Caught in the Slipstream Pull of the Road


road2.jpgThe 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.

road1.jpgRoad 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.


About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Because you mentioned “Born to run”… “Bruce Springsteen live ’75-’85” on tape accompanied me for more than a dozent years on countless miles on the road. Nothing is better for keeping you awake on a night drive than singing loud.

  • Have you ever tried listen to Goodspeed you Black Emporer? – The right soundtrack travelling by train and watching rain drops at the window.

  • No Andreas, but I will check that out, thanks! The Church has such a huge back catalog that I always load up my ipod with their stuff. Also a bit of Tom Waits, maybe Nick Cave, Joy Division, and I like some ambient music to write to. Stuff like Decoder Ring, Hammock, Explosions in the Sky. Steve Kilbey turned me on to a lot of the ambient stuff. Really great.

  • Looks like you like the minimal dark stuff. Then you will like Goodspeed. There are some nice examples on Youtube. Maybe Coheed&Cambria and early VAST (Visual and Audio Sensual Theater) too.
    Ah… ambient. For it’s a kind of sundown music. If I am sitting at a fire at a beach or flowin’ on the streets with my car throug warm summer nights… that kind that never really gets dark. I will have that next week at the Fusion Festival. Sitting the whole night at the fire in the sand between grass-grown shelter of a former red army airport watching people playing with fire pois and staffs and listning ambient, chill-out and slow trance… Kruder&Dorfmeister, Mogwai, Lamb, GusGus, Kosheen…
    A few days of holiday for the little hippie inside 😉


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