Look What I Got for 7,000 Miles, 32 Days and 13 States

small children on a large tree

On the muggy morning of August 17, 2011, my family and I loaded up into a silver Impala, backed out of the garage and waved goodbye to our house and our neighborhood. Inside the trunk were five suitcases. Enough clothes to last us one, maybe two weeks.

Our plan was to be gone for five.

We headed north to Chicago, then west through Wisconsin and Minnesota, into South Dakota then Wyoming, Washington, down to Oregon into California. At LA, we turned east and drove through Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Missouri.

We bunked with friends in Rapid City for a week. We spent four days near Yellowstone. I drank the best scotch ale in my life in Missoula.

In Washington we ate like kings [thanks to my sister-in-law] and I tortured myself on routine runs through some rugged, steep trails in her backyard.

In Oregon we gawked at Multnomah Falls and stayed the night with my great-aunt and uncle. From there we snaked our way into California along the Pacific Coast Highway and lodged among the redwoods.

We spent two nights in Sacramento and three in Los Angeles, where the family hustled around Hollywood while I worked or tortured myself on the steepest hills I could find.

In the end we were on the road for over 7,000 miles in 32 days, crossing through thirteen states. Here are ten things I got from that experience.

1. Crash course in American geography

Montana. Wyoming. South Dakota. Washington. Who wants to live there, right? Not me. At least not before I went on this trip and realized the magnificent landscape.

The alien-like Badlands. Towering Harney’s Peak. Crazy Mountain. Buffalo Bill Dam and Lake and the rising mountains. Clueless to these wonders in the west.

2. Renewed love for the outdoors

From an occupational and emotional stand point, I needed this trip. I was getting bogged down in work and the urban routine. Symptoms included snippy comments, dull observations about ROI and a fascination with organizing our basement.

3. A taste of the vagabond lifestyle

Drug runners. Fugitives. Celebrities. Flight attendants. Those were some of the personas I imagined our family to picture. People on the run. Never settling. Always on the go.

It’s a good feeling. Up to a point.

Living out of a suitcase, not to mention the never-ending pulling and pushing of those suitcases from the car trunk, wears on the nerves. I eventually wore the same clothes day after day because I was tired of finding clothes I could never really find–and washing them.

It wasn’t easy working, either. For one thing, it’s a little hard to work when you know your family is out exploring Yellowstone.

The other thing is Internet connections in some places was weak or non-existent. And I never really had a space to call my own. I’m a routine guy. And I like my space. More on this topic in future posts.

4. Deeper connection with distant relatives

I got to see family [on their own turf] whom I haven’t seen in a long time. Great uncle and aunt and my wife’s brother and sister. Not to mention their children. People I adore.

5. Refined sense of awe for the ocean

Like I mentioned in no. 1, the mountainous terrain of the West stunned me. But California’s north coast, however, took the cake.

That relentless grey ocean heaving and crashing into that rough shore line inspires a sense that it is alive and emotional. A mountain awes you by it’s height. The ocean, by it’s movement. A movement that could kill you.

6. Stronger legs, stronger lungs

I like to run and believe running long distances is a great way to become a better writer.

I also like to run when I’m visiting new places because I can feel the landscape with my legs and lungs. It’s like a blind man running his fingers over a statue.

I put in a lot of miles [over 30 a week] during our trip. As a consequence of the altitude and the hills I got stronger. [Where I live it is flat.]

7. Reminder that life is about people

During a phone conversation with my mom I said, “This is God’s country.” I was at a loss to explain my sense of wonder with the landscape. We were in Trinidad, CA.

Without missing a beat she responded, “So is this,” meaning where she lived, which is in the middle of the Midwest.

She didn’t need to say more. I understood.

8. Discovery that I am insufferably moody

I think the disruption of my routine sets me back emotionally. That’s the only way I can explain my inexplicable sudden moodiness during the first week or two of this trip.

I have to admit: I’m moody to begin with. Being on the road amplifies that, which allowed me to see clearly how I hurt people during this moodiness…and then how I needed to cut it out.

Thank goodness for a gal who extends loads of grace.

