May was never a month for romance, but New York was beginning to heat for the summer, so we got in our car and made for the west. An internship led to a season in the bay area, and naturally the only course of action was to drive.
As Paul Simon wrote, we went to look for America.
But one week on the road wasn’t nearly enough.
Reasons Why You Should Road Trip Across America
1. The ghost towns of Nevada.
2. The turnpikes in Illinois.
3. The forests in Wisconsin.
4. The Great Salt Lake.
5. The way Ohio will consume you like an endless Sunday evening after church.
6. The lusciousness of the Mississippi, even as far north as Iowa.
7. The way you feel miniature as you drive past Chicago.
8. But also how riding through the Badlands will make you feel immense.
9. No one could mimic the howls of the coyotes at night on the prairie, or explain how Laramie, Wyoming might just be the heart of this country.
10. No one could show you the white of the valleys in Utah.
11. Or the green of the misty mornings in South Dakota. You need to see them yourself.
12. Your playlist will sustain you when you haven’t really eaten in days. Learn to thrive on this music.
13. The “Welcome to…” signs and roadside attractions will make you feel like you belong.
14. But getting lost on backroads or for hours inside a house you took a detour to visit will remind you that you’re always a stranger here (and that feeling is delicious).
15. This country is enormous.
16. A week with some cash, a car, a handful of maps, and no plan may somehow be the most free you’ll ever feel.
17. To see this land you’d need an entire lifetime, but trying to is like living twice all at once.
18. California and the Pacific Ocean.
San Francisco always lay ahead for that week we drove. She waited, cloaked in a constant fog, and seven days later we glimpsed her. She was our Frisco, as Jack Kerouac called her, draped upon the harbor like a quilt made of fluorescents.
When we arrived, we found ourselves settling in to a tiny cubby of an apartment slotted into a hillside like a missing Jenga piece. But the next day we were gone again, speeding south toward Big Sur on the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping on the way at farm stands for fresh strawberries and avocados. Though we loved that city, we couldn’t stay still once we’d known the road. It was something to have a destination, but we always preferred tracing the pen marks I’d made on all those maps stuffed in the glove compartment. And once you’ve gone as far west as you can go, you have to pick another direction. Ours was south.
If you are ever given the opportunity to road trip, especially along the coast of California, grasp it, if only to see the surging Pacific. On one side the hills roll on forever, and on the other are the waves. Gorgeous swells that lick at the ankles of the steep cliffs whose sudden drops threaten so innocently to pull a car under. A million words for every mile would not be enough.
California Highway 1, which the PCH is a large piece of, threads itself out into infinity for an entire country of itself. Carmel and Monterey are previews to the main attraction, a labyrinthine asphalt path always pulling you further, further. The Bixby Bridge is the top of the world. The tourists at the lookout points make it all feel like a family reunion.
I could never describe what it’s like to feel an entire place come alive. I could, however, tell you that if Laramie is the heart of America, California must be its lungs. And maybe it’s just the salt on that heavy ocean mist, but I long to breathe it in.