I wasn't expecting a summer break after my senior year of college, but thanks to somewhat poor planning for my second major, it turned out I'd have to go back for a single fall class. Suddenly blessed with one more summer vacation, that last vestige of youth, I scraped together maybe $1,500, loaded up my little 20-year-old stick-shift Honda Civic with mac and cheese and root beer, and set out to travel the United States all on my own. The plan was to make it from border to border and coast to coast, and after leaving Bellingham (we'll count that as Canada), I set south.
I soon camped beneath redwoods on the misty California coast, then explored the funky urban jungle of San Francisco and visited my brother in L.A. My Civic strained against an Arizona mountain pass, climbing through 100-degree temperatures at 7 in the morning, as I blasted the heat and kept my windows rolled down, dripping with sweat in order to keep her cool enough to survive the journey.
We saw the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands National Monument and hugged the Mexican border as we passed through El Paso. There was live music in Austin, and more in New Orleans. Hours and days passed in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Atlantic Ocean welcomed us in Wilmington, North Carolina. Sufjan Stevens blasted as I drove into Illinois, and after hundreds of miles on that godforsaken stretch of interstate through South Dakota, my car and I stopped in the little oasis of Wall, before venturing to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons.
After four weeks and 10,000 solitary miles, after stretches of silent contemplation and raucous nights enjoyed with family, friends and strangers, it was back to the familiar roads of Idaho and finally on up to the familiar, cool Pacific shore.