Vehicle Living: What Route Is Right For You?

The internet loves #vanlife. #westielife, #RVliving, and so on and so forth are popular too. Maybe you’re starting to contemplate some time on the road yourself but there are so many choices: a Sprinter? A basic delivery van? A camper? Another RV?

Beth Lakin cooking in the Scamp

I’ve done a fair amount of living and and traveling in a vehicle and there are pros and cons to pretty much anything you choose. The most important suggestion I can make is to not get too attached to any particular form of conveyance. Until you figure out your travel style and what is important to you, you won’t really know what the most practical choice is for you. Keeping your investment minimal can allow you to switch vehicle forms as you sort all that out. (But although totally impractical, if anyone wants to buy me a Pendleton Airstream, $120k, I wouldn’t be opposed).

Without any more ado, I present to you…

3Up Adventures Vehicle Living Comparison

| SPRINTER | CARGO VAN | TRUCK CAMPER |

|LARGE TRAILER | SMALL TRAILER |CAR/TRUCK|

Sprinter Van:

I traveled in a Sprinter van with my ex from November 2013 until late January of 2014. We had purchased the Sprinter with an eye to traveling to Alaska the following summer, a trip covering a huge number of miles and making the fuel mileage of the Sprinter a real boon.

Pros: Fuel mileage. Our 2002 Sprinter would regularly get about 26-28 mpg as long as we were driving about 55mph. I’m a firm believer that for the budget conscious adventure traveler driving a bit slower to maximize your fuel dollar is totally worth it.

Head room. Being able to stand up is a really amazing thing in your travel vehicle. Although by no means a requirement, over the long haul putting your clothes on or cooking dinner without being stooped over is a really nice option.

Comfortable driving arrangement. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more comfortable long haul road trip vehicle. When we purchased the Sprinter, we drove it from Florida to Idaho in just three days with a little time set aside to visit friends and I have no complaints about long hours in the drivers and passenger seats.

Impressive ground clearance. For a 2wd van, the Sprinter has pretty impressive ground clearance. Our Sprinter made a jaunt up Baby Lion’s Back in Moab just to prove that it could. Although too top heavy and lacking 4wd capabilities, with tall skinny tires we found that we weren’t very limited at all.

Durability. Early Sprinter (T1N) motors were known for their durability, many running to 500,000 miles. Transmissions are generally expected to last 250,000 miles.

Cons: Expense. Sprinters are expensive. Although they get pretty solid fuel mileage, you pay for that savings up front. It takes a significant number of miles driven to make up the extra cost of the vehicle. Sprinters do retain much of their value and you might recoup a significant portion of that extra capital cost when you sell the vehicle it can be an uncertain proposition depending on how long you keep the vehicle and what condition it is in. If you’re looking to someone else to do your conversion work for you, you can add to an already significant capital expenditure

Maintenance. This point is largely addressed in my post “Is A Sprinter For You?” but it is worth mentioning that a mechanical breakdown can be an expensive proposition if you aren’t able to handle the repair yourself. Even if you are a competent mechanic, parts for a Sprinter are more expensive than for a delivery van and a hefty repair bill can put a damper on adventures in a hurry. Since Sprinters have become very common I’d imagine that finding a mechanic familiar with them isn’t as hard as it once might have been but still might pose a problem.

Creature comforts. For my ex-partner, the lack of bathroom meant forgoing a luxury they really appreciated. This is a sticking point for some people and not for others. I found that for me this wasn’t ever a really major issue. I didn’t spend much of my van time in areas where this actually was a problem. (#backpacking experience FTW) I did, miss a comfortable place to sit and read or type that wasn’t in bed, an option I experienced in other configurations. We did have swivel seats which helped a bit and I probably could have come up with a good table option to fix this issue. We did purchase a Mr. Buddy Heater for use in the Sprinter but never got a chance to test out how effective it was at heating the space.

Note: A Roadteck or Winnebago type Class B conversion might have a bathroom and feel really fancy but they’re really heavy and gas mileage will take a significant hit. Although their mid-teens fuel mileage certainly beats a full size RV, it comes no where close to a lighter DIY conversion. Additionally, that extra weight puts more strain on the drive train (specifically the transmission) and can lead to earlier failures of parts.

Sprinter sunset

Chevy Van (or Ford or Dodge):

Pros: Inexpensive. A gas powered Chevy van can be a really affordable option to hit the road. If you’re okay with simplicity, these plentiful vehicles can be converted quickly and you can hit the road with gas money in your pocket.

