The Last Road Trip

We woke up in Tucumcari, New Mexico. This shitty roadside dive was run by a shirtless weirdo who woke us up to the sound of AM news radio chatter in the stone parking lot where he was doing his morning bench presses. I was laying on top of the covers. I flipped on my camcorder and recorded a bit of the moment, then turned on the TV to see what the racket was all about. Soon after, we were making a straight line east towards home. Our trip was over.

In August of 2001 I set out on a three week road trip across the United States with a friend of mine. Our plan was to camp in as many national parks as possible, see the sights, and look for the unexpected. I had graduated from college the year before but had not yet clicked in to exactly what I was going to do next. I also was in the midst of personal and family turmoil that I was most happy to escape for a little while. This set the stage for what became an important turning point in my life. Little did I know that it would become something much larger than that.

I brought a camcorder along for the ride, one of those brick-shaped cassette recorders that was just a pain to carry anywhere comfortably. I dutifully filmed small clips throughout the trip, just to capture small moments along the way. One of my favorite moments was when we pulled into Rocky Mountain National Park and parked for a bit overlooking this amazing valley. We patiently avoided herds of elk in the road on the way up, and I remember sitting on a rock looking quietly down, feeling the weight of everything I left behind me lift away and this new road open up before me.

The trip moved along much in this way. We hiked out over mountainsides; dove into frigid streams from rock cliffs; camped on beaches; drove across the desert at midnight; We experienced the wide landscape of our country, from Yosemite to Grand Canyon, San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Joshua Tree. The Great Plains and the Southwest. We filled ourselves with cheap food and beautiful weather, met strangers and memorable characters at every stop. It couldn't have been any better. Until 9/11.

That day, heading across North Texas on what would be a 30-hour drive to the east coast, I shot more film footage. Most of it was incidental, except this one long clip that has stayed with me for 13 years. It shows the Texas landscape, shot from the window of a Volkswagen moving at over 70 mph. The farm buildings, grass and road move by so quickly that it is hard to focus on anything for a moment. The wind whips by, but the music in the car blends in as well to create a haunting scene. 

I edited the footage into this film. It means a lot to me, not just because it shows the evidence of my trip, but it captures, for me, the feeling of the before and after of 9/11, some of the character of the day, and a little perspective of how the landscape of our country was forever changed.

Note: The music in the film is incidental and is used without permission in the interest of keeping the original context intact. The song in the end section is Twenty by Labradford, off of Fixed::Content. 

Trip Data

Trip Duration: 22 days
August 23–September 13, 2001
Miles Travelled: 6700+
State lines crossed: 22

1991 VW Golf Average MPG: 35.3
Approx. Gas Consumption: 190 Gallons
Gas Prices 2001 avg: $1.49
Est. total trip gas cost: $283-$300

Navigation: Rand McNally Road Atlas
Number of times lost: 1
Cellphones: 0

Rest areas slept in: 3 (Ohio, Reno, Lake Tahoe)
Motel/Hostels slept in: 2 (both closed now)
(Sanborn Park Hostel, Saratoga CA / Redwood Lodge, Tucumcari NM)

Trip path, totaling over 6,600 miles.  Interactive map here, via Google Maps

Trip path, totaling over 6,600 miles. Interactive map here, via Google Maps