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City Bronzeman Montana : Roadtrip USA
By: Jeff Booth (justin) 2012.01.09

The road trip is a uniquely American experience. It's part of our culture of Route 66, Go West Young Man (though it's just as good to go east), Kerouac and your favorite car. Driving across the States is like creating a collage of the country, images and experiences and road signs and late–night diners that somehow all add up to an amazing journey. So we've collected a bunch of journal entries from different writers on road trips, and like pages of a map, there's a little discovery on every page. Grab your keys and start driving.

Los Angeles, California
Packed the truck at 5 a.m. and we're out of here at sunrise, leaving the salty air of the ocean and palms in dawn's pink for the open spaces of the continent. For the Rockies, Appalachia, big–shouldered cities. For now though, the 10 is empty, L.A. sleeps, and we've got 3,000 miles to go and a full tank of gas. Jeff Booth


Kennicott, Alaska
Just past noon. Woke this morning on the moraine of the Kennicott Glacier. Decided it was time for creature comforts. Five days of hiking in remote Alaska has taken its toll. Spent an hour packing gear in the rig, then offered a prayer to whatever's kept my old Chevy running this long. We had 60 miles of dirt road before us and the spare was already on the truck (blew out one tire coming in). Riding shotgun, Andy earned a new nickname, Governor, for punching me whenever I went over 20 mph.
Nice and easy, we sweated our way down the road. Thirty miles out, the front tire went down. In between my curses, Andy told me he'd start walking. I kicked the rear fender and the rusted spots fell off. I kicked it again. I pulled the lugs and jacked her up. Regained my faith in divinity when a park ranger drove up ten minutes later with Andy and an air compressor. Fixed the flat. Just finished a burger at the It'll Do Café. They got that right: It Done Did. Trip Grass


Denver, Colorado
It's nearly impossible to sing in your sleep. Little lessons like this can keep you from veering off a cliff at four in the morning.

It's been 21 hours since I slept on cardboard boxes outside a Las Vegas Yamaha dealer, waiting for them to open. I needed a quick fix on a gas leak that turned my motorcycle into a highly flammable target for cigarettes tumbling out of truckers' windows.

Since then, it's been a straight shot, 650 miles, names like Mesquite, Beaver, Green River slipping into a haze of scenery. Blankets of desert shimmering through heat waves, stratified rock formations, pines standing like thin old men.

My goal was Denver but it was several hours away, pitch black and my motorcycle needed an exorcism. A Hell's Angel I met earlier offered some sage advice: "Altitude in the Rockies gonna jerk your bike like a monkey humpin' a football. Jus' keep rollin', man." So I kept rollin', eyes fluttering closed, when it hit me: SING. If you're singing, you're still awake and alive. In my delirium, even the motorcycle rocked rhythmically to the Beatles. "Knows not where he's going to, isn't he a bit like you and me, Nowhere Man...Thomas C. Dunn


Black Hills, South Dakota
I was feeling patriotic and drove off the 16–385 highway to take a glimpse at Mt. Rushmore. Nice and all, but I kept hearing people around me whispering about Crazy Horse instead, just seventeen miles down the road. Said "See ya, George, et al." and hopped in my jalopied Toyota with a quarter– million miles on it.
The Crazy Horse Memorial, the half–finished mountain carving in monument to the Native American hero Crazy Horse, rises above the plains, pointing out to the west where "My lands are where my dead lie buried." It looked like a mom–and–pop dynamite shop in contrast to the government–gleam of tourism at Rushmore. Both are crowded with RVs though. Korczak Ziolkowski started sculpting the mountain back in 1948, and his family continues the legacy. They will not take money from the government though.

I already had paid $8 to get in, but donation boxes turned up at every lookout platform asking for another buck that would buy one more stick of dynamite to use. "Your money and the dynamite goes to good use," intoned the loudspeaker from a voice recorded thirty years ago. So I threw in my share. I mean, how better to spend a buck than on a little TNT? Eric Tiettmeyer


Junction City, Kansas
The vending machine gods visited Todd and me before we set out. The school soda machine began emptying its contents like manna from heaven, just spitting out cans, like it knew we'd need another Brisk Iced Tea somewhere on Rte. 70 just to stay awake and alive. But by this time, we're down to our last case, and I hope I never drink the stuff again. Jeff Booth


Portland, Oregon
I pulled into town a few days ago. I'm not sold on the rain, but I do like the vibe. The chillin' in the cold rain and not caring about how I look when I roll out of bed in the morning. I can sit in the hip, worker–owned Red and Black café, sipping my ultra–black coffee, reading Mumia Abu Jamal's Live From Death Row and not even have to wonder what anyone in the room is thinking of me. Because it's cool to wear black. It's cool to wear thermals and overalls and beanies and hoodies. It's cool to read. I mean, have you seen Powell's bookstore? It takes up a whole city block and not just one floor of it either. I just wish it didn't rain so much. Michele Bigley


Missoula, Montana
Missoula is a marvel for a boy from the Midwest. The sky really does go on forever. Bicycles crowded the street. They were testing a free bicycle program that summer where you could just get on a bike and ride it around and leave it and someone else would take it. Missoula is the capital of Bike America and every cross–country cyclist passes through. That's how I met Nif and Nicole. They were headed from Portland to Portland.
Someone had given them a house to watch for a few days, so I stayed with them and caught up on some sleep and got real clean. We all went out for the Fourth of July and watched the fireworks light over the Badlands.

