My Guiltiest Pleasure: The Great American Road Trip


My spirit finds peace only in the wildest places.  The absolute calm and silence of an early morning in the boundary waters comes to mind. Perched at the end of a natural jetty of rock that reaches out to the calm water, the sun emerging beyond an island in a soft pink light, I meditate easily. I am interrupted fleetingly by the sudden splash of a fish breaking the surface.  Only by being in a place like this can anyone understand the wealth of the land.  


Devastation has hit me lately, as what few sacred places we have left in America seem to be constantly under attack by our new administration.  As I struggle to figure out what I can do to help protect the land I care so deeply for, as well as the water that we all depend on, I cannot help but feel guilty for my shortcomings. Though environment is on my mind every day, I am no model environmentalist. My biggest flaw lies in the love I have for the open road.

Every time we road trip, my partner in crime (and life) tells me how much she loves trips with me because every day is an adventure: even travel days.  In my opinion, if you’re not making fun stops along the way, you’re doing it wrong.  Recently we took a road trip from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh to visit family. Pittsburgh is a 14 hour drive from our home. That may sound daunting to some, but for me it sounds opportunistic. To me, traveling is like life: it’s about the journey more than the destination.

The journey: The first stop on our way to Pittsburgh was in my favorite fellow Midwestern metropolis: Chicago. We stayed with an old friend who I had an amazing time catching up with.  My friend had a “business perk” of granting us free access to the Art Institute! It was absolutely mind blowing to see such well known paintings as Van Gogh’s 1887 “Self-Portrait” and Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”.  I highly recommend this stop. As it was my partner’s first trip to Chicago, we of course visited “The Bean” and ate deep dish pizza.

90596_4227813  Source

Next day after donuts in Chicago, we hit the road. I wanted to stop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio next, however we had a Fallingwater tour to catch, so we drove the rest of the way to Pittsburgh.


Fallingwater – Frank Lloyd Wright – Organic Architecture

After our amazing week in Pittsburgh, we headed for home.  This time we stopped in Grand Haven, Michigan for a two night visit with brother.  A visit to New Holland Brewing was completely necessary. The delicious dragon’s milk (stout) poured fresh in many varieties here.


Behind the bar at New Holland Brewing

The roadside adventures didn’t stop there.  If you’ve ever driven through Wisconsin, you’ve no doubt seen many signs along the highway sporting a short and sweet message: “CHEESE”.  I’ve seen these signs for years, and have always viewed them not as an obligatory stop, but rather with an eye of hilarity and ridicule toward my “cheese head” next-state-neighbors. On this particular day, I was feeling neighborly and decided it was time once and for all to see what this phenomenon was all about. Pulling off the highway at the next sign,  we were elated to see a giant cow statue welcoming us to the shop.  Inside was more glorious than I could have imagined: more varieties of cheese than I had ever seen in one place, all made by the same local company. We bought a few cheeses and vowed to never again drive through Wisconsin without stopping at a cheese shop.



(And indeed we stopped at one 2 weeks later en route to a celebration of life in Wisconsin. Marieke Gouda included the added bonus of a giant jumpy pillow!)

There is nothing better than being awed by a random roadside stop. You may think you’re saving time by flying to your destination, but consider what you may be missing out on: great people, great culture, and great cheese!

The plan: In just one month, my love and I will be embarking on our very own Great American Road Trip we’ve dubbed “Spectacular Spectacular!” or just #specspec (named such after watching Moulin Rouge one night). We will be road tripping across the USA and parts of Canada, stopping frequently as we do, but primarily visiting National Parks, Forests, and Monuments. I seek to find places that resemble the untouched past; before white man and the industrial revolution disrupted the land.  Maybe places such as this no longer exist, but I hope I find them.  In finding them, I fear that I will lose myself in them and become one with them. As healthy as this is likely to be for my soul, I know that losing myself in my surroundings would benefit myself only.  It will do nothing for the land that I wish to protect.  Instead, I will use words and photography to document the beauty and importance of wilderness. It is my goal to help others see the wealth that exists in our wildest places and the importance of preserving and even expanding their wildness.

The guilt: Confession: I’m a hypocrite.  We are embarking on this journey in a 2000 Chevy Blazer we like to call the #funbus. The FunBus gets 15-17 miles per gallon.  While a large part of our budget will be supporting our allies (the National Park Service), I am absolutely appalled at the amount we will be supporting one of our greatest enemies: the oil industry. I apologize that I’m not driving something more fuel efficient or straight-up pedaling a bicycle. However, we acquired the FunBus for free, and with a budget as tight as ours, we cannot say no to free.  Furthermore, we require a vehicle to reach the large list of places we want to visit in fifteen months time. And beyond all that–I simply love road trips too much to do this any other way.

The pledge: I pledge that, upon returning from my adventure, I will curb my dependence on nonrenewable sources of energy.  I will calculate my carbon footprint for the year I am traveling, and I will aim to reduce it by half for the year when I return.  I will then aim to continuously reduce it throughout my life (even if it means breaking my vow to always stop for cheese).

Eventually I hope to live off grid, but for now, this road trip is my goal and my dream. It is my hope that I can inspire you to visit a wild place and feed your soul.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life”  -John Muir

5 thoughts on “My Guiltiest Pleasure: The Great American Road Trip

  1. Awesome Blog Carly. Secretly I am so jealous of your upcoming adventure. I too have this (“hushed down by being practical”) inner drive to see the wonders of this land. I can totally relate to your “losing yourself” in the tranquil peace of nature. I am so glad you will be blogging your trip and sharing your adventures and photos. I can live vicariously through you, as I continue my mundane and practical life. YOU GO GIRL!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carly, you two are following a fantastic dream and the adventures you will have and the discoveries made will create memories that will last you both a lifetime! Have tremendous fun and safe travels to you both…what a fabulous start to your blog, can’t wait to follow along! Hugs to you both! Deb O 🤓


  3. I loved reading this blog, it sounds exciting for you both and what an adventure. Stay safe in your travels. I look forward to following you and Steph in your journey. Have fun.


  4. I love you two so much and am so proud of this journey you are undertaking together. It has been inspirational to watch you dream and save and research and plan and I look forward to reading your anecdotes and observations through this. I have no doubt in my mind that you will inspire many along the way.. see you two down the road 😀


  5. I hope you two have a fabulous journey on your road trip and I’m looking forward to reading your blog and seeing all the wonderful pictures. See you on the other side of 15 months.


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