The Art of the Road Trip

By Chris Biggs

pausing for a photo in canyonlands national park - and to take in the beautiful view

pausing for a photo in canyonlands national park - and to take in the beautiful view

I’ve done a lot of traveling in my 31 years, but there’s something especially magical about taking a road trip. Perhaps it’s the dissolution of normal travel rules: there’s no arriving to the airport two hours early, throwing your Colgate and Old Spice into a small plastic bag, or getting to second base with a handsy Transportation Security Administration agent at 6 am.

I had taken a cross-country U.S. road trip only once previously, and Lori was a road trip virgin. So when we decided months ago to pack up our possessions and drive back to the East Coast to start our travel adventures, making the pilgrimage in a car from San Francisco (our now-former home) to Silver Spring, MD (our new home base in between trips) was a no-brainer.

Memory is always short and often idyllic, so in the months and weeks leading up to our departure I had unintentionally buffed and polished this into the perfect trip. “Driving across the country? No problem,” I thought. I pictured short, scenic drives and a life made simple – after all, there’s nothing more Kerouac-esque than living out of your car as you rack up miles across our beautiful country, right?

I was mostly right. We’re now more than halfway through our trip, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop in beautiful Ann Arbor, MI. The air is crisp, the sky is blue, and tomorrow we’re going to watch the Michigan Wolverines destroy my beloved Maryland Terrapins in football, likely by multiple touchdowns (the Las Vegas line is currently a sigh-inducing -31 points). It will be a good time with great friends, despite the game’s likely outcome.

Treading carefully in devil's golf course, One of the highlights of death valley national park

Treading carefully in devil's golf course, One of the highlights of death valley national park

But we’ve had our challenges, too. After an amazing first week spent entirely in national parks, we just grinded through 26 hours of driving across three days, with stops to rest in budget hotels in Denver, Kansas City, and Indianapolis (which, coincidentally, is in order of most-to-least cool). Our car smells like a mix of peanut butter and dirty laundry, and if I have to drive another nine hour day I’m fairly certain my legs are going to lock up and never revert back to normal. Lori has soldiered along with great grace, but I can tell the driving life is wearing on her, too.

Next summer we’re planning a two month road trip where we’ll hit a ton of national parks and other amazing sites, with a focus on Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Montana (for reference: due largely to the time of year we stuck to warmer-weather parks on this trip, which included Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches – in that order). We’ve learned plenty of lessons that we’ll be able to apply to that trip, including the oft-overlooked 11th commandment: Thou shalt pack more than five pairs of boxer shorts.

In the meantime, however, I’ll remember to enjoy what I’ve got. Lori and I can wake up at whatever time we want. We can make detours and pit stops as we see fit. We’ve been exploring parts of the U.S. that are totally new to us, and we’re catching up with family and friends we don’t get to see nearly enough. So even though I may need a professional massage for my ailing back soon, I wouldn’t give up this road trip for anything – and after spending six years in a job where I always felt like I was on call, I can’t explain how nice it feels to be truly free.

For scale: here's me on the ridge at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

For scale: here's me on the ridge at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park