BY RYAN FREEMAN
As I sit in my first hotel room of my trip, on the third night, I actually realize how big of an undertaking this project actually is and how little I know about what I want to accomplish. Or even what the “project” itself actually is. A trip, of course, but what else? Should I go to every state? Can I make it a blog? A photo diary? An album in creation? A podcast? Can I make YouTube videos? Is this monetizable?
Or could it just be a trip?
Of course, I realized all these things a long time ago, and had a plan for all of them at a given time, but never really got to what I wanted by time my first “leave date” came around. I delayed that because my parents wanted me to watch the house when they were gone. My second date came around, I delayed it because I wanted to hang out with my friends longer. My third date came around and I delayed it because I was concerned with my car after hitting a raccoon (and rightly so, as I had a bumper piece that fell off shortly after). But after these few delays, it became very apparent that I was starting to delay out of fear. This whole time I had been picturing the person doing this as an abstract, better version of me, but it became extremely clear that life doesn’t work like that. So I just had to leave.
The only cemented goal I had before leaving was getting to California. It’s an easy goal — just drive 3,500 miles and back — and makes for a good “escape the east coast” romanticism. The problem is it’s too specific and too easy. I could do it fast and have a miserable experience. A soul-sucking two weeks of 500 mile a day driving on the most efficient roads would reach the goal. But why would I do that?
Narrowing down places to visit is hard. Being given unlimited freedom of choice is almost paralyzing. I don’t have to answer to anyone. I can do everything or nothing. It’s all on me to make things happen. I’ve driven through 11 states and DC and stopped in only 4 of them — mostly for knowing that I’ll be coming back through them on the way home. But when I get to states like Maryland, where I don’t know if I’ll come back through, or states like Virginia, where I doubt I will, the fear of missing out is huge. I don’t know if I have time to see all the things that I know about and I don’t know what I don’t know about in the first place.
All of those concerns aside, it’s been a pretty good start. My first night of sleep was rough, but the second night went very well, despite construction lights all around. I had a lot of fun — despite being scared as hell — driving the Bronx Express and the NJ Turnpike. I took a drive to West Orange and up the Eagle Rock Reservation to see the NYC skyline. I drove around Hoboken with the music off for a solid half hour, just listening to the city. I even worked up enough courage to undertake crossing the George Washington Bridge and driving along the Hudson once night fell.
While the “goal” of the trip isn’t entirely clear, I think just by committing to it and leaving I would consider it a success already. I’m extremely excited to be out of New England (and New York) for the first time in years. I’m really excited to see the environment outside of the dense trees and rocky coasts of Maine and largely New England in general.
Sleeping in Wal-Mart parking lots is getting surprisingly easy for someone who always needed his room to be as close to pitch black as possible. It’s become a routine. Fire up my “ONP Walmart” app on my phone, find a place that allows truck/RV parking, and input the address in my GPS — aka, my phone, naturally. I find the place, circle the lot to see what it looks like, check out where all the trucks are parked, and park as close to the trucks as I can without being a nuisance. Oh, and always parking facing the northeast so the sun rises to the front of my car, instead of baking my legs as I sleep.
I’m realizing that I severely underestimated how much money I needed to undertake this trip. Having to get an oil change so early (and who knew Jiffy Lubes were so expensive?) and get my radiator coolant filled (as I was apparently way past scheduled maintenance) really ate into my budget. The hotel rooms, however, I’m having extreme luck with finding cheap, both coming in under $40. Food has been low cost too — I’ve spent only ~$20 on food since I left, as I stockpiled enough Soylent to last the whole trip. It may be Silicon Valley-esque in its “function over form” efficiency, but it’s cheaper and way healthier than what I would be eating on the road anyway. And I no doubt feel much better drinking it.
I’ve been doing a lot of driving the past few days. Since my money isn’t lasting as long as I hoped, I decided I wanted to touch the ground on all 48 states. That seems like a wicked accomplishment and something I can do easily within a months time, give or take. Writing this from the Wal-Mart parking lot in Topeka, Kansas, I’m halfway there: 24 out of 48 states down. I think I was a bit hard on myself before, calling 500 mile days “soul sucking” because driving in unfamiliar places is actually quite fun. The lonely isolated highways of the midwest, the jam packed traffic in Jersey— it’s all new to me and it’s an adventure.
Tomorrow I’ll be making a 500 mile drive to the Dallas area to meet up with one of my friends and cross another couple states off the list. After that, I’ll be moving into the proper southwest. This trip has both satiated my wanderlust and at the same time stimulated it. I’ve already hesitantly starting planning my next trip for next summer with one of my friends — much less of a barebones expedition as this one and more of a proper sightseeing expedition. That being said, I think this kind of rough solo adventure across thousands of miles and Wal-Mart parking lots everywhere is the exact way I wanted this trip to be.
