“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility” –Jack Kerouac
AND THAT’S EXACTLY what we did– we left. We escaped our own dull lives. With slited eyes, we stared into the sun, our very destiny, and smiled at the thousands of miles ahead of us ready to be devoured. This was Route 66: the 2,451-mile-long ghost road into the burning wild west.
“66 is the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert’s slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there. From all of these the people are in flight, and they come into 66 from the tributary side roads, from the wagon tracks and the rutted country roads. 66 is the mother road, the road of flight” –John Steinbeck
Like thousands before us, we too were fleeing. Not economic depression nor occupational privation, but rather the seemingly insipid nature of our own lives. My brother and I hit the open road to escape; to be free of everything that was holding us down in the world— we left it all behind in licentious, red clouds of dust.
The original old route 66 begins in Chicago, slides south along the Mississippi river, eventually crossing through St. Louis and Oklahoma City to find itself in yellow, Amarillo skies. After this it’s the desert—320 miles of Steinbeck’s burning Mohave desert defeated only by the fertile crescent that is California. The road slopes up and up, emerging from its fiery basin to stand upon the edge of the bustling, chaotic jungle that is Los Angeles. Here the seemingly endless road meets its match. The immense and sparkling Pacific Ocean pacifies the sun burnt black-top of Old Route 66.
My brother and I, in our silver, Buick bullet, shot across the groaning country in a maddeningly bright burst of glory. Like a bullet shot from a gun, we crossed 8 states in 5 days. The route is surprisingly hard to follow—and many times we had to backtrack, following our Route 66 roadmap Bible that we had purchased on Amazon. The original 1920’s route follows the nature of the hills; not built by mass highway machines of today, route 66 takes the path of least resistance flowing from hill to hill like a river.
Its creators did not cut through nature, but rather made the road one with the nature it was built upon—it was the only way they could. After almost 100 years, the dirt roads that we drove down (especially in the region from Oklahoma to Arizona) were reduced to tractor bi-ways; millions of potholes for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
The best part was we didn’t have any air conditioning in the car.
We drove 2,451 miles with the windows down, the breeze of freedom pulling at the hairs on our head and causing us to grin from ear to ear. An endless expanse of a new adventure and beauty around every corner. The west is full of endless expanses— never-ending paths following a never-ending sky.
This was really living—nothing behind you and everything ahead. For it is not at the end of the trip that one realizes some great insight about life, but in the middle of it.
“[We] saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings — all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure” –Jack Kerouac
The best things in life are simple: like laughing deeply with a friend, like sleeping in on a rainy day, like hearing the right song at the right moment. Like speeding down an endless dirt road into the sunset with your brother, feet out the window, not a care in the world.
We were having fun, real fun. And yet this was a pivotal time in both my brother’s life as well as my own. I was entering my senior year of high school, ready to burgeon into full adulthood. My brother had just graduated from Wheaton College and was on the brink of entering into the leviathan of the working world. He was on the lips of that gaping mouth of endless monotony; on the precipice.
I cannot lie, I was afraid I might lose him forever after that year.
But we had this one moment, this one trip to leave that whole future behind and to live without bounds. One last chance to be reckless youth who can’t afford hotels and sleep in their cars. One last chance to gaze at the starts and still feel we had a say in our destiny. And so we sipped on the essence of each and every moment with wetted lips. Hungry.
We spent a couple days in LA with some family friends. After that we rode Highway 1 up to San Francisco and Yosemite. But eventually a sinking feeling began to settle upon us that we had to return home. Turning the car around we headed into the shade of the east. Exhausted and dusty from Route 66, we took major highways home, returning in only 3 days.
We came back not necessarily changed men, but rather heavy burdened with good memories, sun burnt behind our ears and most importantly, happy to be home in our boring and quiet suburb. That is the beauty of travel, to return home with a fresh mind set— A certain resolute courage to conquer whatever the world is gonna throw at you. Like many before us, we had discovered the beauty of the road. The road embodies not only the youth of the world but also the hopefulness of both things past and things to come. We realized that like all beautiful things in this world, they must eventually end, until we again step outside our door and begin it all again. It is this perpetual cycle of death and rebirth that fuels life—we are bound to the path of our own destiny like the rollercoaster roads of route 66 are to the hills they glide over. For as cliché as it sounds, ultimately its not about the end destination, but rather the journey itself.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain” –Jack Kerouac