Fuel mileage. But wait? Didn’t I claim fuel mileage to be a Sprinter advantage? If gas is cheaper than diesel, getting 18-22mpg in a gas powered vehicle might be a better deal than 22-27mpg in a diesel Sprinter.

Parts & maintenance. Due to their ubiquity, parts for Chevy/GMC vans (a GMC Savanah and a Chevy Express are the same thing mechanically), are fairly inexpensive. You may be able to do the maintenance yourself or finding a mechanic should be a cinch.

ConsHeadroom. Being hunched over in your vehicle gets old. While you’re hopefully spending a lot of time outside adventuring, sometimes you’re stuck inside working, sheltering from the weather, or cooking and being stooped is less than fun.

Creature comforts. See Sprinter cons.

Van on Brown Mountain Jeep Road

Truck Camper:

Pros: Comfortable. The camper had a refrigerator, a table, a bathroom, a cooktop (many even have an oven), and a heater. Our bed was always made and was out of the way.

4-wheel drive possiblities. I’d been really insistent that we find a 4wd truck for this project because I felt that we were getting our 2wd vans into situations where it would be really nice to have that extra bit of security. It was nice a few times but mostly the camper was too big for us to get where it was really helpful (see cons).

Not too big. For the relative creature comfort of the camper, we didn’t take on too much of a hit on size (there were some, see cons). There was a lot of storage (and in our flatbed configuration there was a lot).

Fuel mileage. Depending on the size of the camper, they can get really heavy. The Lance 825 that I traveled in was really lightweight and small compared to many other options so it didn’t impact our fuel mileage too terribly but most full size trucks don’t get amazing mileage so this can start to add up.

Cons: It’s pretty tall. The downside of our flatbed configuration was that it put the camper up really high. This made going down some Forest Service roads sort of hard as we tried to avoid damaging the camper.

Fuel mileage. There are pros and cons (see pros).

The dog is underfoot. I’m mostly kidding here but because the amount of floor space in the camper is tiny the dog was even more under foot than usual.

Camper on the Colorado River

Travel Trailer (large):

Pros: I actually don’t have much that is positive to say about the toy hauler. We carried our toys with us which was nice but a small trailer behind the truck and camper was a much nicer option that accomplished about the same thing.

It had an oven, although again, many campers have that as well. Same thing goes for the bathroom (the large storage closet in the bathroom though was kind of cool: we rocked a gear closet in our mobile living space).

Cons: It was too big to heat efficiently and because of all the empty space around the bikes and the quad it just felt empty and kind of sad most of the time. (It was kind of cool to drop the back open on warm days though.)

Fuel mileage was dismal and it was just too damn big. We’d hoped to just move sometimes and mostly use the truck and our toys to explore but the simple fact is that I like wandering around too much for that. It cost us an arm and a leg to move plus we couldn’t get it into the good spots.

Beers on the "porch"

Travel Trailer (Scamp or other fiberglass):

Pros: ADORABLE. I seriously loved the Scamp so much. It wasn’t really meeting our needs at the time but I think SP and I would rock one with the XJ right now really well.

Compact. At only 13′ the Scamp was small and maneuverable yet it still had all the necessities inside. It had the dinette that I really liked in the camper, TONS of light (best in class with this!), the ability to stand up, a refrigerator and a really respectable amount of storage for its size.

Fuel mileage. We didn’t tow it like normal people for any long distances with the TJ so I don’t have a really good estimate on how it affected fuel mileage (we did, however, tow it across Arizona rather unconventionally) but I imagine that it probably wouldn’t be too big of a problem since they are SO LIGHT. Ours only weighed about 1200 pounds because it was so simple; newer ones with AC units and awnings (which I wouldn’t recommend) weigh about 1500. I would love to do a fuel mileage test with Ruth the XJ!

Cons: No bathroom. If this is really a con for you, current Scamp floor plan options have versions with a bathroom. This would reduce the “open” feeling that I loved so much but the loss of under bench storage would probably be made up for by the gain of an extra closet if a bathroom is really a big deal to you.

Trailer. It is a trailer and that does sort of reduce mobility. We also discovered that the frames are pretty lightweight for frequent off road use, however, the Jeep + Scamp size combination is only beat out by a van for off road maneuverability. They are much shorter than a full size travel trailer or the camper plus their lightweight nature makes them really easy to hookup and unhook leaving you with a Jeep (or a Subaru or a Toyota or whatever else floats your boat).

