Go west, young man (or woman)

Braxton Boren


My friend Evan is a little weird. He once asked me if I thought it was possible to drive to Oregon in less than a day. I wasn’t caught off guard, having grown accustomed to these sorts of questions, and I replied that I thought it would take somewhat longer than that, having braved the scenery of Wyoming and Nebraska before. Mapquest predicted a 27-hour journey from our hometown in southern Illinois to the border of Oregon, and Evan decided to prove them wrong. He assembled the team, and we drove off in a crowded van to find America on a Friday evening three summers ago.

If you had asked Evan what America means, he probably would have given a straightforward answer about freedom and separation from old-world tyranny (Evan is now at West Point). Kyle, the third team member, was a philosopher and photographer, and I don’t think he would have had an answer – I didn’t either. But Bradley, the last member of the team, believed that America meant adventure. He had read about the road trips of Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck, and he was afraid that his life was becoming too stagnant. I wasn’t sure exactly what “adventure” meant, but having felt a certain stagnation in my own life, I was willing to go looking for an answer.

Using a CB radio, we communicated with truckers as we crossed the Great Plains, giving our call sign as “Caulk the Wagon” (which, you “Oregon Trail” fans will remember, was the best way to cross the Snake River in the classic computer game). Through reckless disregard for speed limits, we managed to beat Mapquest’s E.T.A. by six hours, fulfilling our only real plan for the trip.

What followed was the most amazing week of my life; it would take me 10 columns to adequately describe the exhilaration of climbing the snowcapped peaks above Crater Lake, bleeding and numb, and shouting our names across the water. We were confounded by the mysterious Oregon Vortex, whose reality-bending powers even Einstein could not explain. We stood in awe of the magnitude of the Pacific Ocean from a campsite in Redwood National Park, and we drove to Lake Tahoe just in time to watch the sunset. We wrote songs about the places we’d seen on a beat-up guitar and a C harmonica. And we became the kind of friends that cannot be made on purpose.

A note to the environmentally conscious: I am not advocating mass road trips as a method of self-actualization. As the proverb says, “The true journey of discovery consists not of gaining new horizons, but of having new eyes.” In today’s pre-professional collegiate atmosphere, it’s easy to let future plans take over our lives. But don’t be afraid of an adventure if one comes your way. This summer, try putting off that internship for a week and go looking for America in your hometown or even here in Evanston. But if you do feel the call to go West, give me a call.

Music senior Braxton Boren can be reached at [email protected]