9. More people should do this

I said in my Secrets the Cubicle Bound Can’t Tell You that I don’t believe everyone should work for themselves. I still stand by that statement.

I do think that everyone should travel for at least a month. Or longer.

In just one week you’ve barely gotten out of your old routines. You need to shed all of that baggage and wade into new dimensions of who you are and what is around you. Traveling extensively will do that.

10. Wyoming in the summer is full of wind and flies

If I was to move any where right now, it would probably be northwest Wyoming. The hills, the mountains. However, this area is possessed with a wicked wind and  fly population. Open a bottle of beer and within four seconds four flies will be at the mouth. No lie. The locals just live with it.

Your Turn

Ever been on an extended vacation–in the U.S. or around the world? Like to travel? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Brutal and all.

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  1. says

    Loved this post.

    When I was about 8, we drove from Fairbanks, Alaska to New Orleans, Louisiana. It took us 7 days and a lot of patience with one another.

    We looked at flashcards. Listened to a lot of ’70s music. My parents fought a ton in the front seat.

    At one point, we got stranded about 30 miles outside of a town called White Horse in, I believe it’s, Canada?

    My father said that the gas was frozen in the tank. Not sure if that was the case or not, but it was about 20 degrees below zero and my mom unpacked some of my clothes so that I could wear, like, 5 layers, to keep warm.

    I remember we were staring at the Northern Lights, when, suddenly, out of nowhere, a strange horse appeared. Right outside the driver’s door. He was so cold, there were icecicles protruding from his nostrils. I remember pleading with my parents to let the horse in the car. But, of course, they didn’t.

    After a while, he disappeared into the night. My father watched him go, then turned the ignition (something he’d tried to do numerous times since we stalled) and the car miraculously started and we were able to make it safely to the next town.

    Anyway, I don’t really get moody when I’m off my schedule, but I do get anxious. I like to produce and when I can’t, I get pretty out of sorts.

    Thanks for the post, Damian.


    • says

      On my, that’s a great story! Especially the horse. How weird.

      I think you nailed it: I can so relate to the not being able to produce. And I think that’s what makes me so uptight. If I’m in a car too long or away from my desk too long, I get a little ansty and irritable.

      I also like to work long days to get a lot of work in. I have a lot of ideas I want to implement. You can’t really do that very well when you are travelling.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a great reply!

  2. says

    Loved this post, especially #7 – Reminder that life is about people. I couldn’t agree more.

    I share your enthusiasm for travel and adventure, which is why I took off for Europe in 2010 by myself with a one-way ticket to London.

    I was in search of something more from life; some sort of meaning. As profound as that sounds, I was really just running away from everything at home so I could start over.

    I traveled to 13 different countries and 26 different cities as I made my way through Europe via train & bus. The trip ultimately lasted right around 3 months, and it remains to be the most incredible experience of my life.

    3 months felt like 3 years as time seemingly slowed down. I would read books on a park bench for hours on end, pausing only to people watch and take in my surroundings. I met fellow backpackers at every hostel I stayed at; each of us sharing tips and tricks that we had learned along the way. I really began to learn what I valued in life.

    After all was said and done, I realized that what I missed most was the people I had left behind in the U.S. I wanted to see my friends again. So I cinched up my backpack, bought a plane ticket and headed home. Little did I know that I was in for the biggest culture shock of my life… in my home country.

    Things were moving so fast when I landed on American soil. Everyone was is a damn hurry. I’ve struggled for years to find my place in this society, only now realizing that I can still thrive while holding onto my values. I have to say, that without my backpacking experience to Europe, I would be a completely different human being. I’m thankful for all that I learned and appreciate my friends, family, and all I have even more because of it.

    Thanks for writing Demian, and helping me reminisce about such a great experience.

    • says

      Hey Steve, this is easily one of the best comments I’ve gotten in a long time. I’m glad to see that my experience had an impact. And I’m glad I wrote about it. I’m not a good fit for this society either, and often wonder if I’d enjoy myself more if I lived in Europe (never been). True story: I’m trying to talk my family to move to Iceland. My wife says she’ll visit. :)

      Take care and thanks for writing.