Scamp after axle with motorcycle

Straight up vehicle living (Cherokee, pickup, 4-Runner, Land Cruiser, etc.):

Pros: You’re in your vehicle, no encumbrances, no extra fluff. If you’re 4wd equipped you can just go (and often find yourself waking up to amazing views).

Fuel mileage: Okay fine, this pro is relative but I’ll happily take the fuel mileage of my XJ (18-25mpg) especially when I consider that I have full 4wd capabilities at my disposal all of the time.

It might already be sitting in your driveway. For all the glamour of being able to use the hashtag #vanlife on your custom build, I see way too many vans be built but then the builder either doesn’t use them or has spent way more on the conversion than they planned and can’t travel. You probably already know the maintenance concerns of your vehicle and they can be cheaper to fix (although not always) than a truck or van you purchase for a specific use. The lack of specific investment can also make it an excellent choice for seasonal or temporary mobile living.

Cons: Space. It’s a lot more like organized long term camping. You don’t have a nice table to sit at or a refrigerator or a bed you can sit up in and so on. This can kind of suck on a rainy day, although you have the flexibility to just drive to a coffee shop.

Bathroom/kitchen. Similarly to the space issue you’re going to have to do all of this outside your vehicle but if you’re only out for a couple of weeks at a time or maybe one big special trip, it might be cost effective to use the vehicle you already have.

 Sunrise

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Goodbye 2014

2014.

Wow. You sort of kicked my butt all over in awesome ways and some pretty horrible moments.

January:

Spent sometime in the Yuma area and visited Los Algodones, Mexico. Hiked Signal Peak which wound up being one of my favorite hikes of the year. Competed in Columbia Sportswear’s #omnigamesand won.

Season 4 at Deer Valley Press Conference

February:

February was all about Arizona adventures. We spent some time exploring the Sierra Anchas which definitely a highlight.

Parker Creek Canyon

March:

March included some more exploring of Northern Arizona and New Mexico. We wandered through some beautiful places.

April:

April was all about JORDAN. I mean, how lucky am I?

Beth in Jordan

Photo: M. Going, Columbia

May:

May was a month of upheaval. We started out in California but ended up being in Oregon. Rolling with the punches was the name of the game.

Seed Tree

June:

I got to run in Rainier To Ruston again this time with a three person team instead of our usual four person one! I (sort of) learned to ride a motorcycle. I also was a bridesmaid in Stacia and Andrea’s wedding.

Stacia's Wedding

Amanda Summerlin Photography

July:

I did some hiking in Oregon but most importantly, I got to move back to Ridgway, Colorado.

Colorful Colorado

August:

August started out on such a high of being a new Colorado resident and heading off for lots of fun at Outdoor Retailer. The stoke continued with a fantastic trip back exploring Utah and Colorado with Sprocket. I added to my list of Colorado County Highpoints with Montrose County’s Castle Rock. The month ended with a mix of excitement about my new job and the heartbreak of ending my marriage with Forrest.

Cliffs near Storm King

September:

Although September was a tough month, it was epic enough that it qualified for a wrap-up of its own. I floated the Gunnison with friends and Sprocket. I climbed Wilson Peak (a 14er and San Miguel County Highpoint), Uncomphagre Peak (a 14er, Colorado’s 6th highest mountain, and Hindsale County Highpoint), Mt. Lamborn (Delta County Highpoint), and Leon Peak (Mesa County Highpoint). I bought a lot in Ridgway and celebrated with Sprocket. “I Am #omniten” debuted on YouTube.

Trail selfie

October:

Kristin came to visit and we hiked Courthouse Mountain and visited Telluride. #damselNOTindistress was in full swing. I drove to Joe’s Valley to go bouldering with Josh, Andy, and Steve.

 Courthouse summit selfie

November:

November had a lot more #damselNOTindistress-ing. I finally climbed Precipice Peak. I saw Amanda Shires and Jason Isbell in concert at the Wright Opera House. Had a lovely snowy afternoon walk on Piñon Mesa. I traveled to Connecticut for Lucy and Franz’s wedding.

Late afternoon. Early winter.

December:

I got my first Christmas tree in three years! It was so much fun to make cookies, decorate a bit, and send out Christmas cards.

Bailey's Christmas Bow

Bring it 2015. I’m so excited for my best year yet.

#OmniGames: The Experience

Saturday morning was a whirl of hugs, goodbyes, breakfast, and more goodbyes. After I found myself settled at the gate, the cumulative impact of the trip hit me.

