I was two days old for my first plane flight. I was born on Maui and flown to my adoptive parents and sister on Oahu. I’m certain that it has fueled my restless desire to maintain a mobile lifestyle ever since. The days I’ve spent driving toward and through unrivaled scenery on unfamiliar roads are perhaps my favorite and most memorable chapters in life. In fact, it was a 7,000-mile journey in 2004 that solidified my desire to take photographs.
When those endless twisting stretches of asphalt are driven with others, it’s bonded my fellow vagabonds with a strong and hasty glue that cannot be matched by static discourse or late nights at a bar. You never really know another person until you see how they handle cultural differences, language barriers and pancake-flat expanses of boring highway. And you never know yourself until you’ve faced them alone. Contending with searing memories, pondering futures, and doing your best to vacuum up the sensory overload that accompany these journeys. “No matter where you go, there you are.” Such an ambivalent truth...
It’s not the destination, though. Most trips are a loop, where—like Isaac Brock says—you end up where you were. In other words, you'll return to something familiar soon enough. In the meantime, slow down. Pull over. The pleasures come from unexpected vistas, perfect light, and forlorn structures just off the path. As in life, the chances to indulge in those whimsical pursuits become more sparse and difficult to as the end approaches. (I almost cried when I had to pass this glorious red, rustic barn along the Highway in New York. I had not one minute to spare in order to catch my recent helicopter flight over the Big Apple.) However, you must make time for those unexpected pit stops that suddenly become the highlights of the journey.
Though I once drove 800 miles straight alone, (not recommended), I try to limit myself to 500 in a day. It can be exhausting. I’ve postulated that despite the relatively easy physical aspect, your eyes send so much information to your mind—which is also free to roam in every direction—that by the time you “arrive,” you’re absolutely spent. Try to switch drivers every 250 miles or so to keep things fresh, safe and fair. Whether you’re alone or with a co-pilot, great music is essential. Anything by Bon Iver, Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky or Gregory Alan Isakov is perfect soundtrack for any landscape. U2’s the Joshua Tree (through the desert), Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (at night), My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves (at sunset), and Radiohead’s In Rainbows (in the foggy mornings of New York in autumn) are also some of my historical favorites. One can also spend hours concocting puns that incorporate state names, ya know, if you’re really getting delirious. (Right, Chris Terry?)
I practice what I preach. Despite mechanical issues that set us back almost two days, I still made Greg Davis stop at least three times last year’s #RockyDavisMathis road trip so I could capture what I saw on the side of the road. I’ve seen a pack of wild horses gallop across the Great Basin of Nevada, flirting with my camera for 10 minutes. On Oregon’s Sauvie Island, massive bald eagles sat quietly in trees as I approached, only to take flight when I was within 10 feet. It left me so startled and awestruck that I have zero photos to show from the encounter. An osprey clasping a fish landed on a telephone pole with Mount St Helens behind it. I've been fortunate enough to modify my path to accommodate a spontaneous visit to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Antelope Canyon. (Thanks, Jenn Panko!) I’ve seen spot-lit curtains of rain in the Pine River Valley of Southwestern Colorado. Surreal extra-planetary landscapes of Coal Mine Canyon (I never knew it existed until I drove past it). The sky met the ocean with a kiss so blue it made clouds blush sapphire hues. I pulled off to stalk sunflowers as far as the eye could see in Waxahachie. Adorably precocious children coming to us from every direction in Kenya’s countryside when our van broke down (three times) on the way back from the Mara. Abandoned barns. Magic hour reeds. Buffalo roaming. Days-old foals. Being taunted and arrested by a harvest moon. Listening to hitchhiker's stories. Comforting three generations of women in the hours after a potentially fatal crash derailed their own journey west. These are the unexpected detours that make road trips memorable.
Planes are great for expediency and providing a different perspective, but if you have the time to drive, and gas prices are reasonable, consider investing the time on exploring the land around you. There will only ever be more concrete, more tourists, and more littler than there is now, so hurry up. Turn off the stove, unplug the iron, feed the animals, turn on your auto-reply, grab your camera, and hit the road.