Heading North

Words: Ginger Boyd; Images: Tracy Chandler.
Originally published on
Machines For Freedom.

There’s something about a road trip that’s romantic. It’s inspiring and full of promise and makes me giddy. You head out, fill the tank (and the snack cooler) and all of sudden you feel part of some lineage of literary drifters, flying down the same highways as Kerouac. It might only be for a few days, but it turns out a four day weekend is plenty long for a bit of adventure. A weekend on the road can be long enough to forget about the to-do list, forget about commuting, and forget about emails. To just stare down two yellow lines that never end and follow them without much thought is to remove yourself from life’s shoulds and musts and maybe even find a piece of yourself that you had lost, there amongst the aisles of junk food at a middle of nowhere gas station.

Besides the seemingly boundless promise of an open road, our van was full of a crew of girls. For me, there is nothing more exhilarating than being in the company of intelligent, hilarious, and wise women. Plus, removed from the daily responsibilities of life — the relentless time crunch, a million and one responsibilities that pull you every which way — you have the freedom to be completely present. It’s no wonder, then, that even a few weeks after returning home I still feel buoyed up by the experience. Rejuvenated and rededicated to “crushing it” in general. But why don’t I feel like this all the time? Why is there the need to escape in order to reconnect?

Setting aside the simple facts of the breaking of monotony and the soothing comfort of new scenery and nature, I think it has a lot to do with girl talk.

Road trips mean hours and hours of aimless girl talk. Just talking the best mascara that stays on while riding or the best shorts for riding the Great Divide or how to navigate a relationship with different finances; these are the topics that make you realize that almost no situation you find yourself navigating is unique to just you. Talking about how to know when to sacrifice for your life partner and when to walk away, or birth control, or marriage, or proper bandana tying methods (courtesy of Liz Browne); these are the conversations that make you feel like you’re part of a tribe. Talking about nothing (and everything) can pull you from the darkest of places and make you suddenly aware that someone else has been there.

So there we were, 5 peas in a pod heading North to shoot the Machines Fall campaign. (By peas I mean 5 women and their bikes and by pod I mean a decked out adventure van that gains high fives from every legit trucker met at gas stations throughout California). Rolling from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, laughing and sharing secrets and asking for advice the whole 350 miles. Once we hit San Simeon we were joined by some more friends from up North and our rolling slumber party turned into a caravan of girls and bikes. San Simeon to Big Sur and Big Sur to the Santa Cruz boardwalk and up to Pescadero before we turned around. There was fried avocado, a few bottles of wine, and lots of riding. We were chased out of closed road territory by a self-proclaimed area protector shouting threats of calling the sheriff at our taillights growing smaller with lots of fist shaking from the window of his pickup.

As we piled in and out of the van, early mornings with hotel coffee followed by later nights than were wise, we talked about everything; those chats that take place between the so-called important moments, filled with topics that seem to bubble up from nowhere. One such musing came when we were chatting about how badass it was to roll up to a rural gas station in a rugged, lifted all-terrain van (and hop out of said van laughing hysterically and tossing empty kombucha bottles). Maybe we were talking about our first cars or our hometowns, but I suddenly remembered this dream I had as a kid. As an East-coaster to the very bottom of my bones, California could have been another planet for all I knew. But it was another planet drenched in such mystery, painted in such dreamy colors of possibility and expansive skies, it was both the antithesis of what I knew and the answer to every problem. The unexplored and also the unexplorable. These ideas are nothing new, they’re the same ideas that make up why California is more an idea than a real place in many ways and has become not only the setting but the main character in so many of the stories that make up our cultural and very American consciousness. From Kerouac traversing those roads from New York to Frisco, to Didion’s “immense bleached sky… where we run out of continent,” to Big Sur and the Esalen Institute, to Steinbeck’s ranchers, the photographs of Ansel Adams. Even Bukowski’s Los Angeles; Tarantino’s Los Angeles. California was someone I just had to know.

To a younger me, knowing nothing about anything, California = Joni Mitchell’s “California” and hippies and counterculture and all that. So at some point I had decided that I would one day own a van. You know the kind, painted all over with peace and love, tiny curtains in the windows. A means of transportation, maybe a home, but mostly a way to get somewhere things happened. Unable to afford a beat up old van (and probably not old enough to drive), I painted my room how I would have painted it and imagined what the 70s were like.

Having not thought about this particular dream of mine in about five or ten years, I mentioned it in passing, and everyone cracked up. “So you’ve made your dream come true then.” I realized, it was true. Ok, so there were no fringe vests but there was a folk station on Pandora and we were traversing California like some new version of the beats. The van wasn’t mine and it was in better shape than a hippie van but hey, we could all squeeze in and tell stories just the same.