At this point, I’m mostly just hoping my car holds together. There’s really no reason it shouldn’t, but this is reality we’re talking about, and naturally it’s expected.
LIFE IS STRANGE
I’ve been doing a lot of driving the last couple days, because my trip is now on a clock, and that’s given me a lot of time to reflect on not only my trip, but where I’m at in general. All of this alone time has really only let me be entirely sure of one thing:
My life has been extremely weird lately.
I’ve been finding myself in these situations that seem straight out of a romanticized and cliché coming-of-age novel, with a healthy bit of Skins-esque substance use. Like, how a few weeks ago, I met this girl for the first time after becoming extremely close with her over the internet — by getting lost in her home state at midnight, listening to Korean hip hop album on a vaguely cloudy night, while she hits a bowl in my passenger seat. Or that time my friend Evan and I skipped out on most of a Fall Out Boy concert to get lost driving around and having super in-depth conversations on our core beliefs. Or how I sat with Jess, in pitch black darkness of Acadia, on huge cliffs overseeing the crashing waves below, as we split a couple spliffs and basked in the existence of everything.
A lot of the weird and good things in my life recently have been because of Jess. Ever since we made an impulse decision in March, to drive a few hours away to a mountain range in the middle of the night, my life has been impacted in a very good, very meaningful way. Whether it’s sitting on the rocks on an island in the middle of the night, or watching a movie in the back of my Prius, drinking at my house, or even taking a five hour trip to an abandoned air force base to do 115MPH on the runway — she’s always up to do things. She’s adventurous in a way that none of my other friends are and she makes for the very best partner in crime.
All of these things, though, pale in comparison to the trip I currently find myself on. I’ve spent 7 nights sleeping in my car at random Walmarts across the country. I’ve spent 3 nights in the sketchiest hotel rooms because I’ve only been looking for cheap. I spent last night driving through the desert alone, when before this week I had never left the east coast before. I’ve been leaving copies of one of my mixtapes at random rest stops across the country, just to see what would happen. I drove 8 hours from Topeka, KS to Dallas, TX to get IHOP with a friend that moved away, got some rest, woke up and drove to Vallejo, CA in one go.
All of these things are just so incomprehensible to me. A year ago, I couldn’t have predicted any of this, and I love it that way.
My two days in California were probably the most eventful of the entire trip — and more or less calls for an actual literal blog post of actually describing events, rather than my usual reflection.
Naturally, when you’re as far away from home as you can possibly be, things would start to go wrong. Here I am in Rohnert Park, CA, about 3,200 miles away from home, when all of a sudden I can hear the sounds of scraping metal whenever my Prius kicks on the ICE. I joked about this situation with nearly everyone — about how it’s inevitable with the way my life seems to go — that once I got to California my car would break down. And here I was, about to be living it.
Luckily for me, the situation was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. I pulled up to an auto shop right down the road in a near panic and I could tell the guy nearly laughed at me while I was explaining everything. He asked if I had a few minutes, I said sure, and he had the part swapped out in 30 minutes for just $30. Turns out that when I bottomed out in Virginia, I must have loosened a heat shield over the exhaust, and it waited until now to come loose. No big deal. Crisis averted.
(Quick note — I write this now after being home for about a week. The auto shop sent me a “thank you” card that I just received and honestly that’s the coolest shit. Anyone in or around Rohnert Park might want to check out Bowen’s Automotive, cool dudes and got it done for me quick and cheap.)
After narrowly avoiding an automotive and mental breakdown, I went to go pick up my internet friend Jake. Jake was a friend of a friend that my “IRL friends” would play League of Legends with and we became actual friends through a shared appreciation of photography, music, and a distaste for conventional politics. He took me up to Clear Lake and we walked around playing Pokemon Go and smoking (fairly) legal marijuana. He opened up about a lot of anxiety issues he had which was fairly strange to me, because I always kind of saw him as a fairly put together dude. It’s weird how you can know people, but also not really know them at the same time.
He suggested we go to Chipotle after and I was hesitant. This is a kind of weird hang-up I have regarding “order as you go” food style places, but I just have never been able to bring myself to try Chipotle or Subway or any other type of place like that. Even though it felt really lame coming out of my mouth, he was entirely understanding and even suggested that he could order for me because he really wanted me to try it. I said sure, we went, he ordered, we ate. It was amazingly good and at this point, I feel like I could walk through hellfire to eat that food again — ordering would be a piece of cake.
I dropped him off at his apartment, he told me I would seriously regret it if I didn’t go to the Golden Gate Bridge, and so I decided to head right over. Seeing iconic things in person is a weird feeling because pictures will never do them justice. I crossed it twice, chilled on the vista for a while and watched the military planes doing flyovers, and then started my journey home, eventually stopping to sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Fernley, Nevada.
