Notes From The American Road
Feb 20, 2020
The following morning and a detour took me North through Utah, past Salt Lake City, and on up into Idaho, where placid open plains devolved into Idaho Falls where I got stuck in traffic next to this expansive camouflaged warehouse with huge white lettering out front on the enormous sign reading, “We buy and sell firearms.” Just past the warehouse was a road sign reading, “This stretch of highway adopted by the Idaho Falls chapter of the National Rifle Association.” A little different than coastal California!
The road then shot 10 hours further North to an Indian reservation in northern Montana with lots of decaying housing and visible poverty and plenty of corporate chainstores, and then minutes from the depressing reservation a stark contrast and bizarre juxtaposition emerges with Glacier National park, and the aptly titled “Going-To-The-Sun-Road”, as it wound so forever upward among other giant peaks that it could have just as well been the Tibetan Himalayas if one didn’t know better.
The descent from there is where I began to head East for the long haul, for the incessant plains of America until finally the endless fields of corn vacated my rearview mirror as night began to set in over the steely Chicago skyline. The next morning, a hangover and a Cubs baseball game, and soon the car’s snout pointed East, and then clean through Indiana and Ohio, eagerly seeking out and anticipating New York City, and so Pennsylvanian Appalachians flew in a blur, as did Jersey until at last the Empire state building spiked the heavens off in the distance, and then the Atlantic which flanked Manhattan, and like a dream, the continent had been crisscrossed by car, and I crossed the George Washington bridge and made for Manhattan.
I slipped from the city’s grasp early Sunday morning, through Jersey and then the trees and hillsides of Connecticut, and then the forest expanses of New Hampshire and Vermont, the trees erupting into their fall color scheme of neon reds and oranges, until all the tiny towns dotting the freeway receded in the rearview and finally Burlington appeared, the end of the road for leg one. And there on the porch of an incredibly old looking green house in a tree-lined neighborhood nearby the University of Vermont stood Seth, grinning like a maniac as I threw the car in park and exited to embrace my buddy.
We spent a day driving and camped for a week in the uppermost corner of the U.S. Northeast, on a stretch of coast that looked promising for surfing, but several days elapsed with nothing more than shin-high, very unspectacular little peelers. We went to sleep one night with the weather radio on, hearing of Hurricane Florence, a far-out-to-sea category 3 tempest, more or less following the path of the famed Gulf Stream up the coast, that could possibly change our surfing fortunes.
The next morning we awoke, crawled from our tents, and drove groggily down to the point. The first glimpse I got of the headland and ocean is framed between two thickets of juvenile pine trees, and in the center was a set of four head high lines spinning off the point, buffeted by moderate offshore winds, not a single cloud from horizon to horizon, and no more than a dozen surfers in the water. With the outside takeoff point nearly deserted, the two of us spent the morning stroking into thin-lipped head high pits, racing from the pocket on out to the shoulder for turns off the top that guided us right back into the power zone. A formula we put on constant loop until the hurricane swell immediately died that afternoon, a few hours and gone.
But right on the heels of Florence was her angrier, pissier, more vuloptuous sister Helene, spinning on a similar trajectory as her runt sister Flo. And so once more, a few days later, all the elements locked into place, and funneling racetrack cylinders became standard fare for a few more short hours, a little larger than the previous swell but unfortunately just as fleeting. But the bliss had been realized as we lucked into some of the best waves of our surfing careers, a fact that, given where we were on the globe, I’d have never believed it if foretold beforehand.
Yet there’s no plane to catch, no quick way home, and while filled with stoke to last for much of California’s capricious upcoming season, the American road once more laid out before me, thousands of kilometers to come through the Deep South, the Mississippi Valley, and so on.
On past explosions of floral color in Shenandoah; past black bears meandering dangerously close to the highway in rural hilly Tennessee; past churches in Alabama and Georgia with crosses standing out front a legitimate 200 feet tall; through the Bayou, past Texas nothingness for two full days, 900 miles of straightshot Texas till getting caught in golf-ball sized hail on the New Mexico border with gushing flash floods aside the highway in nearby arroyos; past spooky New Mexico weapons testing facilities and gorgeous New Mexico and Arizona cliffs and Grand Canyons of sunrise and sunset; past Vegas, where I stopped for a final binge and blew the rest of my money on the tables; and finally, as Death Valley’s oddity receded behind, and as some church in Bakersfield with a sign out front reading, “The devil’s a pimp. Don’t be his ho,” welcomed me back to California, the whole thing, the whole trip, over 20,000 kilometers of it just mentally melted together, forever to be filed away in an easily accessible corner of my mind to enjoy forever.