Bad Advice Wednesday: Take a Road Trip

categories: Cocktail Hour


Hadley and Me in Saskatchewan

Over the last week I have been traveling the country with my daughter.  Since my Kickstarter campaign fell through, I have supported us mostly by selling bibles to recently deceased widows and other scams.  Wait, no, that’s a movie.  Let me start again.  Over the last two months I have been roaming the country, hopping trains and hitching rides, and staying up late snapping my fingers and smoking grass and having visions with my beatnik friends in Denver and San Fran.  Or was my travelling companion a poodle named Eddie?

As you can see, I’m tired and confused.  But also, really, quite happy.  I’m pretty sure that this whole on the road thing is good for my Art, but I know it is good for my Life.  A few years ago I wrote a book called Soaring with Fidel, about following the osprey migration from Cape Cod to Cuba and beyond.  It was the beginning of a phase where my nonfiction, which until then had usually focused on one place or subject, took its show on the road.  I found I enjoyed living the story in this way, throwing myself into an adventure and talking to whomever I bumped into.  The story revealed itself as I went and I, armed with journal and tape recorder, took dictation.  My various journeys have had the effect of taking me out of both myself and my comfort zone.  And if you simply talk to people–something my nonfiction students are sometimes loath to do–they often give you all you need.  Finally, a journey gives a project shape, a natural beginning and end, though often the shape is not the one you imagine when you start.

For instance, I pictured this trip as moving from north to south, a simple and clean trajectory.  It has been anything but, and instead what has presented itself is a crazy zig-zag line that first sent me, on my own, out to Boulder, Moab, Vernal, Salt Lake City (to visit the Stegner family graves it turned out, though I didn;t know it until the writer Stephen Trimble pointed this–and them–out), Page AZ, Flagstaff, Santa Fe, a week on the San Juan River, and Grand Junction.  Then a bomb back to Denver to pick up wife and daughter and a great three days in Boulder, followed my another Western lap that included Crested Butte, Durango and another trip down the San Juan.  That trip was the first time my daughter Hadley(9) had ever camped anywhere other than her backyard, and certainly the first time she had seen Anasazi ruins, big horn sheep, or a gray fox (with a silver face) scrambling straight up red canyon walls.  Then we dropped Nina off at the airport and it was up to Fort Collins to survey the fire damage (thanks Steven and Emily), and then on to visit Yellowstone and Doug Peacock, who was terrifically generous with his time and let us sleep in his trailer.   Then it was up to the Stegner homestead in Saskatchewan, the province where I’m now typing from.

Another unexpected aspect of the trip is that I have not been blogging much (sorry, Bill).  I imagined that this would be like the journey to the Gulf during the oil spill, and that I’d be sending back constant missives, reports from the front.  But as bad as the enviro state of the West is–and it’s pretty damn bad with many places having transformed themselves into Texas– the sense of emergency that spurred the Gulf trip is not there.  I want to take this in more slowly.  And if that trip was about being connected–look, I’m living and writing and blogging this at the same time!–on this one I’ve enjoyed being out of cell phone and e-mail range.  Enjoyed blowing everything else off except the journey.

So that’s today’s bad advice.  Take yourself on the road.  Get outside of the house, and yourself. 

P.S. It works for fiction, too.  (Ed Abbey, for instance, drove from the west back to Home, PA for his novel, The Fool’s Progress, taking notes as he went.)  


Hadley, not Tatum, meets Utah mud.






  1. edie writes:

    My summer reading consisted of SOARING WITH FIDEL and JUST KIDS, Patti Smith. A coincidence, I guess? I alternated each night but somehow finished SWF first. Now that I see this post, I can finally make a connection between the two. What a wonderful way to enter an adventure – wings spread wide open – unafraid and determined. How brave! I really enjoyed your book. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I am no longer afraid of birds or punk rock.
    I highly recommend reading both the above mentioned books to better understand my comment. Soaring WIth Fidel. Read it!
    Thank you!

  2. Rachael writes:

    For those of us tied to jobs, families, whatever ever it may be that firmly anchors us to one spot, getting out of the house may involve a walk down to the local coffee shop or exploring a place nearby that you’ve never investigated. Or just writing somewhere new. I agree with the importance of finding new perspective.

  3. Rick Van Noy writes:

    I imagine the town dump of Whitemud/Eastend would look much different than the one Stegner describes in Wolf Willow.

  4. Bill Twodoorsdown writes:

    I’m glad my bike rack is cavorting across the great west. I’ve been there but not like your trip. Gets me thinking and wishing about such a trip. Hmmm…. Safe travels.

  5. An Alewife writes:

    There’s nothing quite like travel!

    I’m loving reading about your summer.

    The confusion may pass when school resumes.

  6. james campbell writes:

    Great pic of Hadley. And I love the image of you and Hadley hitting the open road — Jack Kerouac turned middle-aged father. Can’t wait to hear about the zig-zag journey. We’ll provide the Midwestern oasis and lots of good beer.

  7. George de Gramont writes:

    Dave ,this is just the kind of essay I was hoping for from your trip w/Hadley. And as a Bonus I was able to get the Photo into my Library. Made my day. Condolences on Johnny Pesky. A great shortstop & human being! George also known as PAPA!