When I began working with Academic Expeditions five years ago, I transitioned from a full-time guiding role in student travel, to a more versatile year-round role with a healthier balance between working from home and guiding only a handful of specific schools. I was elated at the change, and looked forward to getting more rooted in my home community in Asheville, NC. As a further show of confidence in this new home-based life, I took the plunge: I walked into a local animal shelter and walked away with a newly adopted dog. I named him El Guapo. “The Handsome One”.
In the five years since then, I’ve managed to be a pretty good dog dad. Sure, I‘ve had to leave El Guapo at home in the care of a housemate many times as my tour work necessitates, but mostly I am home. And when I’m home, I “work” from home with El Guapo by my side. And when I’m done working, and want to get out of the house to enjoy all the eclectic things Asheville has to offer, I take El Guapo to about as many things as I can – potlucks at friends houses, dog friendly microbreweries and music venues, and especially running the surrounding mountain trails.
During this time, I would still try to maintain my personal travels to destinations I haven’t been to. I enjoy researching travel bargains and use my flexible working schedule to find economical and convenient flights to far off places. El Guapo, as with all dogs, has a keen sense of when I’m about to leave. Packed bags and loading the car are the dead give-aways, but he seemed additionally tuned into my internet searching, and would often lay his face and sad eyes on my laptop keyboard as if to say “What about me?”
As much as I fondly look back on some of my road trips with friends in college, where it was more about the journey than the destination, the idea of a classic road trip was not on my radar in the last few decades, as I sought out overseas destinations where you get around with public transportation carrying everything on your back. But I began to reconsider the option of a road trip as the thought of having the company of my faithful dog to explore the back roads of America, seemed more appealing.
Other factors made the idea of a road trip seem all the more timely. I had recently gotten a new car – a Prius. Though I’m not fond of the “whole” vehicle all the time, I do certainly enjoy the great fuel economy, and the space in the back with the seats down is actually quite ample, such that I could sleep in it if needed while still carrying a decent amount of gear. So I felt compelled to take advantage to the car while I had it, and had it under the roadside and maintenance warranty. I named it “Val.”
I recently got the book “Travels with Charlie” John Steinbeck’s chronical of his 1950’s road trip around America with his dog Charlie and his rigged up cabin truck “Rocinante.” I fancy the idea of taking a similar journey to rediscover the voice and character of regular “America.” And like Steinbeck, I have a similar motivation for doing so. He made a career by writing novels that celebrated America’s common man. After some years resting on his laurels, he felt compelled to hit the highways and get back in touch with regular folks around the country.
And that brings me to my biggest reason for undertaking my road trip. My career. Though I certainly have not achieved the fame or stature of Steinbeck, I have made a career of showing Americans their common heritage as a historical tour guide and travel planner – mostly around Washington DC and the East Coast. But as anyone knows who has spent any time in these areas, while our nation likes to “represent” our common heritage in its grand monuments and museums, the cities themselves are not very “common” and can actually feel quite isolating from a genuine connection to our heritage. It’s easy to feel out of touch with real America.
And so I have embarked on this road trip, not like the tours I lead which are meticulously organized, but in an unscheduled manner to allow the “journey” to be my teacher. El Guapo will be both my companion and my example – following our noses to and fro, and greeting those we meet with a smile. “Val” is packed for efficiency, versatility, and serendipity. I’m prepared to camp, float on my stand up paddleboard, hang in my hammock, or even sleep in the back. The places we visit may not be the stuff of postcards and history books, but that’s exactly why I’m going there. To see the sights that go unseen and hear the stories that go untold.