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Hitting the Highway Again

Listen now to The song of an open-road optimist.

Our beautiful German shepherd, Sohn, died suddenly hiking Mount Princeton with my dad when my brother and I were young. Years later, when I was visiting my in-laws’ ranch in Salida, I would roll down the window and call his name every time I would drive by the mountain.

“I love you Sohn! You’re a good, good boy, Sohnie. I love you Sohn.” 

Then I started calling to my father, too, after he passed away. Because where else would he have gone but back to hiking mountains with one of his favorite dogs?

That image reminds me that life itself is a road trip, from cradle to grave and everywhere in between—and that the best part of hitting the highway is that moment when you come back home.

The Friendly West

Our family moved to Denver when I was 2, slowly working our way from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where I was born to Papillion, Nebraska, and then a little house near the old Stapleton Airport on Quebec Street, where we fell asleep each night to the sound of landing planes.

The memory of the open sky above the prairie heading west still lives in my mind. That and the joke a family friend made to my Dad driving back to Lake McConaughy to race Hobie Cats one summer, laughing at the empty horizon and asking, “Glenn, who do you suppose it was who timbered all this land?”

My parents always marveled at how the closer they got to Colorado, the friendlier people seemed. How each unwinding mile told a story about where you were going and where you had been. And how once you’ve lived in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, you never question your sense of direction again.

All you have to do is start to drive up into the hills and it begins to pull at you—all the other places you already should have seen.

Miles Between Us

If I sound a little somber, it’s because I haven’t traveled much since the pandemic began. Other than the local ski hill all winter; the brewery; dog school a few times each week’ and Big Sky, Montana, this past April, where it seemed like winter might never end.

I think over the last two years we lost a little of the human, natural connection we find when we travel. Instead, we sat at home being bombarded by whatever political, cultural, and unfettered echo chamber in which we choose to place ourselves.

The highways are the subconscious of America—always traveling, working, thinking and singing in the background. These asphalt arteries connect the expanse, diversity, and multicolored scope of this great country in endless open roads of intertwined dreams.

And if there’s a cure for what divides us, it’s to bridge the miles between us. I’m an open road optimist, and this is my song. I think we all need to get back out on the road again.

A Satisfied Mind

Whenever I think about the places I’ve driven to—and it’s something I think about quite a bit—there’s always something funny I remember, or something important along the way that I have learned.

On a nonstop drive from Denver to Lake Placid, New York, to see the NCAA Hockey Championship, five of us in a station wagon, the tank of gas you bought was the tank you burned, and my friend Marty told a very vivid tale about a personal adventure that took place in a Munich hotel room.

When the cop pulled us over in Iowa, he said, “Seriously, you guys just kept accelerating.” So blushing Marty gave him the Reader’s Digest version. And the officer looked us up and down and said, “You boys be safe. Have a good evening.”

I think about the snowmobilers who dug out my Dad’s Jeep on Cumbres Pass after skiing back from the Yurts in Chama. Fixing a flat on a mountain road in France. August in the sun-drunk town of Winnemucca with no air conditioning. Or cruising all by myself with beautiful Bella the black Labrador riding shotgun and her fuzzy brother Toby’s ashes in the back on the way to his funeral in Wyoming.

So just like that, there’s the asphalt and endless sky again.

Roll the Window Down

We need to feel the air blowing through us, in our hair and across our hands, to see the satisfied cows in the fields and the antelope blending into the tall grass like sand. Make all those old rock and roll and country road songs actually deserve you singing along.

And get that same gut thrill looking in your rearview mirror to see highway patrol hitting the lights and turning around. Even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong.

You see, I think we can discover this country again. But only if we’re out there still discovering. Seeing things we’ve never seen. Cheering beers and shaking hands. Getting lost. Getting found.

The beauty is that there is no script. Only that you keep trying and traveling and you try to keep an open mind.

That you remember to walk out the door and take the journey first to once again understand what it means to be back home. 

—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of TheGod of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Buy it here and read it now:

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