This trip technically began in the fall of 2013. My friend Andrew and I began talking about a trip that would take us across the country. Our plan was to partner with a variety of specialty coffee roasters and record their stories. This project would be called “The American Roaster.” Eventually those stories would be collected and published in a book of sorts. But after months of planning, several coffee roasters decided to depart from the project; we were at a loss. Although our project had essentially failed before we started, we decided to move forward with the trip without a real directive or plan.
The night before the trip we were in Bellingham, WA. It was the first time Andrew, Erin and I had been in the same room together. We started to discuss our route for the trip. The plan was to take off to northern Oregon and eventually cut over towards Denver. I reached out to friend and photographer Tanner Wendell Stewart who put us up for the first couple of nights in Joseph, OR. I was very sick so it wasn’t the best way to start a trip but I was trying to make the most of it. We saw the town, drank some interesting spicy tea, shot guns, and got to sleep in an RV!
Erin found us a place to stay in Salt Lake City so we left Oregon and headed east. After only being on the road a short while we spotted an abandoned cement factory and had to pull over. We spent some time running around the unsafe territory trying not to fall from high unstable places. The scene was about as post-apocalyptic as I had ever experienced. I felt like zombies from the walking dead would show up any minute.
We spent a few days in SLC but I was feeling very under the weather. Those few days in Utah may have been the worst for me hence I didn’t take any pictures. Well, I did but they were just of slices of pizza.
Pressing on we moved into Colorado. We quickly stopped in Denver and moved south to Colorado Springs. Here is where we visited Garden of the Gods. It was a refreshing morning staring at majestic rock formations jutting out of the ground. I was starting to feel better too!
Traveling east we passed through Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, and finally reached a little town in the mountains of North Carolina. This stop was the only planned part of our adventure. My little sister was graduating college in NC so we met up with my family and spent some time enjoying the blue ridge mountains.
It was the first hiking we had really done on the trip so it was a relief to get back in Nature and enjoy an area I had never really seen before. My mom and I woke up early one morning and hiked a ridge with a perfect view of sunrise over Table Rock Mountain. It was an experience I won’t quickly forget.
Our spontaneity took us south through Charlotte, NC and then to Anderson, SC where we visited our friends Evan & Lisa. They made us a wonderful dinner and took us out to Hartwell Dam. My eyes were in love with the creepy fog/mist that seemed to be gracefully making its way down the river. Being there at dusk in the midst of summer heat was nothing short of a perfect southern evening.
Arriving in Albuquerque - Andrew, Erin and I had already put over 5,000 miles on the road. After spending a number of days with the same people in the same small car we started to get in a bit of a groove. Personalities that may have been somewhat discrete at the beginning of the trip were now emerging in full force. We were beginning to find more camaraderie with each other while trying to avoid the things that pushed each other’s buttons (but sometimes it’s just too easy!). Although we had no real purpose, we found meaning in our trip with each new person we connected with and old friends we were able to see. We were set free in the seemingly uncharted territories we went to. We weren’t checking items off a list of places to go - and that felt good. For the most part we let our imaginations run wild while the road carried us to our next destination. We drove straight to the top of Sandia crest just in time for sunset. It was a nice way to see Albuquerque for the first time. A short hike took us to a lookout area where a stone shelter had been built. We climbed to the top and watched the sun go down over the city.
Our next destination was Phoenix. We drove through the New Mexico countryside and stopped along the way whenever we saw unique rock formations, or my favorite - horses! We were all surprised by the dynamic terrain moving into Arizona and driving through the Tonto National Forest. Dry rolling hills suddenly flowed into enormous mountain ridges and thick wooded areas. Continuing on, the landscape transformed back into desert plains. The trees were replaced by cacti as we got closer to our destination.
We stayed with Andrew’s good friend Lauren, who would end up joining our trip up the coast. We decided to head back to the Tonto forest area for a day hike. It ended up being a somewhat treacherous 8 mile hike down to a dry valley. After continuing our hike we found a few swimming holes. A waterfall in the middle of the desert was a sweet reward so of course we had to take a dip.