Wasatch

Finally at a moment where things seemed still, I started to cry. In the moment I wasn’t really sure what I was crying about. I’m still struggling with the words to describe how things felt because they alternated between feeling so darn normal to overwhelming, empowering, and just plain awesome.  Each piece of the the experience had been almost but not quite overwhelming but taken as a whole from my seat in the Salt Lake City airport I felt incredibly lucky.

What was so overwhelmingly awesome?

  • #Tryingstuff

In one respect, #trying stuff is just normal life for me. In January 2012, F and I decided that in November, just two months after our wedding, we would move into a van. Since then, “normal life” has become a giant adventure in #tryingstuff: five different vehicles, pauses to work odd jobs, new places, exploring, and more.

That being said, dog sledding, archery, VIP tents, delicious food, and ropes courses are not usually on the docket. Neither is hanging out with 30+ new friends—friends that also like #tryingstuff. Having #tryingstuff engrained in everyone around you for five days is something that I wish I had all the time; I’d be so much better for it! It is fair to say that I have never been surrounded by such a concentration of people with stories to tell!

  • Competing (and succeeding) in the #omnigames

Confession: I was afraid to divulge my feelings on the competition internet. The #omnigames were so much fun but simmering under the surface of all the #omniten members was some serious competitive drive. With so many people wanting to win so badly it almost seems gauche to speak about the “feelings” of a front runner. However, in the name of #tryingstuff, here goes:

Coming to Utah, it was my intention to play hard and have fun at the games. I’d followed the #omniten’s blogs and Twitter accounts long enough to know that the competition would be strong. However, those who know me understand that my competitive streak runs wide.

Day 1 was all about wholeheartedly #tryingstuff and getting to know Justin. Once we realized we’d done well, it upped the ante for Day 2 (and hearing it confirmed in the standings only intensified the feeling). From the moment archery went well until I hopped on that last chair lift, each event escalated my excitement, the pressure, and empathy for those teams around me.

After completing the first half of the upper ropes course, I started looking ahead to the ski competition. And getting nervous (I paced between lunch and the start of the skiing…). All around me I was hearing people talk about making up ground and I was just afraid I wouldn’t be able to help Justin maintain our position. The moment we started skiing, however, I was back to having fun. I skied hard and knew I gave it my best effort; there was a palpable feeling of relief when I got on my last chair lift though!

In the end, I felt extremely proud of Justin and I. The games had been empowering and a shining example of the highest level of sportsmanlike competition I have ever seen or heard of.

Thank you all: this was the best!

  • Columbia

Columbia really went above and beyond in putting together a seriously awesome time in Park City. Attending the unveiling of their designs for the US, Canadian, and Russian freestyle ski teams really was worthy of the tag #inspiredbygreatness. The variety of activities they picked for the #omnigames was really amazing and allowed a huge number of #omniten to show off their skills. The fashion show was a great cap to the week with amazing food, free flowing drinks, and a look at what’s coming down the pipe this fall.

Further more, I’m really excited to take the Turbo Down (and all the other gear!) out for more test drives in the mountains. (Ahem, and hopefully test some gear in Jordan…) A company that asks for real feedback from its reviewers deserves respect. Moreover, it was emphasized the being part of the #omniten was “for life” and I’m excited to continue building a relationship with Columbia.

Wiping my tears in the airport, I smiled. This was an experience I was extremely lucky to have been a part of for these reasons and so many more. I’ll remember this adventure forever.

Grand Canyon

Updates From the Road

Life has been crazy around here in the two weeks!

We spent a couple of days urban camping around Phoenix and Mesa. We had both the truck and the van towing the trailer and within a few hours we knew that the trailer was much too big for us to comfortably travel in. After some discussion and deliberation, F and I concluded that we could live in a camper—preferably on a 4×4 truck so we could go more places.

And then the Craigslist-ing began: we needed to sell the van, the trailer, the street bike, and the truck. We needed to find a camper and a different truck.

We figured that finding a camper in all of Phoenix wouldn’t be that hard. Wrong.

After some searching, the best price we could find was in Quartzsite. Bob, of Cheap RV Living, was camping there and we figured we could hang out with him while selling our extras and looking for a camper. Unfortunately, the camper in Quartzsite turned out to be in pretty bad condition so we set up camp and continued to search.

