“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
I know Jack Kerouac quotes have become cliché to use, but I find there is something so inherently true about this one, especially in reference to life on the open road. That intangible feeling you get on the open road. Watching world fly by at 65 mph.
Sometimes the feeling hits you when you are somewhere distant – in West Texas watching the thunderclouds roll in across the open prairie, seeing the fog lift off the Pacific at Big Sur, or watching the way the colors rip across the sky when the sun sets in Arizona. It’s indescribable.
It’s a palpable sense of awe and wonder, but it’s also a pang of loneliness, like you’re missing someone, but don’t know who. It is the sense of knowing what you are seeing in that exact moment will never ever happen again no matter what.
And I guess why we travel, why we seek out new sights and need new experiences and adventures, has a lot to do with life itself. It’s an urge to be collecting memories, images, moments. It’s a human instinct, a sense of curiosity, and wonder.
It was that feeling that led me to spend the better part of the past decade traveling throughout America, documenting through photographs my life, friends and the places I found along the way.
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with traveling the open road.
It’s a palpable sense of awe and wonder, but it’s also a pang of loneliness…
It was somewhere between Kingman and Joshua Tree on a long empty stretch of road through the desert. There were no lights, except the illumination from our headlights and the thousands of stars up above twinkling in the open sky.
“Welcome to California”
Yellow cursive writing on a blue sign. My heart skipped a beat.
It was on my first cross-country expedition, and in truth, it had very little to do with photography or building any sort of portfolio. It was really a personal voyage. I had grown up in small town New England, and besides a few family vacations had seldom left Massachusetts.
It was three friends and me, right out of college. We had saved up money painting houses all summer, packed all our camping supplies, raided our families’ cabinets for provisions, loaded it all in my mom’s car and we were off.
We had one Rand McNally U.S. atlas, a shopping bag full of AAA camping guides and two semi-functional old school “free with the plan” cell phones between the four of us. No real plan, except a vague route we had drawn on the map that we figured would bring us to what we imagined would be the most interesting places.
I retrospect, it was truly a blessing to be able to live on the road for three months without the Internet, smart phones, email, check-ins, Instagram, and Facebook. When one of our phones had enough power (usually we charged them in a campground bathroom) we would share it among the four of us to let our family and friends know where we were, and that we were still alive. But texting on those phones involved so much finger dexterity, we hardly bothered.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to come across as preaching or as a Neo-Luddite. I just feel that life is different on the road without technology. Your mind is different. It’s able to accept and comprehend things as they come. The experience becomes the value in itself on the American road. The freedom, the lightness you feel in your chest when you are constantly moving from one area to the next, the ever-changing horizon line.
In a world where every single person’s moods, thoughts, and memories are constantly given platforms to be put on display… we need to be cut off from it sometimes.
There are times when you are lonely, scared or just in awe of the strangeness that permeates the land. Having nothing but your travel companions and your wits, is often the only way for any of it to make sense. It’s having no destination in mind, no pre-planned cell phone photo to serve as a trophy for your trip. No clever hashtags.
For me, what I have always loved and still love about being on the road is the sense of disconnect. The idea that all your problems, bills and impending crises are put off and inaccessible. In a world where every single person’s moods, thoughts, and memories are constantly given platforms to be put on display, shared and absorbed by others, we need to be cut off from it sometimes – to be allowed to be present and soak in the experience without peer review.
I think it is something that is lost now. You go to the edge of the Grand Canyon, or a towering waterfall and everyone is looking at it through their telephone. You drive down the wrong road and your GPS will guide you back to where you had meant to go. It is hard to get lost these days in the United States. The “holiness” that Kerouac often referred to, when describing life on the open road, has in some ways been sacrificed by modern technology, over-sharing, over-connectedness. The places we went, that were found by accident, that a local revealed to us, that we stumbled upon are now catalogued, searchable, highly trafficked. You’ll drive for miles up fire roads to a secret swimming hole, and find a full parking lot. Things once uniquely beautiful and rare have become part of an Instagram checklist.
But maybe, it’s OK. This just might be the natural progression. Maybe what is important is that we are all still out there searching for something. Whether it’s a place we saw online or a place we didn’t even know existed. Maybe the feeling is just a little muted now because of our technological crutches, but who knows, there is so much out there to see and discover, maybe it will push us to go that much further.
I know I’ll still be out there, trying to find it.