On the Road Again

“Mother thinks the road is long and lonely; Little brother thinks the road is straight and fine; Little darling thinks the road is soft and lovely; And I’m thankful that old road’s a friend of mine” ——Townes Van Zandt 

We were in the wrong lane, no doubt about it. My bladder was full, the rest area was an exit to the right, and at 75 miles per, coming up fast. A car behind was gaining fast and the semi in the right lane was barely being outpaced by us. At the rate of speed, I was unsure as to my options, so in a snap decision, I decided to floor it. I forgot that I had power. We lurched ahead, the speedometer went to 102 faster than I could have imagined; both the semi and the car approaching from behind were left where they were. Now the exit was too close….. ahhhh, what was a boy to do! In shock I let off the pedal and signaled back right, then made the long broad entry into the rest area. Andy looked at me with wide eyes. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone one hundred while being at the wheel” I said with some awe. We parked the black Camaro against crunchy, yellow, snow encrusted grass at sidewalk’s edge and let out our collective breath. 

Somewhere in the Heartland, December 2020

In late 2020, at the intersection of family, a pandemic, and travel, Andy and I decided to make the road trip east to limit our exposure to The COVID-19 before visiting our families. We hadn’t intended to drive a sports car across the country that December, but there we were, slouched, cramped, and living the great American road trip dream. Denver to Boston in three days. While we had paid for the budget-level rental sedan, high demand at the Hertz counter in Denver gave us a free upgrade to 2020 Chevy Camaro convertible, thus affording us a different type of road trip. 


One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother Helen’s favorite song being Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. Unbuckled, in the back seat of her tan sedan, I remember her turning it up and singing along, my brother and I excited to be on the road with her. And then in later years, in her Lancaster apartment, singing the lyrics to us as we tramped out the door, making our weekly journey back south to the rat race. Indeed, we road tripped most weekends as my parents built a log cabin, and a couple time a year to my other grandparents in upstate New York, and on our one family vacation to the Canadian Maritimes; maybe it has always been there.  

Non-sports car and self-directed road trips have been a part of my life for a quarter century. In August of 1998 I loaded my Jeep Cherokee with college dorm room essentials, climbing gear, backpacking gear, and a duffle bag for Nancy. We drove it out of the driveway and pointed it west, moving in the right general direction. It wasn’t going to be my first time in on the other side of the Great Divide, but it was going to be my first time driving there. With Nancy as the co-pilot, it would be my first big road trip. 

Enrolled in the Wilderness and Civilizations program at the University of Montana, my world was ripe with possibilities. I was excited about this thing in front of me: mountains, climbing, school, people. I was different then. Less jaded, more excitable. We mostly camped in state and provincial parks, though somewhere in South Dakota we stayed in a hotel room. Nancy ate a lot of oatmeal with huckleberry ice cream on top for breakfast. She marveled at me brushing my teeth while I was in the car; for some reason I thought nothing of it—after all, it’s never a bad time for good oral hygiene. We visited Mantoulin Island, Niagara Falls, relatives in Fultonville, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, and drove through miles of sunflower fields and corn and prairie. We landed in Missoula via a stretch of interstate, which we had mostly tried to avoid, just in time for me to move into my dorm room in Miller Hall. We unloaded the SUV and over the weekend, drove north to Glacier National Park and the Amtrak station in Whitefish. We camped and again, the world was my oyster. I was in the great American West. I think I was still happy then, but I don’t remember. Nancy boarded the Empire Builder at the old, Roosevelt era, grand railway station, long, tall, spacious, reeking with the whitewash of national parks and the displacement of the Ktunaxa and Salish peoples. She headed east and I headed back south, on my own, a long way from home. Pictures of me in those days tell stories of self-assurened-ness and purpose. Climbing and mountains were life, it was the reason for me. My heart ached for rich experiences and stories to tell. It hungered for space and newness. Nancy was going home but the road trip was just beginning. 

May 2000—leaving Stark to head west in the green Jeep post graduation from UNH (photo of a photo)

Post graduation from University of New Hampshire, road trips were natural part of my lifestyle; I didn’t have much permanent housing and I called my vehicles home for most of those years. In 2003 I traded in my Jeep for a black, two-year old Toyota Tacoma with 15,000 miles. I made one last trip east with the Cherokee and got the Toyota at a dealer in Berlin, buying it from Mr. Smith, my former sixth grade teacher turned car salesman. Even when I paid the occasional rent (on demand at the Noble Hotel) or more formally in Torrey at the Orchard House, I was still on the road more often than not, living and working in the dirt, camping and climbing. The truck made being on the road easier; where I laid my head was home, and I wanted it no other way.

