The art of the road trip Part I |

The art of the road trip Part I

Scott Willoughby

Old elephants limp off to the hills to die; old Americans go out to the highway and drive themselves to death with huge cars.- Hunter S. Thompson,Fear and Loathing in Las VegasPhase ILike Hunter’s, our trip was different. It was a search for affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character, a physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country but only for those with true grit. And we were chock full of that.It began as a simple idea, a notion spurred from yet another long, cold winter in Colorado’s high hills. The concept of cabin fever is not foreign to anyone who has spent a few of those winters up valley. Neither are the words “road trip.”But for my friend Stephanie, the concepts were novel indeed. A recent transplant from NYC, she had yet to sample the scenic splendor that is the San Juan Mountains. Nor had my African attorney, Sirmambo. So it seemed only suitable that both should saddle up and sample the gem of Colorado’s southwest corner with me. We were headed to Telluride.The proper road trip is in its essence an art form. It begins, of course, with the proper destination. And we had selected Telluride not only because of its celebrated beauty, but for its spectacular spring skiing, terminal hospitality and the fact that Michael Franti and Spearhead shared a two-night bill with Ziggy Marley, first son of Bob, just a short gondola ride away from our plush digs at the famed New Sheridan Hotel.Sirmambo, a native of Zimbabwe, is a deep-rooted reggae aficionado, while I have been a committed Spearit since first hearing Franti’s socially conscious lyrics and hip-hop rhythms on the “Home” CD back in the mid-’90s. In the appropriate environment, a Spearhead concert, or “Exspearience,” is equal parts booty-shaking funk jam session, soul deliverance, cosmic transformation and social activism assembly all rolled into one sweaty, sexy, raucous good time. Tack on young Ziggy and the gospel of Bob, and even the five hours to-hell-you-ride served as a simple penance.But first we needed to load up, because, last time I checked, a weekend is the drop-dead bare minimum cutoff point to qualify as a road trip. A proper cure for my fever would demand at least a week. More likely 10 days.Since the Ziggy/Franti Exspearience wasn’t going to last all week, that meant we’d need another distraction toys, lots of toys. I loaded the truck with skis, snowboard, kayak, mountain bike, camping gear, fly rods, MP3 player, digital camera and anything else that might come in handy on a 3-out-of-4 corners multisport party through the mountains, canyons and high dessert of Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Any remaining space was dedicated to beer.A quick pit for a java gas-up at Harry’s Bump ‘n Grind and Minturn was soon an afterthought. Now we could focus on purpose.Sure, taking in the sights of Colorado qualifies as rationale enough to hit the highway, as does skiing or snowboarding a new mountain or simply showing your lover a good time. But I’d done all that already. As small and seemingly insignificant a place it may be on the political spectrum, I soon realized we were heading to Telluride to rock the nation.Franti will tell you that it has always been his aim to enrage, enlighten and inspire through words and music. Lyrics like, “They blame it on a song, when someone kills a cop/What music did they listen to when they bombed Iraq” are what I love about that guy. Even more that he was singing those lines back during the first Bush administration. “Give me one example, so I can hear a sample/Don’t have to play it backwards if you want to hear the devil/ ’cause music’s not the problem, it didn’t cause the bombing/Maybe they should listen to the song of people starving.”Somewhere down the highway, beneath a Yakima rack of toys, it occurred to me how simple it is in the decadence of resort-town living to lose touch with the larger issues confronting the world. Sure, we see the headlines and catch the occasional news flash between snow reports, but the reality of our fantasy world was hammered home when CNN News anchor Bill Hemmer rang my cell phone from the Minturn Saloon last weekend to ask where he could get a good steak. This is where even America’s most wired come to avoid reality. The question is what to replace it with.At face value, Telluride may not seem any different, but I’d argue otherwise. It represents the natural wonderland the entire planet once was (the town itself reclaimed from the ravages of mining) with a kind sense of community that stands in stark contrast to a nation where every individual soul is given a number. And by sandwiching two nights of politically charged music around a downtown rally celebrating the International Day of Peace, the compassion and caring that can otherwise be so difficult to find is brought to the forefront in a fresh fashion that spares us the rhetoric and double-talk of our so-called leaders. We are reminded quite succinctly, in Franti’s words, to stay human.Another musician, Perry Farrell, once pointed out that there are two unifying forces in the world war and music. And many of the folks I saw in Telluride last weekend were in a war against war, using music as their power. Thus, we had achieved purpose.Through music and mountains we reconnect mind, body and spirit, and through the message we were reminded of the political atrocities suffered the world over, so many directly attributed to our own United States of Aggression. Some left enraged, others inspired.Our difference may be minimal, and a road trip of all things, a semi-absurd means of achieving it, but as Franti says, “We each have our own ways of getting there, which are to be equally respected and cherished, but we are all longing and reaching for the One. In this struggle, sometimes the toughest thing to do is to not be controlled by all the dehumanizing forces that are out there. Sometimes the hardest thing is to just laugh, cry, scream, dance, shake, moan, sigh, make love, breath, fart, follow your dreams or whatever.”And sometimes we need to move our heads to another space to remind ourselves and everyone around us to simply stay human.This is part one of Scott Willoughby’s three-part Road Trip ’04 epic. Share your own tales from the road at

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