotels, motels, and Holiday Inns within a five hour proximity of Jackson were either booked or had been bumped up to a minimum of $300 (with a maximum of $3000+) for the night, so I ended up bunking in a hotel parking lot (but if my mom asks, please tell her I found a quaint little Bed and Breakfast, and then quickly change the subject). Second, traffic getting out of Jackson Hole after the eclipse was not good at all and the traffic on the highway back down to Salt Lake City was even more not good at all. And third, because of the very not good at all traffic, I thought it’d be a good idea to try some back roads instead which is usually a good idea, but considering I had the idea at 11:00 at night, it turned out to be a very very not good at all idea. In fact, for now I’ll just say that this very very not good at all idea led to the second most terrifying experience of my life, so if that sounds exciting to you, feel free to ask me more about it the next time we meet. Even better, ask me about my newfound appreciation for David Lynch's shots of driving in Twin Peaks.
However, like I said above, with the hotel parking lots, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and nightmare-fuel aside, I still believe making this small last-second detour to see a once-in-a-lifetime event was worth it.
After that, some of my other favorite parts of the trip in no particular order were:
- Watching my first sunset of the trip over the badlands of South Dakota which ended up giving me my first true taste of American Beauty (not the Annette Bening film).
- Seeing the first hints of the Rocky Mountains far out along the Colorado horizon and then watching my trip’s second sunset over them.
- Staring eye-to-eye with a big fat brown cow in Minnesota even though I didn’t watch any of my trip’s sunsets over him.
- Stopping in an empty part of Wyoming where the sky was a navy blue and the ground was covered in yellow wheat for as far as I could see, the combination of which strangely (and a little hauntingly) reminded me of Spongebob Squarepants’ Bikini Bottom.
- Swimming in Jackson Lake with the Teton Mountain Range towering over me.
- Swimming in Lake Tahoe with little flakes of gold or fool’s gold (I'm telling my foolish self it was real gold) floating around me.
- Waiting in Salt Lake City as a Mormon historian repeatedly waved his foot in order to turn on an automatic light that kept turning off in a display case containing a fragment of Joseph Smith’s Egyptian papyrus.
- Driving through the middle of a large rainstorm in Nevada only to find out that an enormous double-rainbow-all-the-way had formed behind me.
- Finding out Idaho isn’t just a bunch of potato fields and blue football fields but actually has other kinds of fields and even some rivers and big hills in it too.
- Walking along Monterey Bay and thinking about Adam Scott lip-syncing karaoke at the big Audrey-Hepburn-and-Elvis-Presley-themed Trivia Night.
- Talking with family in San Francisco about the history of Monty Python.
- Talking with family in Los Banos about the history of our family.
And so, now that all of these moments are done and experienced and mostly photographically recorded, I’m excited to look forward to many more new moments as I begin the next chapter of my own history out here in LA.
However, considering that I’m still working on the job part of this chapter, and consequently, because the money part of it is a little tight too, I would like to take a moment and thank all of the friends and family who opened up their homes and apartments and couches and beds to me during the last two weeks. Because of all of you, I was able to keep the financial cost of this trip much more manageable than if I was staying in those $3000+ hotel rooms in Jackson Hole every night (but tell my mom that the Bed and Breakfast gave me a good deal), plus your company was always welcome after so many long drives alone.
Speaking of those long drives alone, I’d like to next thank the friends and family who kept me company over the phone during these long drives alone, as well as the friends and family who kept me company over my radio. A special shout-out goes to Stephen King and Neil Gaiman for writing the two books-on-tape that got me through the longest stretches of those drives: The Stand and American Gods. As they are both stories about road trips, they were especially enjoyable to listen to on my own road trip. In particular, I enjoyed listening to the The Stand as its characters first began arriving in Colorado just as I was driving through Colorado for the first time myself.
Finally, I’d like to thank my parents for giving me the independence, confidence, and automobile insurance needed to even attempt this journey in the first place. And while I’m far from the first to make this drive, I know there’s plenty of people who might never even get the chance to make it, so I’m also thankful for the opportunity to have made it at all.
Finally finally, I have to thank God for helping me make it all in one piece and with only one parking ticket (that I don’t think I deserved but I guess one isn't that bad).
And finally finally finally, thank you to you for reading this travel log.
P.S. If you want to see more of this travel log in photographic form, I’ll remind you about this place, and just in case you need more reason to check it out, here's my brother's glowing review:
P.P.S. I might get a massage.