I remember as kid growing up just south of Boston, Massachusetts. Winter was long, spring was rainy and muddy, and summer was all too brief. And every day of my young existence seemed just like the other—mundane. Forget the fact I lived a stone’s throw away from where patriots once dressed as Native Americans and dumped the King’s tea into Boston Harbor. Or that I drove past the 300-year-old house John Adams and the 250-year-old house John Quincy Adams were born on my way to guitar lessons every week. Yawn. The leaves that changed color in the fall, skiing in winter, playing baseball in spring, and the powdery beaches of the Cape in the summer all did nothing to stem my wanderlust. I was blind to all that. Not out of apathy, but out of familiarity. No matter how great the place you live or how much it has to offer, new horizons beckon.
That’s why the highlight of my year was when we piled into the ‘ol Chevy Monte Carlo or Dodge conversion van, and my parents pointed the grille southbound. Once the odometer clicked about a few hundred miles south of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border, it was as if we entered a whole new world in which even the most ordinary things seemed exciting and exotic. The color of I-95 turned from potholed blacktop to shimmering silver concrete. Pines and fields gave way to lush Kudzu-covered canopy and then eventually palmettos and palm trees. Papa Gino’s and Friendly’s morphed to Waffle House and Stuckey’s. The insects changed from harmless big, black Carpenter Ants to fierce, stinging red Fire Ants. My brother and I noticed how every time we got out of the caaah, people talked just a little more funny. Road trips. There’s nothing like ‘em.
“Road trips. There’s nothing like ‘em.”
But that’s not to say every road trip we ever took went off without a hitch. One time in Florida, the car we were driving got struck by lightning. It made a hell of a bang and the engine, stereo, and everything else just died as if the key had been shut off. We coasted to the side of the road, tried the key, and were surprised as hell when it fired right up. I thought for sure there would be a cool black burn mark on the hood where the lightning struck, but no such luck. And then there was the time the Dodge van suffered back-to-back blowouts. I waited in the car while the others walked a couple miles to a gas station we had just passed to call a tow truck. No cell phones in those days, after all. Then there was the time we were in the Southwest and couldn’t find a hotel room, so the family of five all slept in the van. I remember waking up with my brother’s body across my leg and the circulation cut off so badly it took five full minutes before I could move my toes. Or the time we were trying to get home from Tennessee and had to divert through Kentucky and Ohio because of a hurricane. Or the time...well, that’s enough anecdotes.
The point is, even after all the trips as a kid and logging more than a million miles behind the wheel and driving to every corner of the continental U.S. as an adult, I still get charged thinking about heading off to new places and seeing new things. Bumping around old Colorado ghost towns in a ratty K5 Blazer with a glugging carb, driving a Ramcharger from Cedar City, Utah, to Moab, Utah, on mostly dirt roads (uhh, with a glugging carb), and taking a nearly stock ’71 CJ-6 up to and over the Rubicon are a couple of my favorite 4x4 memories from the last decade. And there’s so many more I’m looking forward to.
I still haven’t been to Alaska. I think it’d be cool to outfit a big ‘70s Suburban with a couple spare tires, interior sleeping appointments, extra fuel and extrication gear, and all the supplies necessary to drive from San Diego, California, to Barrow, Alaska, and back. Hopefully I’d run into some cool wheeling along the way.
North Dakota is the other state I haven’t visited yet. I don’t have any real destination within the state I’d like to see, but I’d still love to go there just to cross it off my list. I’ve joked before that I’m just gonna throw a dart at a map of North Dakota and I’ll drive to the nearest town to where it lands and order some waffles at the local diner. It’s not always about what you do when you get there; it’s about what you do in the getting there.
So if you have a cool road-trip story that’s 4x4 related that you think would make a good share with our Four Wheeler readers—or a good suggestion of what to do in Alaska or North Dakota, let me know. Email your trail tale to firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe we’ll all hit the road together.