Our plan was to head to California and stop overnight in the Joshua Tree area. A long-time friend of mine, Jarod, had camped there many times and guided us to a public land area right outside of the park. We made a fire and cooked dinner under the desert sky - the stars were ablaze. It was a great spot to wake up surrounded by enormous rock formations. After climbing around a bit we decided to drive through the park. This was the first national park I had been to in the desert. The dry landscape littered with Joshua trees and lightly colored mountains painted a wonderful picture.
After experiencing Joshua Tree we headed to Salvation Mountain. This is such a unique place nestled in the middle of nowhere. As wind and sand whipped around us we explored the inner dwellings of this seemingly sacred place. Just down the road from Salvation Mountain in the Slab City area we got a tour of East Jesus. East Jesus began as a place for artwork and still thrives as such. Odd and interesting artwork (primarily comprised of trash) is displayed as massive lawn ornaments around the small East Jesus campus. We met a few of the Slab City dwellers, one of which invited us to check out the skatepark he manages. The skatepark used to be the pool when Slab City was a military base. The entire area was so much different than anywhere I had been. A small commune of people live off the grid in the middle of the desert. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live there and could hardly envision such a different way of life! Several of the residents we met were only spending a few months there and would probably head north for the summer but for many it is a permanent home. I hope to return and spend a bit more time with these pleasant people who invited us to stay with them. If you’re in Southern California be sure to visit.
Collectively I think our group had a rough time in Los Angeles. As soon as we arrived we started binge coffee drinking. We made it to three specialty roasters before Andrew had a bit of a break down. The traffic and busyness may have been a little too much after spending the past few days in the middle of a national park.
We finally stabilized and took time to check out a bit of street art downtown along with an LA river walk with my friend Melanie (pictured below).
Heading north, we made a solid decision to stay as close to the coast for as long as we could. The winding roads of Highway 1 are immersed in quickly changing scenic views on both sides. To the left, the rocky shoreline defends the California coast from each crushing blow of the Pacific. To the right, mountains further ascend with glimpses of tiny jungles in each valley. A paradise of sorts with small waterfalls peek through the brush every so often. The overwhelming drive through the Big Sur area led us straight into San Francisco.
Past San Francisco we continued up the coast on Highway 1. We said goodbye to Lauren and continued our trip as a trio. We made it to Fort Bragg and found a decent spot right off the road to camp. We set up our tent in time to enjoy the last bits of sunset. A fire was warm company while we sipped whiskey & reminisced on all that had happened over the past few weeks. In the morning we walked the beach, said our goodbyes to the waves who had kept us company all night, & continued on our way.
The Northern California coast gradually changes in the slightest way, a few more trees, then bigger trees, then taller rocks. The sea and the waves remain a steady constant among the dramatic landscapes. We enjoyed taking our time and stopping at a few beaches along the way. After crossing into Oregon, we found a place to settle before sunset. Cape Blanco would be our home for the night. We enjoyed yet another beautiful sunset on the coast and our camp seemed to have the perfect Northwest feel, welcoming us back home after the long journey. The three of us were drained from a long day of driving. Soon we would be back in Seattle and reunited with close friends. All in all we covered around 7,500 miles - my longest road trip for the moment. We visited 16 states and over 34 cities, some of which were unintentional. Tears were shed, laughs were had and noses bled (well at least mine did…several times). There may have been more arguments than agreements but the bond between the three of us still grew tighter. We got lost then found our way and then got lost again. I think we decided to stay lost. We were stuck in traffic more than I would’ve liked to have been. Several times we were nearly close to getting in accidents or hitting animals or pedestrians - thankfully we returned without a scratch, unless you count the stick & poke tattoo that Erin gave me. The road trip didn’t end with cheering or a sigh of relief, it just ended and the three of us we went on our way. The memories will hopefully never be forgotten and the connection we now share will definitely keep the three of us closer. Perhaps no purpose is the best plan of all.