Freedom and the Great American Road Trip

Before flying off on my European adventure a couple of years ago, I sold most of my possessions, including my car. Well, all great adventures eventually come to an end, and when I returned home—halfway through autumn 2015—I had to find alternative forms of transportation until I could afford to buy another vehicle.

I moved into a downtown Bellingham apartment, so I walked a lot. I finally figured out the bus schedule and took buses to all those far flung places my feet couldn’t carry me. My friend, Pam, lent me her Toyota Matrix during the worst part of the winter so I could get to work and school. I got by. Even so, I ended up feeling like a prisoner within the borders of my hometown without my own car.

Most places in Europe have amazing public transportation systems, and it isn’t unusual to go without a car if you live in a big city. And even if you want to travel across the country there’s probably a bus or train that goes there, so it’s not a big deal. In the United States, however, (unless you’re within a major metropolitan area like L.A., New York City, Seattle, etc.) public transportation isn’t the greatest. Americans are very spread out, and not having a car can be a huge disadvantage. I think for that reason, many Americans look at their driver’s licenses as not only proof of their personal identity, but an expression of their cultural identity—that we are a free people who can go where we want, when we want, without many restrictions.

And I wanted to live without restrictions. I wanted to wend Chuckanut Drive’s narrow curves and take in the view of the San Juan Islands at sunset. I wanted to drive out Highway 20 to Mount Baker or to Whidbey Island to visit friends or hell, just meet a friend at a moment’s notice on the other side of town without having to wait for the next bus or for someone to pick me up. So, seven months after my initial foray into public transportation, I bought a new car.

Seeing the odometer at zero (or, close to it–I think it read 11 miles when I took it out for a test drive) sent a twinge of excitement through my belly. I had my freedom back, and I wanted to hit the open road and go somewhere. So, at the end of the summer, I went on a road trip from Bellingham, Washington to Buena Vista, Colorado to visit family. I tossed my camera onto the passenger seat, rolled down the windows, and drove away. There’s nothing like a great American road trip. Nothing. You see so many things you’d miss on a train, plane, or bus. I may never go carless again!

Here are some photos from last year’s freedom ride (click to enlarge or view slideshow). I would love to take another road trip someday. What are some of your favorite routes?


11 thoughts on “Freedom and the Great American Road Trip

  1. Love your photos (as always) Jolene! Such talent! I just returned yesterday from a month-long road trip. Just me and my dog cruising the open road in my convertible, exploring our way through seven states and back. It was a blast!

  2. Your photos are great! We have such a beautiful country and not much is more freeing than the open road ahead. In honor of my dad, we recently took a road trip to the Valley of Fire in Nevada. It was an incredible sight (as you know!) and such a fun tribute 🙂

    1. Thank you, Tracy! I did the first half of the trip on my own, and then a friend met me in Vegas for the return trip. I discovered that even the open road can get a little boring after a while without someone to talk to. Ha. 🙂

      1. Yes, I sometimes struggle with that…wanting to go places and then along the way, not feeling fully into it without someone to share the experience. I’m beginning to think that travel in its best sense is a collaborative experiment of place, people and circumstance. Thanks for sharing

  3. That’s the spirit. The freedom of the open road beckons! While we do not advocate driving (in our little congested city), it is true that without a car in the US (outside most metropolitan areas) can be really like caging oneself. Enjoy the road trips. We envy you!

  4. Great selection of photos full of lots of different textures.

    I agree with you about having a car meaning freedom. I remember when I first got a driving license and it meant I could go anywhere I wanted whenever I wanted to instead of relying on bus and train schedules and that feeling has never left me. I have mostly lived in places where walking was always an option with great public transport as backup but I always appreciated the luxury of being able to retreat into my own private transport bubble at the end of a noisy day of teaching. It was my quiet, peaceful time between teaching and getting home to start assessing and planning. When we lived in a rural, remote area, that was when a car became essential. On a daily basis, we could operate on foot but to get to the city we absolutely needed a car. Emigrating to America, however, has really given me a newfound appreciation for a car as a necessity rather than a luxury and – of course – we now get to take all of these marvelous road trips exploring the country.

    1. I know what you mean about retreating into the luxury of a private transport bubble. I often just want peace and quiet at the end of the work day. Also, after that road trip, I ended up getting a job that is 30 miles away from home, so the car definitely became a necessity.

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