Ahhh…road trip. Two words that evoke excitement and anticipation. I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to road trips early in my life as we vacationed every year in Virginia where my parents grew up. Shortly after they were married, my parents moved north to New Jersey where my brother and I were born and raised. But, their hearts always remained in Virginia. So, every year after school let out and 99% of our Jersey friends and families were preparing to go “downa’ shore” for vacation, my brother and I knew the time was getting close to making the six-hour road trip to the hills and backwoods of Appalachia. Seeing our relatives was cool enough, but it was the drive I loved the most. Motoring past Philly, Baltimore and then Washington DC brought unbridled exhilaration as I knew the remote roads of south central Virginia lay ahead. The smell of the farmlands, woods and red clay dirt was intoxicating and I never wanted it to go away. I knew just about every landmark, every building and every rest stop along the way. When we finally turned onto that long, winding, gravel road that led to my grandparent’s house, I could’ve cared less if I ever saw a blacktopped highway again. The thrill of road tripping was burned into my spirit.
While stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, I would usually try and catch a ride home from someone on base. But if I couldn’t, I would hitchhike from South Carolina to New Jersey. Going home on leave was only part of the enjoyment though. For me, it was the chance to sit in a car or truck for hours talking, listening to music, sightseeing or just being alone with my thoughts. Let me say that hitchhiking cross country 40 years ago was much less dangerous than today, especially for a U.S. Marine in his green utility uniform. Anyway, I always looked forward to meeting folks and having new adventures along the way…and, a road trip was always the answer.
After military service, I started doing some short backpacking trips with friends along the east coast. It was 1980 and I had just finished several long hikes on the Appalachian Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. These hikes took well over a few weeks to complete, but I found I wanted more adventure and it was then that I discovered climbing. I came across an ad in an outdoor magazine for a rock and ice climbing school in North Conway, New Hampshire. Whoa, that sounded like fun…another road trip! I went during the height of the fall foliage season and New Hampshire was majestically beautiful. The moment I stepped off the ground onto that near vertical, 500’ granite face, turned and looked out across the painted forest and mountains…I was hooked.
Over the past 30 years, my mountaineering trips throughout the continental United States have been absolutely incredible and the accounts of these adventures could fill volumes. But, it was almost always the journey, getting there…the road trip that excited me. I loved spending days and sometimes weeks preparing for my excursions and would pour over just about any climbing book I could lay my hands on. Packing, unpacking and re-packing became a wonderful part of the process as I would anticipate what the next expedition would bring. I’ve driven cross country literally dozens of times and have put hundreds of thousands of miles on no less than 5 pick-up trucks over the years. And, I was blessed to have had friends with me who shared the same passion for the road and for adventure. Today, I am just as blessed to have a beautiful wife who shares a love for road trips and adventure as much as I do. There is absolutely nothing like cruising down long, desolate “roads less travelled” while looking at incredible scenery and experiencing nature in its rawest form. It does something to the mind, body and spirit that’s difficult to describe with words. An example was a trip through some of the most remote areas of northern Alaska which allowed me to see things that most people may not ever get to see in their lifetime. It culminated one night with a light show from the aurora borealis that will be forever etched in my mind. Another was a solo trip to the Grand Canyon, just me and my dog. While driving at night through the four corners region of the southwest (where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah converge) I had a flat tire. By the time I pulled over to repair it, it was pitch dark and I decided to sleep in my truck. So, I opened my sleeping bag, crawled in and fell asleep. The next morning was magical. I hadn’t realized it but I had fallen asleep in the desert near a Navajo Indian reservation. A burnt orange sunrise that created a multi-colored landscape greeted me as I crawled out of my bag. Huge saguaro cactus trees and flat topped mesas loomed close and in the distance as far as I could see. It was one of the most beautiful vistas I had ever seen. These experiences are spiritual folks…and if you’ve done it and are familiar with what I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Over my many years of travelling, I knew it was God who was calling me to the mountains and I believe this is just one of the reasons we’re now in Colorado. God has met me on the roads, on the hikes and on every rock or ice laden mountain I’ve ever climbed. And, He’s met me in the valleys and on the summits too. I think this is a huge part of why I love the mountains. It’s because I meet my Father there and He speaks to my heart and to my spirit. The better part of 50 years in and around the mountains is a testament to this. Oh, sure, I can also meet Him in my living room, but He has given me a love for the high mountains where I know He feels the same joy as do when I’m there with Him. Isaiah 2:3 says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.” I know there is more for me there and all I want to do is allow that to happen. God has given me the love of this journey with Him and I know that is what He desires. So, I will continue this road trip with Him for as long as He deems fit as I always know He has something there for me, on the journey and at the destination. It keeps me coming back, time and time again.
So, grab your music, jump in your vehicle and take a road trip folks. Use an atlas or GPS as your guide and let your spirit take you on an awesome adventure. Remember, as has been said so many times…it’s the journey, not the destination.
And, I hope the Lord meets you there too…