Several days of Craigslist searching and many dead-ends later, we were starting to get a little discouraged. Last Friday afternoon, we found a camper in Salt Lake City… over 600 miles from Quartzsite. It’s always a bit of a gamble to drive that far for a used item but the photos seemed to show that this was in really great shape so hit the road immediately bound for Las Vegas. After staying the night in a motel we continued all the way north to SLC. Fortunately, the camper was in great shape as promised. We loaded it up and immediately headed south. Much of our drive back down to St. George was in the snow! Late the next afternoon, we pulled back into camp in Quartzsite excited with our new purchase and even more anxious to sell all our excess stuff. Perhaps even more encouraging was that we’d pulled off about 18mpg with the camper on the way back from Salt Lake.

Nevada Mountains

We managed to divest ourselves of the van on Monday and bid the trailer adieu on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, we packed up the rest of camp and headed into Phoenix. We sold the street bike and found ourselves free! As it turned out, we were only sort of free. Although our Ford we’d purchased as a “temporary” truck to pull the trailer down here while continuing to shop for a different truck has been great for us, we really want to have 4-wheel drive.

After driving all over the Phoenix area, we’ve tracked down what we think is the truck for us: a 1999 Dodge 4×4 with the Cummins diesel. We’re hoping to continue getting fuel mileage in the 18mpg range and having some fun!

DSC_0018

Sprocket, Parker, AZ

 

Tour of our sweet little camper coming soon!!!

On The Road Again

Aaaaand, we’re back!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here as we prepared to leave Ridgway and head south for the winter. First we had to figure out what to live in, where we were going, and what we were taking. It turned out that we bought a toy hauler so we could bring a whole lot of gas powered toys. It’s a new experiment for us (after the Sprinter, the Scamp, and our Chevy van).

Whenever you buy a new vehicle there’s always a flurry of activity while trying to get things ready for use. On top of that, there’s the transitioning from apartment living (with a grocery store next door) to living on the road.

Meal Planning

Sprocket for one, is totally excited to be traveling again. This is how our dog shows excitement:

Dirty Sprocket

As it turns out, we’re pretty used to this style of living. It didn’t take me long to be on the lookout for free coffee, an electrical plug in, and some sunshine:

Hippie on the road

Handsome is pulling wizard-like feats of giant trailer turnaround on Forest Service roads and throwing sticks for SP in reservoirs:

Recapture Reservoir

I’m trying to incorporate running in to the day:

Omniten Running

And we’re back to blogging to you from McDonalds:

McDonald's Blogging

It’s adventure time!

On The Screen: Easy Rider

A few days ago, via my Tumblr feed, I came across an article from Outside Magazine about the glories of road trips. In the article, author Mark Jenkins references five classic literary and movie road trips: On The Road, Travels With CharlieZen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, Blue Highways, and Easy Rider. I have read all of the books he mentioned multiple times but I had never seen Easy Rider.

Easy Rider Movie Poster

Known as a “cult classic,” I was fascinated by Easy Rider. During the first scenes of Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) riding through the Southwest F and I tried to name the places they were traveling through (and based on the location list at IMDB, we did pretty well). I’m always a sucker for beautiful scenery shots and this was no exception. Aside from the scenery, I was really impressed with how current the film felt to me. Aside from the undercurrents of hating the long-haired hippies, the themes of freedom and stylistic choices felt like a modern independent film. Sometimes it felt a bit contrived but it was that good kind of contrived, if that makes any sense.

Easy Rider Stil

Easy Rider Still

The whole film was summed up by George (Jack Nicholson), in his discussion with Billy about freedom. It’s not a rosy vision of freedom but rather a dark and realistic one.

George: You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.
Billy: Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that’s what happened, man. Hey, we can’t even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we’re gonna cut their throat or something, man. They’re scared, man.
George: Oh, they’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you represent to ’em.
Billy: Hey man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody needs a haircut.
George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom.
Billy: What the hell’s wrong with freedom, man? That’s what it’s all about.
George: Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s what it’s all about, all right. But talkin’ about it and bein’ it – that’s two different things. I mean, it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. ‘Course, don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free ’cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.
Billy: Mmmm, well, that don’t make ’em runnin’ scared.
George: No, it makes ’em dangerous.

Easy Rider sits with me sort of like Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did; there’s a lot to relate to and a lot to ponder. Lots has been written about this movie (this original NYT review is pretty neat). It also makes me want to drive through the southwest.

