“Nearly every American hungers to move.”—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
It’s amazing how quickly life can change. A few months ago, few had heard of coronavirus. Since then, COVID-19 has consumed our attention. I hope you and your loved ones have weathered the storm. In the end, that is all that really matters.
But now, from coast to beautiful coast, we are well into driving season, and it is time to move. Maybe not in groups yet. As I write this, many places are still restricting gatherings. But we can still get out and drive. Or at least plan our next great road adventure. That’s half the fun anyway. The coronavirus is commanding our attention at present, but it cannot keep us from enjoying life. Nor should we allow it to.
I could use a road trip right about now to clear my head, do some deep thinking, and reestablish a sense of normality and control over life. Maybe you feel the same. This is not the first time I have felt that tug, of course. Road trips have always been part of my adult life. I did a lot of solo trips when I was a philosophy grad student. Like many others with a soul full of wanderlust and a head full of questions, I was under the spell of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.
Billed as a “fictionalized autobiography,” Zen is actually one of the great American road-trip books. Pirsig was trying to come to grips with what electroshock therapy had done to his mind and spirit. As the narrator, he used daily motorcycle rides to unpack a set of ideas and thoughts, which he called a “Chautauqua,” referring to the traveling circuses that once roamed the U.S. spreading music, information, and strange new ideas to remote towns.
Sounds a bit wild, yes, but basically Pirsig was in search of himself. Aren’t we all from time to time? That’s why I would jump into my 1989 Mustang convertible and explore the American Southwest.
I loved those journeys, my personal Chautauquas. They were my joy, my disconnect, and my way to work through things that were on my mind, which in those days often meant term papers. Top down, stereo off—after 120 miles or so, I’d wrestled many a problem to the ground.
Even better, I always felt refreshed and lighter somehow, which is why I continue to roam. These days, my trips are more infrequent and typically closer to home because, frankly, my family needs me around. But the payoff is the same as it ever was: My spirit is renewed. And isn’t that what personal adventure and exploration are supposed to do? I think so.
I’ve heard it said that road trips are not unlike hero quests, which form the basis of most of the stories we love, from The Odyssey to Star Wars. You will indeed bring back treasure from almost any road trip, and the treasure is what you’ve seen, done, and learned.
I hope you are able to claim your share of that treasure sooner rather than later. Until then, remember, this too shall pass.
Onward and upward.
McKeel Hagerty is the CEO of Hagerty. This story originally appeared in the May/June issue of Hagerty Drivers Club Magazine.