Godspeed: Lessons from the Great American Road Trip

Godspeed: Lessons from the Great American Road Trip February 2, 2024
He told them: “Take nothing for the road—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” Luke 9:3

While living on the road, there was no guarantee of finding a rest stop or place to camp for the night. Some days, we had to go without food or showers. We spent long hours driving, treating it as our 9-to-5 job. Eventually, our 1999 Dodge van named Scarlett would start making noises, indicating that she needed a rest. My brother Taylor would pat the dashboard and say, “There, there girl. Let’s get off the highway.”

We often found ourselves on some desolate stretch of land with nothing to do but watch the stars and have long conversations. We embraced this way of living and welcomed the occasional interruption and the mystery of the road. More often than not, the destination we had in mind didn’t pan out, but we discovered hidden gems that no Trip Advisor could ever tell us about.

We found solace in the company of strangers and the unspeakable beauty of a foreign landscape, scenes that no Instagram post could ever do justice to. We trusted the journey and relied on each other. One night, we were in Joshua Tree, my brother warmed by some whiskey, covered in poison oak, and exhausted from driving. He looked at the undisturbed skyline, turned to me, and said, “We could be thrown into the grips of Dante’s Inferno and make the most of it.”

We’ve been through our fair share of trials – grueling storms, running out of gas with no fuel stations in sight, accidentally driving into dangerous gang territory with a van that had the rival gang’s colors, losing money on bad investments, getting chased out of towns by the police – but we came out of it all as better men. Whenever we were in dire straits, a diner would appear like a lighthouse guiding the way for weary sailors.

If we had options for dinner, we would always choose the taqueria. Most of them were a Godsend, providing us with pounds of chips to take on the road. Grocery stores were our go-to for our staple meal, the road equivalent of communion – peanut butter on corn tortillas. We didn’t intend to become ascetics, but the road turned us into some.

Most would say our way of traveling was foolish. But the journey itself, our seeking, kept us awake and the hunger pains at bay. At the time, we weren’t concerned with our dating lives or the lack of showers. If we didn’t know ourselves, how could we ever hope to truly know another person? It simply wasn’t that kind of trip. Not to say we didn’t try our luck at bars, but inviting someone back to our van wasn’t exactly a great selling point. Unfortunately, most people don’t look at a van and think Scooby-Doo where are you!

Like the Son of Man, we didn’t always have a place to rest our heads. If we couldn’t find a back road or a quiet neighborhood, we would sleep at Denny’s – or as we dubbed it, “Motel Denny’s.” For the most part, we could sleep peacefully and then fuel up in the morning with breakfast and coffee. If the place wasn’t too crowded, we could even take a quick French-style bath with napkins. Où sont les toilettes?

I preferred taking a bath in natural bodies of water like the ocean, river, or lake. During our time in Southern California, I used to take outdoor showers by the beach, just like in the movie Drill Bit Taylor. Of course, I was strategic about it and made sure to shower before any beachgoers could catch a glimpse. You have to work with the cards you are dealt, after all.

Our liturgy consisted of late-night cigars, open windows, and old cassettes. The breeze and the miles baptized us into contemplation.

We made meditation a regular practice, preferably on top of a mountain, by a creek, or on desert sand. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we were relying on Providence. Each new destination facilitated an unburdening of the heart. We became acquainted with who we truly are, as God knows us to be. If there is a word to sum up our voyage, it’s Godspeed. If there’s a phrase, it’s a brother’s bond thicker than thieves. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that people will help you along the way, no pilgrimage is ever solitary.

And you just drive to stay alive
One more day passes by
You just drive through the night
‘Til that darkness turns to sky

– Zach Bryan, Drive

To love your neighbor, you must learn to listen and see them for who they truly are. Simply residing in a country does not guarantee that you experience it. Sometimes our screens and homes can become our ivory towers. Similarly, just because we are in motion, does not mean we are truly traveling. We are introduced to the sacred and the love that permeates all by receiving the sacrament of the present moment.

Highways always remind me of music, communion, adoration, street sonnets, fellowship, prayer, and the absence of time. It seems that the “road not taken” and the “narrow path” are one and the same. This is not because some predestined elect receive the coordinates at birth and others do not, but rather because navigation of the intellect can only get you so far. To truly embark on a journey, the heart must agree to get behind the wheel.

About HJ Sandigo
H.J. Sandigo hails from Placerville, CA. He is a human, fond of telling stories and exploring the wilderness. Jacob writes about pilgrimage, road trips, and the prayer of the heart in a world of distraction. H.J. Sandigo is immensely grateful for the experiences, wisdom, and humor that people have shared with him throughout his travels. You can read more about the author here.

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