 

P.S. Just found this picture of F’s truck he had when I met him. I’m sorta sad that he got rid of the Easy Rider poster:

Box truck motorhome garage

3Up Adventures Map!

I’ve added a new feature to 3Up Adventures! You’ll notice a new button on the menu for “Map.” As our archives have grown, I wanted to figure out a way to display all of our travel posts on a map (because I love maps).

3Up Adventures map screenshot

As you zoom in on any area of the map, the areas with many pins come into better detail. Zoomed in on California, Arizona, and northern Mexico, you can see our adventures from last winter: wine tasting near Santa Barbara, visiting the Slabs, jeeping in Mexico, hanging out in Ajo, and more.

Southwestern US

Enjoy!

On The Page: Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road

Here, There, Elsewhere

In college I subscribed to the “free” listserv used mostly by faculty and staff; it was mostly things I didn’t need but occasionally a stack of books would come up for grabs. In the spring of my senior year, as I tried to imagine what I would be doing in my future, one of the offerings was River Horse by William Least Heat Moon. I crawled in my bed early one evening and began to devour his story of Nikawa traveling up the Missouri headed for points west. I savored the stories of the people he met and wanted badly to be part of such a trip. River Horse lead me to discover Blue Highways, priming the way, I like to think, for my desire to get out and see the country.

Castle Valley

Least Heat Moon had become one of those authors (like Tim Egan) that I hardly needed to know the subject matter before I was committed to buying anything they might release so when the opportunity to preorder Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road for my Kindle popped up under my Amazon suggestions in November I immediately ordered it.

Here, There, Elsewhere is collection of essays that had appeared in various publications between 1983 and 2011. Each essay has a short introduction in which Least Heat Moon gives us some background into the writing of each piece—often noting the ways in which he has revised the essay to remove the influence of an editor’s lack of belief that American readers may have “much capacity or willingness to think critically, just as they believe their audience will not tolerate a vocabulary beyond the basic five or six thousand words in common usage.”

Three Sisters

Essay topics range from the rise of craft beer (“A Glass of Handmade” written in 1985), his youthful attempt to meet William Faulkner (“A Little Tour in Yoknapatawpha County), “Crossing Kansas,” traveling on foot (“With a Good Stick in Hand”), traveling in Scotland (“Just South of Ultima Thule”), to writing (“Writing PrairyErth”). Normally my response to a book I love is to read it through breathlessly, without stopping. In this case, I was drawn to savoring each piece as its own little treat.

Least Heat Moon’s stories of international travel are interesting to me as are the bits about writing, or beer production but his passages about domestic travel—and more specifically, maps—are what have always drawn me to him. Some of my favorite examples of this from Here, There, Elsewhere:

“To me, a road map is the printed lyrics to a siren’s song where highways and rivers are like stanzas, and the little circles indicating towns are notes—some flat, some sharp, a few off-key. To begin a journey is to hunt for its tune, its melody, its harmonics, and to follow along from stanza to stanza is to hum a route from, say, Waxahatchie to Marfa, Shamokin to Altoona.” (“The Here Within There”)

and this:

“But my book of longings was something else, a Rand McNally with its seeming infinitude of highways, country byroads, parkways, and even something new with an old name: a turnpike four-lands wide running through the mountains of Pennsylvania, the home of the most iconic American travel vehicle ever—the Conestoga wagon.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

But this tidbit on active travelers really got me. To be a truly active traveler, to get off the beaten track and really absorb the essence of a place—to walk its streets, poke into its dark corners, and really feel it—is what I hope we’re striving to do all the time:

“About then a few Americans, seeing consequences, began trying to turn themselves from passive tourists back into active travelers who explore the genius of a place, searchers for the quiddity of Owyhee Country or Hell Roaring Creek or the Rosebud Reservation, or an alley in Charleston. And as they headed off down some of the abundant and often vacated miles of American two-lane, those travelers started to uncover living fossils: a village still possessed of its mercantile heart, a diner grinding its own coffee beans, a clam shack so good the kid in the backseat stopped thinking of clams as slimy, a neighborhood tavern with a fellow or two who knew why Peculiar Street was so named, a nineteenth-century inn where one could sleep inside history.” (“Not Far Out of Tullahoma”)

Here, There, Elsewhere is another excellent example of Least Heat Moon’s writing—he writes in long sentences often filled with lists and rambling ideas. It is not a single compelling story which can make the verbose lists and long sentences seem slightly tedious, however, as one settles into the cadence of his words, they seem to roll along with the hum of travel.

Mary's Peak