Accompanying his longtime friend Cheryl — who is relocating from the east coast to California — Erik goes on a road trip across his home country, the United States of America.  The two start from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, and drive for two and a half weeks all the way to the sunny shores of the Pacific in California.  Along the way, they take the “scenic route,” making a detour through many of the country’s well-known monuments and national parks: Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Canyonlands, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.  They encounter bears, buffalo, and even Mormons on this grand tour of America — one which exposes them to subcultures they are unaccustomed to, as if traveling to a foreign country.  In the end, what they see and experience is a tribute to America — from its people within to its great outdoors.




TRAVEL DISPATCHES (in chronological order)

Last Adventures On The Atlantic

Posted: June 19, 2011

PART 1 (DAYS 1-3):  “Do you think we’re going to hate each other in two weeks?” my newest travel companion, albeit longtime friend Cheryl asked me.  She was referring to the epic coast-to-coast road trip we were about to embark on, from New York to San Francisco, one that we would spread out over a period of two weeks and change.

“I dunno,” I answered.  “Maybe.”

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Back In Time For Beer

Posted: June 21, 2011

PART 2 (DAY 4): “All we need is a flux capacitor,” I said, taking a picture of all the electronic gadgets hooked up in the car.  Road tripping sure has come a long way since the days of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise in Kerouac’s On The Road; in our ride we had a GPS navigator, an EZ-Pass, an iPhone 4, a Droid, and a Verizon 4G/3G mobile hotspot serving a WiFi connection for our two laptops. All of this was powered through the 1-to-3 power outlet adapter (that fortunately swiveled upwards so we could still use the handbrake). Cheryl was concerned we’d drain the car battery, but I figured we’d be okay if our long drives were charging it.

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1 out of 10,000

Posted: June 22, 2011

PART 3 (DAY 5):  “It’s so hot,” Cheryl said.  “And I thought the northern route would have been cooler.”  It was only about 10 a.m. in the morning, and the sun was beating down on us hard already.  Coincidentally enough, during our quick morning tour of downtown Chicago, the classic rock tune “Summer In The City” came on — and on the day of the summer solstice too.

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“Roughing It” In The Badlands

Posted: June 25, 2011

PART 4 (DAY 6): Cheryl woke up in the passenger seat after a nap, only to see a peculiar billboard going by: a funny cartoony illustration of a hot dog wearing a sombrero, mascot of a place called “Señor Wiener.” On the billboard he said, “You know you want me.”  Soon afterwards, we saw a billboard inviting motorists to see the Rare Rhinos of Africa.

“Where are we?” she wondered, as if she still dreaming.

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Inside The Sculptor’s Studio

Posted: June 28, 2011

PART 5 (DAY 7):  There should be no debate on what the most iconic landmark is in South Dakota: Mount Rushmore, the massive rock sculpture carved into a granite cliffside in the Black Hills, standing 60 feet tall (10 times bigger than the makeshift plaster one at Wall Drug), 500 feet above its base. The collective faces of American presidents Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Honest Abe Lincoln have become a symbol of America, so much that Mount Rushmore has served as a setting in popular movies, from North By Northwest, Hitchcock’s classic tale of espionage, to Team America: World Police, the South Park creators’ marionette-driven satirical musical.  Even if you haven’t seen Team America, you can’t help but think of the title of one of its musical numbers when standing in Rushmore’s presence: “America… Fuck yeah!”

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American Safari

Posted: June 28, 2011

PART 6 (DAYS 8-10):  It’s hard to think of being in the U.S.A. and going on a “safari” (outside of a Six Flags’ or other man-made drive-thru), since that Kiswahili word is often associated with game drives in Africa.  However, there is definitely an American Safari to be had in the wilds of the heartland; the only differences are that:

  • the breeds of antelope are different
  • instead of wildebeests, there are bison (a.k.a. buffalo)
  • there are a lot more fat people on tour
  • the game drive roads are paved
  • the prized trophy photo is not of a lion, but of a bear (both could bite your head off)
  • the name of the encompassing national park isn’t “Serengeti” or “Ngorongoro”, but “Yellowstone”


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Cowboy Country

Posted: June 30, 2011

PART 7 (DAYS 8-10):  While a small part of Yellowstone National Park extends into Montana and Idaho, most of it lies in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, a state with the icon of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco on its license plates.  The state is in cowboy country after all — the wild, wild west — with landscapes that have inspired classic Westerns in the mountains, even before cowboys were outed as being gay on Mount Brokeback.  Regardless of sexual orientation, cowboys have always been associated with not cows, but horses — the mode of transportation before railways and RVs — and it was with those domesticated animals that we rode around to get a different perspective of the park that you can’t get from a car or the YNP bus.

“This is Jasper,” one of the horse wranglers said, introducing Cheryl to her horse of the day. 

“Hi Jasper,” she said, petting her. 

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More Than Six Percent

Posted: July 01, 2011

PART 8 (DAYS 8-10):  “In real camping so to speak, you leave your car and go out [camping], but here the park is so big.  So it’s like, what’s the point of camping if you still need your car [to get around]?” I wondered aloud as we drove out of the Canyon campground for our daily excursion within Yellowstone National Park.  The nearest shower facility from our tent was half a mile away (which is doable if you have the luxury of time; we drove), but that’s nothing when you consider the fact that YNP is bigger than your average park — about the size of the states Rhode Island and Delaware combined.  Camping was our only option within the park due to the high demand of accommodations reserved months in advance; if we had planned way in advance, we might have stayed in YNP’s other options (all operated by the private hospitality company Xanterra): lodges, cabins, and even the fancy hotel in the historic Fort Yellowstone village of old military houses.  (Camping is fun too though — it’s nature after all — but perhaps not when it’s 40°F at night, there’s still snow on the ground, and you didn’t pack enough clothes.)

