7000 miles, 0 interstates: Tom Cotter hits the road to find America’s heart

Tom Cotter

It’s the sort of road trip that any group of car nuts would conjure over late-night beers: The longest contiguous route in America. Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska. Tom Cotter is no stranger to long road trips, but this 7000-mile odyssey has the Barn Find Hunter more excited than ever.

Beginning today, Cotter and photographer Michael Alan Ross are hitting the road to find what Cotter calls “the heart of America.”

Tom Cotter Ford Bronco Key West to Deadhorse America's Greatest Road Trip Bronco side profile
Tom Cotter

Cotter’s road-trip rolodex reads like a greatest hits album. He’s piloted a 1926 Ford Model T across the entire Lincoln Highway: Times Square in Manhattan all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. He regularly takes his 1939 Ford Woodie Wagon across swathes of the states in search of dusty treasures in Hagerty’s beloved video series, Barn Find Hunter. He’s written several road-trip books on the grand adventures along the way—perhaps you’ve read some of them.

For his latest endeavor, he won’t be driving a classic car. Instead, Cotter and Ross will rely on two modern reinventions of legendary nameplates: A four-door version of Ford’s new Bronco (in Outer Banks trim) and a shiny new Airstream Basecamp 16X, each graciously provided by the manufacturer.

“This [route] has been on my mind for five years at least,” says Cotter. “The question was always … what kind of car? I thought maybe I’d buy an ’80s Corvette, or maybe I buy a car on Craigslist in Florida and then sell it in Alaska.

“But then I decided, let me take the car out of the question—the potential breakdowns and stuff—and let’s concentrate more on the country instead of the automobile.”

Tom Cotter Ford Bronco Key West to Deadhorse America's Greatest Road Trip Bronco and Airstream
Tom Cotter

They may not be vintage, but a Bronco and an AirStream still turn heads and start conversations. “I have a Cobra, I have Shelbys, I have Cunninghams—all sorts of amazing cars,” Cotter says. “I have never gotten as much attention as I get with this Bronco and with this Airstream. Nobody is afraid to come up and talk about it.”

His quest to find the heart of America centers on avoiding the interstate system. Cotter believes that along the two-lane roads and quieter parts of the country, there are still stories to be heard and celebrated.

“I’m hoping to meet Americans who are seldom met,” he says. “Americans who live off the grid—and I don’t mean that digitally, I just mean Americans who don’t live near big cities and interstate highways. With all the conflict going on in the United States, I’m hoping that by the time I get to Alaska, I’ll have found that there’s more that binds us together as a country than separates us.”

Tom Cotter Ford Bronco Key West to Deadhorse America's Greatest Road Trip Bronco top-down
Tom Cotter

And that’s not the only noble part of his quest. Cotter and Ross have partnered with Vintage Racers for Rescues, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit foundation that helps raise money for an animal rescue shelter. They’ll be taking per-mile donations from those interested in getting involved, with all proceeds going to the non-profit. If you’re inclined, even a penny per mile will have a large impact in helping this foundation offset the costs of sheltering and caring for animals in search of a forever home.

Cotter has plenty of experience in America’s last frontier. He once drove 2000-plus miles in an original 289 Cobra on Alaska’s paved roads, temporarily becoming famous when a nosy bear clawed its way into the precious roadster overnight to score some Fig Newtons left in the cabin by his co-pilot. Cotter was quick to note that no such snacks would be left unattended this time around.

Interested in following along as Cotter and Ross make this great trip? Be sure to follow @thebarnfindhunter on Instagram, where the duo will be posting daily updates.

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