From Missoula I headed down to Yellowstone and took out my bicycle and rode for three days near the falls and Old Faithful, where the deer were perched warm and happy on the sulfur. Then I found a game of poker in West Yellowstone with a $5 percent rake. I had never played poker before.

I lost my last $600 and still had to get to Seattle on the 40 bucks I had left. It had been nearly three weeks since I left Chicago and I coasted into my girlfriend's place on fumes without a dime or a dollar to my name. Of course, by then it was too late. She had found somebody else.Stephen Elliot


Grand Canyon, Arizona
Loaded down a '94 Honda Accord with necessities, kissed Mom and barreled over the Cumberland Gap on the way to route 40. Never stopping, aside for gas, we arrived in Arizona the next day, at sunset. In the morning, we were keen to avoid the interstates and headed up Route 77 through Navajo lands. We approach Grand Canyon from the east. Rain and hail fell, cleansing the sky. The clouds cleared and the canyon was bathed in red by the afternoon sun. Todd Sulchek


New Orleans, Louisiana
Louisiana horse–and–buggy cash evaporated, lingering in the mirage only a convertible, a guitar I couldn't tune and the loitering battle between my primitive and rational brain. I surmise that "Carnival binging" worldwide, like all binging, inevitably returns as an unsuspecting boomerang that whacks you upside the head. Bayou indulgences include life without sleep, hotel–room bathtubs full of ice and cocktails, and blind attempts at procreation. America's hedonist vortex had its way with me. Decision time: Wander somewhere else less tempting and figure out life? Sure.
I have one souvenir from Mardi Gras that hangs on the wall in my West 34th Street apartment in New York. Dining at sunrise (yes) in a greasy spoon, a temporarily home–free street–poet offered his neighborly carousing philosophy: Walk in and Grin. That made sense, so I sprung for a key chain he dangled before me; a well–hung bronze man and perky woman hinged in an adjustable coital embrace capable of myriad Karma Sutra suggestions.

So I drove to the entrance ramp of I–10 and pondered my destiny–east to Atlanta or west to Austin? My key chain dangled, vacillating. Bruce Northam


Atlanta, Georgia
Out of the blue this morning, Aaron throws his arms into the air and exclaims, "I can't believe we aren't dead yet. God bless us!" Karla Miller

Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama is an enigma. Case in point: the World's Largest Chair in Anniston was far less interesting than the local who we quizzed for its location. "There's a big ol' chair over there by Miller's store. Dunno if its the world's largest, but it's purdy big." The damn thing is 33 feet tall. Karla Miller


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Went to Carbo's Police Museum in Pigeon Forge. It was mostly just aisle after aisle of badges and guns. The interesting thing, though, was their obsession with a sheriff from the 70s named Buford Pusser. Apparently, he was a small town sheriff who tried to break up some crime syndicate and had the misfortune of getting stabbed eight times on two separate occasions and shot in the face on another.
Of course, his legend was truly made via the great American tradition– someone made a movie about him. Carbo's was completely obsessed. They had Buford's gun, handcuffs, badge, desk, tie, suit, sport clothes, and, of course, Buford's Death Car. The mangled mass of steel supposedly used to be a Corvette before launching off a cliff. Foul play was suspected, but never proven. We've decided to rename Aaron's Dakota the Death Truck. Buford's car would have liked that. Karla Miller


Exit 9, New Jersey Turnpike
OK, now this is getting scary. They are definitely following us. Every time Daphne changes lanes, that crippled red pickup in the rearview mirror, is making the same change. There's four greasy, bearded men squeezed into the front. Sometimes they come up next to us and drive up close to the car and holler at us. No one notices two blondes in a two–door getting chased by a gang of horny creeps in a junker? You'd think Jersey was relatively safe. It'll be dark soon and every exit on this damn turnpike looks the same. All I know is I am not going to ride all the way to Manhattan with these bastards waiting for us to step out of Daph's black Acura. Forget it. Hey, this is a V8 – maybe we can lose them... Trisha Kirk


New York, New York
Homeless guy at the gas station outside the Lincoln Tunnel gave some advice: Walk fast, don't stare at the skyscrapers, park once and don't move the car again. I promptly drove into The City, got flipped off by a cabbie as I went the wrong way down a one way street, and headed for the Staten Island Ferry. The best free boat ride ever. Took in the ocean smell, the Statue of Liberty, the view with New York and a whole lotta land behind us. Jeff Booth
Photo by Tricia Kirk

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