Proportionally, it’s almost always the north–south road trip that happens. Latitudinal trips happened, ones to the northwest, Squamish, City of Rocks, NOLS PNW mostly, but they were less frequent than the longitudinal ones. After the east–west–east trip in 2003 to trade vehicles, that latitudinal road trip didn’t happen for over another 15 years. 

An early longitudinal trip happened my junior year in college when a classmate and I drove the Cherokee south to Vegas from Missoula under the auspices of getting some video footage for an assigned documentary; of course the “driving” factor was that we would get to climb at Red Rocks; we achieved both goals. Late in the night on our return north, somewhere on the dark, wind swept fields of Southern Idaho, Blanche let me know in no uncertain terms that the cold air from the windows and country music from my CD player were not conducive to her comfort. I hadn’t yet developed more non-invasive systems. . . 

“You don’t drink coffee?!” the statement is often asked as a question, typically in disbelief. “Not really, only as a drug” is a pretty typical reply. The once cheap—or free—gas station coffee refills have crept up in price over the years, but still lag below less appealing RedBulls, Monster drinks and Starbucks Iced Coffees. And as a stimulant, it does the trick. For me, no road trip is complete without a large gas station coffee and an accompanying bag of sunflower seeds. The caffeine stimulates and the seeds give me focus and task as my tongue deftly move seeds from one side of mouth to my teeth, where I crack them open, then push the shells to the other side before chewing and swallowing the savory morsel. 

Despite these techniques, heavy eyelids are real. They come on strong and come on fast. There is no drug i’ve tried —besides sleep itself—caffeine works, then it doesn’t before it is a waking dream: animals running towards me from the shadows, cars coming into my lane, was that a giraffe?! That initial first nap is amazing, it keeps me going for another twelve hours, after that, diminishing returns; large—not small—drops in the return investment on that 15 minute nap. It just gets harder to wake up, the grogginess is always there and what I really need to do is just lie down and sleep. Road tripping alone rarely has me stopping for true rest, true recovery. The stops are at rest areas and gas stations, rarely for a bed or to set up a tent.

Cora and I on our most recent cross country road trip in September of 2022

I wonder if the “jet lag” hang over is worth it. I wonder if the days of recovery in which I have slowly increasing function are worth the hours that aren’t spent horizontal in a sleeping bag or in a bed. I wonder if it is just because I have things to do. It is nice to be somewhere—home or other wise—that is for sure, but recovery means generally being in and out of productive natures. Maybe I need to undo my “productive” wiring.

Living in the intermountain west, where public lands rule the landscape, the road trip is typified by open spaces, BLM land, and free camping. These lessen the need for the gas station/rest area nap, but something about the inefficiency and vulnerability of sleeping in the middle of nowhere still nibble at me, making me sleep with one eye open. 

In the years since calling Wyoming home, frequent trips to the desert have made the US-191 corridor as familiar as the scent of rain dampened sage. With gas stops, down shifts, and turns memorized, stories are tucked into every nook and cranny of the journey. While the drives have become commonplace, but the landscape never ceases to hold me in awe. 


Most of the Camaro journey wasn’t familiar to me however. The furthest east I had driven since 2003 was crossing the Mexican–U.S. border in South-central Texas when Anna and I road tripped to El Potrero Chico in Northern Mexico, and that had been in 2010 and waaaay further south. The Camaro gas tank was surprisingly gentle on our wallets (the $2.22/gallon price tag helped), but not so much on our slouching backs. After starting with a full tank in Denver, we filled it up for the fourth time just before depositing it at Logan International Airport; sufficiently impressed I was. Our backs however were less than excited by the posture of the low slung sports car. And the convertible option was even an option; with our two standard sized bags in the trunk, the top couldn’t be put down, as it had nowhere to go! The image of the Camaro, driving along the open road with the top down has no place in point A to point B road trips. 

Masked up, we scurried in and out of gas stations, obtaining my necessary coffee and sunflower seeds and the occasional fast foods. The back seat was barely large enough to hold our cardboard box of rations, and turning around and trying to gather items, then make them in our scrunched lap was just another strike against this sports car as a road trip mobile. 

Departing for our wintery top down spin around the block

In the early afternoon we rolled into Glenview Farm in upstate New York, having given my aunts, uncles, and cousins a quick heads up. After a quick walk to see some the farm, we pulled the luggage from the trunk, tossed it on the lawn, and, in the sub-freezing temps, put the top down and drove a several mile loop around the rolling frozen fields. 




Featured Image: Good oral hygiene is part of any road trip; here Anna and I brush our teeth in a parking lot in Joshua Tree, California

Subscribe to JS.com

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

admin Written by:

A little bit less of a nomad now, Jared still likes to refer to himself in the third person.

Be First to Comment

Any thoughts? I'd love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.