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A Dinosaur In The Tetons

Posted: July 03, 2011

PART 9 (DAY 11):  “So you just want to climb?” asked Jim, the veteran rock climbing guide that Cheryl and I had hired to take us up a natural wall in the Teton mountain range. 

“Yeah, I just want to get out there,” Cheryl answered.  My fellow road tripper was actually one of the friends that originally got me into rock climbing — even before my Big Trip — and this was to actually be our first time together climbing outside, minus an ice climbing trip we did a while back.  “I haven’t really climbed in two years, so I’m a bit rusty,” she admitted.  Back in the day, she could have led the climb herself and spared us the combined $350 Exum Guides fee (most of that going to insurance I assumed), but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re climbing in the region of “America’s Matterhorn.” 

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The iPhone App of Mormon

Posted: July 04, 2011

PART 10 (DAY 12):  The bells of a holy church rang within earshot of the Salt Lake Plaza Hotel, just as Cheryl and I had settled our things into a room there. 

“It’s Mormon time!” I announced. 

And so, the two of us went out to explore Temple Square, the epicenter of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a.k.a. “The Mormons,” although some sects of Mormons are not a part of this main sect), just across the street.

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Raiders Of The Lost Arch

Posted: July 06, 2011

PART 11 (DAY 13):  Perhaps the most popular thing Utah is known for (other than Mormons) is its different desert landscapes within its borders.  In the southwest are the moonscapes of Capital Reef and Zion National Parks, along with the awe-inspiring Bryce Canyon.  In the center lies the sand dunes of “Little Sahara.”  In the northwest, there’s the bright white salt flats of Bonneville.  Cheryl and I had already individually seen similar salt falts in Bolivia, and so we set our sights towards the southeastern part of the state, to the famed arched rock formations of Arches National Park.  It’s where the most photographed arch of Utah lies, known as Delicate Arch, which is a rock formation so iconic that it’s on Utah’s license plates.

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Navigating Navajo Nation

Posted: July 07, 2011

PART 12 (DAY 14):  “We’re gonna die!!!” cried a little boy in blue, running out of the Devil’s Garden Trail in the northern area of Arches National Park.  Little Boy Blue was literally crying — and figuratively shitting a brick — as the Devil summoned large raindrops, lightning bolts so crazy they formed electrical tributaries in the sky, and a powerful wind that created a sandstorm in our faces as we ran out to escape the narrow canyon.  “I don’t want to die!” he yelled as he clenched onto his father for dear life.

(Perhaps it was fitting that mere minutes before this sudden storm, he had approached Cheryl to warn her, “Don’t go too far.  There’s a big storm coming.”)

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Gettin’ Down A Big Hole On Friday

Posted: July 13, 2011

PART 13 (DAY 15):  “Wow!  Look at that big hole!” said this little blonde American kid who was probably only about four years old, all wide-eyed and bursting with curiosity. 

“That hole is the reason we’re here,” his parent/guardian said nicely.  “That’s the Grand Canyon.”

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Old Faces, New Places, Old Places, New Faces

Posted: July 16, 2011

PART 14 (DAY 16):  “What’s your name?” asked the young new face of the mysterious little girl in front of me in the Flagstaff KOA.  At 5:45 am, the kampground was already illuminated by the dawn’s early light, but it seemed we were the only two awake.  She had come up to me so randomly — wearing no shoes — that it was a little surreal, and I wasn’t sure if I was awake and trying to work on my laptop, or still in the tent, having a weird dream.

“Erik,” I answered. “What’s your name?”

“Sissy,” replied.  “But my mom and dad call my ‘Frybutt.’”

“Where is your mom and dad?”

“They’re still sleeping.  And Todd.  He’s my brother,” she answered.  “Can I sit down?”

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Manifest Destiny

Posted: July 18, 2011

PART 15 (DAY 17):  “It’s the Pacific.  We made it,” I declared that morning, as the sun rose in the east to reveal the ocean before me in the west.  “It’s Manifest Destiny.”

With that said, I put my feet in the water to bring closure in going “from sea to shining sea,” ever since I set foot in the Atlantic over two weeks prior.  (It was cold.)

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Observing America

Posted: July 20, 2011

PART 16 (DAYS 18-19):  America, the beautiful.  It’s more than just a patriotic song; after all that Cheryl and I had seen during our cross country road trip in just a little over two weeks — which is still just a fraction of what the USA has to offer — I totally got it.  Confirmed: bureaucratic and commercial matters aside, this country is indeed beautiful — the spacious skies, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties above fruited plains — from sea to shining sea.  Also, the red rock deserts that the song pays no attention to are pretty beautiful too.

It was perfectly fitting that we ended our self-discovery of American patriotism on the Fourth of July — the day Americans observe the anniversary of their independence — although it wasn’t exactly coincidental because we had planned it that way.  The patriotism wasn’t planned though; we did in fact feel a little bit more connected to the country we call home, despite the occasional complaints that every American intrinsically has about living here.  Perhaps it was contrived that we filled our day with American customs, but it’s not like I haven’t aimed to do as the locals do in the foreign countries I’ve traveled to.

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