I conceived this trip while driving to Pittsburgh to attend a cousin’s wedding. I rented a red Corolla and headed out on Friday night, stopping for the night at a motel in Breezewood, PA, a location I chose because I passed the sign on the turnpike just as “Delilah” was ending, and who wants to keep driving without “Delilah”? At some point that weekend, I realized I’d much rather keep driving west than come back to Brooklyn.
But I’m not some hippie who can just drop everything — I have a temporary job, you know, and many refrigerated condiments that would go to waste if I just disappeared. So the trip would have to wait a few months. In the meantime, my friend Steph bought me a copy of “Blue Highways,” William Least Heat-Moon’s 1982 bestseller about his somewhat circuitous loop of a solo road trip around the U.S. several years earlier. The book is long and earnest and shaggy, and it helped push me toward a trip with those same qualities.
Moon begins at home in Columbia, Missouri, where he’s running away from a failing marriage, an aimless career and general ennui. Setting out to avoid interstates and cities, and stick to side and small towns, he winds east to the coast, then takes a shaggy route south, west, north, and east, returning home in the end to become (eventually) a successful travel writer. His route is mostly arbitrary; he detours to see towns with names like Nameless, Dime Box, and Liberty Bond, chatting up whoever he meets.
Moon was a lot more hardcore than I am. His trip was about 13,000 miles; mine will be around 8,000. He took three months; mine will likely be a week or two shy of that. He slept in a home-customized van; I’ll drive a late-model rental car and sleep mostly in cheap motels. What’s more, Moon appears to have not even had a car radio, let alone an iPhone and all its attendant distractions. He really did it alone.
Despite our differences in badassedness, I still fancy myself to be striking out with a similar aim, and, I hope, similar lessons and pleasures along the way. Take his description of shuttling across Montana: “The uncluttered stretches of the American West and deserted miles of roads force a lone traveler to pay attention to them by leaving his isolated in them. This squander of land substitutes a sense of self with a sense of place by giving him days of himself until, tiring of his own small compass, he looks for relief to the bigness outside.” Fingers crossed.