The open road: Howards Grove men try low-impact wandering

by Sabrina Nucciarone
Review Correspondent

After planning and saving for several months for a driving trip across the country, a young man from Howards Grove who goes by the name of CJ, 22, set out with his friend, Erik, in early January with no real destination in mind. The only thing they knew is they wanted to spend the winter in warmer climes. With various relatives in different Western states, they were able to achieve that goal.

While they visited relatives, with whom they could stay and at the same time reduce the number of nights they spent camping or spending money on lodging, the pair learned what it meant to travel on a budget.

Traveling from and back to Wisconsin took them in a low, wide oval across the southwestern part of the United States. From Chicago, they headed south to Houston and Galveston, Texas, into New Mexico, touching into Colorado, west to the National Parks of Zion and Bryce in southern Utah, and then a long respite in Sedona, Phoenix, and Tucson, Arizona. A long day trip found them in San Diego, California, seeing and putting their feet in the water of the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

They floated an idea before they left that if there was a town or city where they would want to stay a few days or longer, they would look for random day jobs on Craigslist. The two friends really pinched their pennies during the first month of the trip and spent more toward the second month, while they were based in Arizona. The Craigslist idea never happened because they were able to conserve their money; there were too many things that they wanted to see and do to spend time working.

Saving money where they could but still taking in the local color along the way, they walked beside the bathhouses of Hot Springs, Arkansas, saw the Alamo Mission and walked the River Walk in San Antonio, and played pool at a pool hall in Tucson. The experience of viewing local life was the important thing, but one thing that CJ didn’t expect was the kindness people showed everywhere they went. “We were polite and nice. People always reciprocated that,” he said.

After a month of camping food and pinching pennies, the first real meal they had was with Erik’s uncle and aunt in Mancos, outside Durango, Colorado— juicy burgers right off the barbeque grill. “We also went to a community breakfast in Mancos. It was a real small town vibe, like everybody knew everybody. It was so different, people were ranchers and homesteaders. Everybody lived in the foothills, coming to town for what they needed,” CJ said.

When they reached Arizona, the two young men could justify spending money going out to eat and out on the town while they stayed with relatives for a month. The unfortunate by-product, CJ said, that he neglected his practice of yoga during this time.

Not really one for souvenirs, CJ’s philosophy is simple. “I’m not trying to get more things. I’m trying to be as mobile as possible. I would rather have a memory than a possession though I get that possessions inspire memories,” he said. But there was one place that did inspire him to memorialize.

Having visited the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico, CJ thought about getting a tattoo of an alien but it wasn’t until he was in Phoenix that he decided to go for the ink. Wanting it to be in his likeness, the alien has long hair, glasses that frame the eyes, and a headband. What’s not similar is the green tinge of the face. “When people ask about it, I say I went on a trip that was out of this world,” CJ said.

Speaking of out of this world, with scenery vastly different from Wisconsin, it was the rugged, colorful mountainous landscape of southern Utah that gave CJ pause. “All of what I saw in Utah was inspiring and jaw-dropping in the most literal sense. Nothing you can do but just stare at it,” he said.

Of the trip, CJ was satisfied to travel by car without an agenda. “I actually enjoyed the driving and riding. It’s easier when you don’t have a destination, because you don’t feel rushed to get anywhere, there is nowhere you have to be. The drive is part of the adventure, especially when you are in scenic areas,” he said.

Having missed two major sights, Grand Canyon and Great Salt Lake, CJ is saving for another trip planned for later this year. Having learned that he doesn’t need to travel with as many clothes and what items he really needs for better camp cooking, CJ came away from the first trip with a different sort of life lesson. “I know what I want to spend my time pursuing. It is easy to party when you are with others and sometimes you end up doing things you are uncomfortable with,” CJ said, referring to the time and money spent repeatedly eating out and going out to local watering holes—time and money that otherwise would have been spent more productively.

On tap is the northern route, where he alone will use the atlas to map out the larger highways and use state maps for local travel. On his bucket list is sky-diving in Montana, then on to Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and down the coast of California to see friends in San Diego, then to Las Vegas.

“I’m looking forward to being on my own so I can be my own tour guide and my own positive influence. Keeping up with my yoga practice will be a way I can measure how well I am doing,” CJ said. With a two-year degree in Sustainable Landscape Horticulture from Lakeshore Technical College, CJ plans to work in Arizona for several months before returning to Wisconsin in June 2019.

“In my studies, I learned about xeriscape and it was cool to see in Arizona. It’s the kind of stuff you come to understand in the broad sense, to understand wet and dry and the movement of water and how the smaller eco-systems work within the larger eco-systems,” CJ said.

With one road trip behind him, CJ certainly whet his appetite for more life experiences, and the upcoming trip is no exception. “The earlier trip was my first trip. A trial run for the next time. I learned that if I find myself in a similar situation and I can make choices, either yes for the same experience or no for something different, I can make it on my own,” CJ said.

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