(Im)Perfect Timing

If you want to document a journey getting the timing right is a challenge. When you’re traveling you’re busy, well, traveling, getting from point A to point B, and you’re also recording what happens between those points. The frequent stops last longer because of the necessity to record what’s at those stops, so it takes longer to go from here to there, which means that by the time you’ve settled in for the night you have little time to edit and write and even less time to sleep before you get up and do it all over again. That means getting those blog posts and podcasts and photos posted falls behind, and it means that trying to keep up incrementally limits the amount of sleep you’re allowed.

When I first thought of not only going on this road trip but also documenting the experience I knew what I was getting myself into. A few years ago a friend was moving to Montana and I went with him, taking 13 days and a circuitous route through seven states to finally arrive in Missoula. I flew back to Chicago and he stayed to be a lumberjack for a few months before jumping into the culinary scene in Manhattan (he had been a chef at Alinea). We camped and hiked and he fished and I wrote and shot photos. For the first time in what had been far too long I felt like I was stretching my creative legs and testing how much weight they could bear. It was a turning point for me, a glimpse that my dream of traveling the world and documenting its diversity, people, and places could be a reality.

It was also exhausting.

About a year and a half ago I rode Amtrak with singer/songwriter David Kav to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center. We stopped at college towns and he performed; he wrote songs; I wrote about our experience (actually, we both did). I took pictures and we shot video. We visited the children at St. Jude’s right before Christmas. It was another life-changing experience.

And it was exhausting.

This time I decided to take the mother of all road trips – the Mother Road, to be exact. Sixteen days on the road from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean and almost 5,000 miles from here to there and back. This has been, by far, the most ambitious of trips I’ve taken to date. We took photos and shot video and recorded podcasts and wrote/are writing and updated every step of the way via social media. 

And it is exhausting!

You might wonder why I keep doing this to myself if it’s so darn tiring. Well, as my Chef/Missoula/Manhattan friend pointed out, having a trip documented every step of the way means you can relive those experiences every time you look at a photo or read a story. It takes the vacation slide show to a whole new level. Because my job is helping people figure out where to go and what to do, however, this is much more than a series of uncaptioned images flipped through on a slow Saturday night. It is, hopefully, a depiction of what you might expect if you were to take a similar journey, culled through the eyes of a photographer and the words of a writer. Because my partner on this trip grew up in radio, it’s also captured through voice and conversation.

This particular experience seems even more important for me to document, not only voluminously, but well. Much of the original Route 66 has vanished. Every stretch took us past another shuttered business, another rusted sign post. But we also came across renewed life in the midst of the decay. When we were in Joplin a volunteer from Gainesville pointed out that the shattered trees from the May 22 tornado that devastated the town were already sprouting new growth. That’s what’s happening all along the Great Diagonal Way. The “world’s longest attraction” is attracting people from all over the world and enterprising souls are making sure they know where they are and what they’re experiencing.

We may be back in Chicago now but we still have so much more to say. We’ve got the remainder of our daily podcasts and hundreds of photos to edit and post, and this writer needs to write a few missives about the places we’ve been and people we’ve met. We’ve also got some video, including interviews with a few Route 66-ers and what it’s like to drive the road itself.

Our real-time updates may be done and we may be back where we started, but we certainly are not in the same place. I hope you’ll continue to follow along, because our journey is nowhere near being finished.






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