Embracing The Shitty Road Trip

Have you ever been on a bad road trip? Like a really bad one? One where you say I am never doing that again? The trip that makes you think plane travel is not only convenient, but actually enjoyable?

Cars break down and people freak out, but maybe that's part of the fun? You're still on an adventure with a car.

Out on the open road, nothing but your friends and a car, traveling many miles to see someone or something. In a lot of ways there is nothing better for me, yet at the time I swear I will never do it again.

I think I'm starting to miss those trips. And I have been on some of the worst drives in North America. Trust me. When was the last time you were pulled over in the middle of nowhere at night and robbed by armed policeman? Or lost a wheel off your tow rig in Montana at speed? Thank God Wyatt Knox was driving!

The Montana deal actually wasn't that bad because the repair shop was a salvage yard and we bought a go-kart!! And go-kart's are just awesome. Especially when built without brakes. 


Then there was the Sebring trip with Chris Simon. I had to be back at my desk Monday morning. But even after the race was over we kept partying and ended up at a waterslide park in Orlando with The Bomb Drop. You climb into this dark tube and after some flashing lights and sirens, the floor drops open into a near free fall. Something you will never ever see again as an adult unless you go looking for it on a road trip. 
 


And the trip didn't end there. I drove us to an airport in Nashville, I think, and left Chris sleeping while I boarded the shuttle to take a Southwest flight straight to work. My friend woke up and was like "What the hell? I told you we can do anything but I needed to be at my desk on Monday."

I don't think he made it back to Chicago till like Thursday! I was so jealous, he roamed all over the Midwest on backroads checking out cool old cars for sale. 



Oh,.and this Sebring trip began with me absolutely flying thru the Tail of the Dragon in his way over loaded E30 with one headlight while the Beastie Boys cheered us on. And the high beams had a ground issue so that was worthless. Sure, I lost it twice with Chris quietly complaining (as in WTF are you doing?), but I had never seen the road before and some of those crests caught me out a little bit. And the 500 lbs of crap in the back didn't help things much.

Embracing The Shitty Road Trip

Of course I recorded it with my friend coaching and criticizing the whole time "See you're in way too hot…more brake…told you…oh here we go again… you're not going to make the next… oh that worked out better than I thought." 
 


The fun part was the weird lines I used flash the one beam across the road before turning in. We both knew what I was doing but man the video is bizarre. Someday I'll publish it. Probably when I'm too old to go on these road trips anymore. 
 


And there are the fun trips where nothing goes wrong. Like when Porsche gave my friend Sam Smith a Porsche Spyder thing and we drove from LA to San Francisco along the ocean. An amazing drive if you get rid of all the other cars doing the same thing. Highway 1 is simply beautiful, almost the definitive North American road trip. 



But I know there are certain roads and a few special trips that will forever define my image of the open road. When I am old I will think of these trips and how much fun I had. I bet I even make an attempt to see them again with my friends. 
Phil Hill, the Santa Monica mechanic turned Grand Prix Champion must have felt it as well. The last night he was in a car he asked to be driven to the old Pebble Beach race course where he drove his first epic race, winning from last place in his Jaguar. He kept looking for certain corners and stretches of road where he passed car after car shocked at how well he was doing in his little Jaguar.

That road trip back to Pebble was the last he ever took. That was the road that defined Phil Hill's life.

Embracing The Shitty Road Trip

For me, it's the drive to Road America. I'm not trying to compare myself to Hill, I'm just saying that every car guy, every driver, has that stretch of road. The one that feels like home. For me it's Road America. It's where I learned to race.

But it's more the early morning drives to the track in the race cars that are memorable. Tires in the trunk, a blanket over me for heat (don't do this, seriously, the blanket gets caught in the pedals and all hell breaks loose), and surrounded by my friends in their track cars. And there was that one time we drove flat out through downtown Milwaukee with race exhausts echoing off the concrete canyon walls. I could live in those few minutes forever.

As a car guy, it's something that my non-car friends will never ever understand. There is something about those summer days with your friends in a car that are so special. It can't be contrived or planned. You can't fake it. They just happen. It's the nature of the road trip. 
 
I love Road America, but I know that over time, my trips to WRC Mexico will be the ones I remember and love. They have been some the hardest, most difficult drives of my life. All three years. And yet towing thru Mexico at night with my friends has been the most amazing experience of my life.

How many people need to tell you that someone was killed recently on that highway before you start to worry? And being robbed at gunpoint by police officers in the middle of nowhere? I guess I'm getting used to it. Thank God we never came across another machine gun fight. Those were among the scariest five minutes of my life.
 
And the highway that they never finished that drops straight into a rock quarry with no warning. Ask Ron Erickson, my codriver for WRC Mexico 2011, about it the next time you see him. Ask him about the ghost cows.

My words can't do it justice. Imagine driving down a highway at 60 mph towing an enclosed trailer and the road turns to dirt out of nowhere. I lock up the brakes trying to get them to bite into the surface and slide to a stop like 10 feet before hundreds of feet of cliff down into quarry. Yeah it sounds unbelievable. We stood there for minutes staring into the van's headlights, letting the adrenaline fade, wondering what the hell we were doing. 
 


The problem I've been running into is that I take the same highways from Chicago to all my races, which means I see all the same stuff year after year. I've never really thought it about till now but maybe its time for some road trips on other continents.


So where are the most epic road trips on our planet? Are they even in North America? I'm thinking Eastern Europe, or a trip to Moscow, maybe down thru the Road of Bones. Oh, as a side note, anytime I get a car manufacturer on the phone that makes a truck, I ask them about letting me take it down the Road of Bones. I usually get silence, like dead silence. But one of these days someone will say yes! 
 


I would also like to drive the length of Chile. And Africa! Anywhere in Africa, but Kenya looks amazing. And there is the East African Safari rally which is really a race, but at times looks like a road trip from hell. Until you wait a few years and look back, then it's awesome.

Embracing The Shitty Road Trip

There are also those crazy rickshaw adventures and Mongolian deals. Like LeMons but across long distances in cars that cost less than 1,000 euros and pack less than 1.0-liter of forward combustion (or something along those lines). But what if you wanted something shorter? And maybe in slightly less dangerous countries?

Where are you road tripping to this summer? Seriously, I like reading the comments on Jalopnik as much as the stories. Where are you guys going this summer and where would you go on a road trip if someone else wrote the check?