The endless steaming ribbon of road unrolls before you like a film. Heat haze shimmers and distorts the horizon, breaking the asphalt into tiny lakes which dissolve into nothingness as you rocket on through. A lanky saguaro cactus seems to nod at your passing; but maybe that’s just the red shift. Your hair whips and flutters in the slipstream, bleached blond by the desert sun. The land vibrates up the steering wheel, transmitting its essence through a kinesthetic connection that you learn to read like Braille.
Three hundred fifty more miles to the coast, and when you get there you may just stop for a swim and then turn that car around to do it all over again. The destination is always a bit of a letdown. It’s the journey that matters, and the meetings along the way.
No form of travel symbolizes America quite like the road trip. Canadian road tripping has a flavour all its own, but going for distance tends to involve one coast or the other. In America you’ve got up and down and everything in between. From mangrove swamps to stony deserts, from the gentle rolling Appalachians to jagged Rocky heights, you can try to have it all in one manic gas guzzling metal-ticking bid.
Road tripping has been an integral part of American life since the advent of the automobile age. The myth and romance of the open road was created in such classic films as Easy Rider, Vacation and even Thelma and Louise. That same freedom is the topic of great American novels like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and it inspired the maniacal true life events depicted in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The open road pervades the American consciousness, just as the Arctic pervades the Canadian.
You can go alone, in pairs, or with a car full of boon companions. I’ve done them all, and each trip has a feeling all its own. You can take a map, or you can throw it away entirely and allow your twists and turns to be dictated by the Road God’s whim. Elaborate preparations, mapped routes and pre-booked accommodations, or improvisation and a tent pitched in an unlikely place. Both methods can form the framework of a memorable trip.
The one unarguable necessity of any road trip is music. Every movie needs a soundtrack. It sets the mood, it frames the scene, and it eases the passing of the miles. Whether or not you should choose literal road tunes like Born to Run or King of the Road is a matter of personal preference. I invariably take several CD’s by Australian greats The Church. Their dreamy sprawling soundscapes are the perfect compliment to the land as it rolls by, and Steve Kilbey’s lyrics take one on a simultaneous journey to that place where ideas download from cosmic consciousness.
In the end, perhaps the greatest thing about road tripping is that the details are entirely up to you.