The Road Trip

By Katie Anderson

Through the twentieth and twenty-first century the American Highway has transitioned from a mere point of infrastructure, into an abstract concept steeped in enchantment, immensity and wonder. The bi-fold relationship between road and road trip received an injection of glamour and prestige through literature, cinema and music. Now each route is saturated in association with Jake Kerouac’s modern odyssey ‘On the Road’ or Bruce Springsteen’s legendary ‘Born to Run’. These creative works ooze a quality of freedom and spontaneity that can be emulated by any traveler of the States, and even our own Durham legend Bill Bryson was an advocate of this way of experiencing the world.

When Kerouac writes with mythological proportion, ‘why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen event wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?’, he undoubtedly romanticises the reality of travelling hundreds of miles in an automobile, yet I am still inclined to idealise the experience in the same way. Even more, I’m liable to try and entice you to try out his theory of reckless abandon, and therefore to indulge in the road trip as a celebration of youthful freedom.

I’ll set the scene. Imagine losing yourself in the dense American wilderness whilst still retaining confidence in the safety of your vehicle, and the comfort of your companions. There is the chance to deviate off the well worn path, to converse with locals who aren’t programmed to cater to tourists in a sickly sweet manner, to taste the authentic delicacies and to brave the elements. Although many would perceive the exterior of the car as vital to the experience, I would argue that as long as it has the ability to continue moving and to keep you warm, a mustang is no different to a KA. What’s paramount is the perspective you get from its interior. Only in a car are you afforded a 360 view of the landscape you are immersed in. The blurred images of sea, forest and sky swirl into an impressionist painting as the sun beats down, roasting your seats and one arm lazily slung out the window. There is even something enticing in the mundane and practical parts of a road trip; the smell of gasoline, the hypnotising drizzling of rain on the windscreen or the claustrophobic conversation that allows you to pervade subjects with your fellow passengers that would normally be left alone.

Nothing illustrates these idyllic images more aptly than Route 1; the quintessentially American trajectory. A 1000km distance, legendary for its scenic coastal landscapes and gravelly infinity which stretches from the tip of Northern California, to the deepest, most serene San Diego streets. ‘West coast best coast’ as they say, and it’s certainly a route which clings carefully to the beautiful Pacific shoreline, fearful of retracting too far in. Although a determined driver could complete the trip in ten hours, it’s the opportunity to stop at whenever and wherever on this journey, to assess the open road, absorb the immensity of the landscape, or spontaneously hitch up in motel, hotel or holiday inn that provides the excitement of this trip.

 I would suggest buckling up in San Fran, a city of unparalleled bohemian ease. The rolling hills of hazy, pastel coloured allure will build calf muscle and raise spirits. A must-see is Pier 39, the bustling bayside inhabited by sea-lions and delicious eateries in equal measure. Several days could easily be spent meandering amongst the coffee shops, art galleries, vintage Laundromats and sunshine avenues. Yet no one should leave without encountering the majestic Golden Gate Bridge and the criminal lair of Alcatraz, two of the USA’s most famous landmarks.

Not to be missed along the course of Route 1 is Hearst Castle, the opulent hilltop palace of the publishing magnate William Hearst, completed in 1947 and loaded with Hellenistic features and lavish gardens. Allowing a sneak peek at the luxury, sophistication and overwhelming affluence of the innovators of the 1950’s, perhaps those who truly lived the American dream.  As you progress further Southward towards Monteray Bay and the ‘seventeen mile drive’, the power of the Aux Cord should not go underestimated. When you snake between the montage of stunning hilltop panoramic views and golden beaches, ensure that only location-related tunes are playing. If ‘Californication’ by the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s fails to make an appearance, something has gone drastically wrong.

Continuing downward, it’s important to sample both the natural enormity of the Sunshine State as well as the glitter and cosmopolitan madness that it has to, and therefore it is crucial to indulge in the gridlocked Labyrinth of L.A. Each boutique, bar and strip club will be a reminder of the hunger for artifice and splendour that haunts popular culture, and you might even brush shoulders with the Tom Hank’s or Meryl Streep’s of this world. Next comes Huntington Beach, and for anyone who is guilty of wearing Hollister apparel, this would be a throw back to a low-fashion point in our teenage years. Nevertheless, the basis for the aforementioned clothing brand is exquisite. As an area that thrives on its ability to attract visitors and locals alike to catch waves, it would be rude not to attempt a dance through the foamy surf. Wet suited or not, anything goes in this coastal settlement rooted in old Americana vibes and laid-back living.

These are just a few of the highlights of my Route 1 trip, and as a fellow student I would beg you to take advantage of the unconstrained, unrehearsed appeal of an all American road trip, or any road trip for that matter. Learn to drive, or else coax a friend who can, and take the open road this summer. The brilliant part is that it doesn’t take hours full of laborious planning; rather the pleasure is the unprompted adventure and the journey itself.

Photograph: James Yallop

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