It’s a bit hard to make the last days of the trip interesting, as it all happened quite fast. I woke up in Nevada to large trucks revving their engines at around 10 or so. I was running out of money, fast, so I told myself I wasn’t going to be spending on anything extravagent — just water and gas, soylent would be enough to get me back home. That day, I drove through the white sands of Utah, the 80 MPH speed limits and realistically 90 MPH traffic flow allowing me to put distance between me and my previous parking lot hotel at a quite stunning pace.
I then hit Wyoming, a place I quite often forget exists, and had my whole expectations of the state demolished. I don’t know why it’s what I assumed, but I had seen Wyoming as almost Maine-like, but flatter. Densely forested? Fuck no. It was bare plains the whole way through. I dropped off my second to last CD of my project at a rest stop here, played a little bit of Pokemon Go because driving through the scenic views of nothing was killing me. I eventually went to sleep at another Wal-Mart in Rawlins, WY, and slept quite well.
I woke up in Rawlins, as one would expect considering I fell asleep there, and had a crazy idea. What if I just drove all the way home from here? I checked Google Maps, 27 hour drive. It felt realistic, as weird as that sounds. I decided I would drive until the night came, then update my expectations from there.
Driving through the midwest was a little fun the first time, just for the novelty of it. The flatness was new to me. This time, however, the flatness was growing old. What at first was new and interesting, grew to be fairly miserable and boring, seeing the same scenery everywhere — large farm fields, wind farms, billboards. I don’t want to be “that guy” and drive through, then talk badly about people’s homeland, but when you’re setting out for over a day of driving, you kind of hope it will be interesting.
There’s a certain level of comfort, for me at least, in not knowing what state you’re in. At some point at around midnight, I pulled into a rest stop not knowing where I was in the slightest. I turned off my GPS because I knew I was just heading the same way for some 200 odd miles and I stopped seeing familiar places on the signs. I used the bathroom, bought a water, accidentally bought a Monster (damn, my caffeine dependency), and made some small talk with the cleaning lady. I asked if I was still in Iowa, she laughed and said yes, then told me she wasn’t surprised that I didn’t know because everything kind of looks the same. I got back into my car and decided that I was going to make it home.
Driving at night is one of my favorite things because for the most part, it’s just me and the road and very little traffic. During this trip, I didn’t get much time to drive at night, considering I wanted to see the sights and sleeping during the day proves difficult in sunlight. I drove through most of Illinois and Indiana during the night. It was peaceful. However, driving through Cleveland in the morning was less than peaceful and more on the side of headache than anything.
The drive through the northeast wasn’t new to me, but the weight of being nearly penniless was weighing on me. I knew I was only get a couple more chances to put gas in and one of those was going to have to be an overdraft. I started driving less fast and more economically friendly. New York was rainy and miserable, but I got to see quite possibly the most beautiful sunset I’d ever personally witnessed when I was near Boston. Once I managed to get back on I-95, I really considered the trip over, as I had made this drive countless times over the past year. I eventually arrived home at around 9PM, about 2 weeks and 3 hours after I left
Music: The most common sense form of entertainment while driving is music, duh. If you’re a music person in general, this shouldn’t be a problem for you in the slightest — just gather your favorite albums, maybe make some custom playlists, spice up your Pandora stations, etc. If you’re less musically inclined though, this may be even simpler — just turn on the radio and find a station you like.
- Wildflower by the Avalanches
- Midnight Menu by TOKiMONSTA
- Positive Songs for Negative People by Frank Turner
- Tourist History by Two Door Cinema Club
- Worlds by Porter Robinson / Adventure by Madeon
“Pandora” – Indie? Maybe. It’s vibes.
“Bangers” – Bass focused hip hop.
“Hella Rad” – Pop Punk and Pop Punk adjacent things.
“Road Trip” – A focused compilation for travelling. All genres.
“Favorites” – A friend of mine saves all her favorite music on this.
I know I’m being way too specific but in some area in South Carolina there’s a super awesome hip hop station that I can’t remember the name or number of, but I know it played Gucci and Dolph and all that good shit. So find them if you’re in the area.
Podcasts / Spoken Word: Podcasts are kind of a weird thing to get into initially but once you find a good one, two, or ten they slowly take over your life. Audiobooks are like that as well. Welcome To Night Vale introduced me to podcasts as a whole, while TED Radio from NPR got me into the more thinkpiece type of thing.
Comedy – Last Podcast on the Left, The Roundtable of Gentlemen
Fiction – Alice Isn’t Dead, Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes
Political – The Gist, Abe Lincoln’s Top Hat, Politically Re-Active
Creepy? – Lore, Last Podcast on the Left, The Black Tapes
Misc – This American Life, Radiolab, Reply All, Note to Self, Millennial
How To Ruin Everything by George Watsky – disclaimer, I only listened to one audiobook the whole time. It was this one. It was good.
* Fun fact, as a delivery driver, I can now present myself as a “professional driver” — which sounds a hell of a lot more impressive than “pizza delivery boy.”