Four days ago, I packed a baggie, some books and threw the dog into the pickup to hit the road. With twelve hundred hard miles added to the odometer, I just got back, scruffy, dog-tired and dirty. It’s that good kind of tired. My shoulders ache, the eyes are heavy and my wallet may be as light as a feather, but my soul is singing.
All in all, it was a fine road trip. It feels like my dog Nora and I have been on a marriage retreat; we have forged an even tighter bond. A car accident has the front end of my battle scarred war wagon stitched together with duct tape. I’ve seen God; I now have living proof that a Higher Power does exist. There were vistas of incredible beauty and lucky animal sightings. I had forgotten how big this world is and how grand its nature. My worldview had shrunk to the size of an eighteen-inch computer screen. This has now been corrected, but I will have to fight to keep the new attitude.

Hitting the road is a Western Notion. It is a physical action to a spiritual calling. On the road, you think. Questions find answers, secrets are revealed and wisdom is gained. When the pressure gauge hits red, when one needs to refocus, when inspiration is required, when responsibility sours to obligation, when passion falls flat, when the sublime is found in an empty candy box; these are the times to hit the road.

My plan was to head northeast. Once I got to my first destination, Kernville, I would then decide the next. I am an embarrassed native Californian. I think my state is golden but I am chagrined to admit how little I’ve seen. Growing up at the beach in So Cal, my Dad would slap me upside the head and yell ‘Why would you want to go anywhere else?!” My plan was to see what I have never seen before, to see my state.

The road trip had several agendas. I also needed to assess my state. I have been on a wicked vicious schedule, 24/7 for sixteen weeks. In that time, I learned Final Cut, mashed up technologies, conceived and produced fifteen videos for a project of philosophy and beauty. I am proud of the effort but afraid it might have taken a little too much of me. It was a burn. It’s over now but the mind and body are still convulsing.


Bakersfield, California stands on the road to Kernville. I called my close pal CB who grew up there. His list of must-sees gave me an idea of what it was like to be a ‘Driller.’ For a few hours, I felt like a high school kid in the great Central Valley. I had a burger at Happy Jacks and a malt at Dewars, a classic soda fountain that has been scooping up decades of relief against the heat and dry winds that prevail over this oil and agricultural town.
From this moment on, George Lucas began to haunt my trip. The Central Valley is all about cars and killing time. Nothing has changed. Just add an iPhone, video games and the menace of meth; the ‘American Graphitti’ script still plays.

A channel has to be changed. I have to go back to money-work and that starts next week. I believe I have a good job lined up. I am making plans that support longevity and practicality. This has to be done. It is 1) an unfortunate 2) turn in the road.
The road must turn. Once again, art has taken me to a Razor’s Edge. Now I must turn my attention to the landlord. This last run gave me almost two years of freedom. Now I need to go make money to buy more time. Time that I will spend later, not now. I have to say goodbye.
That’s the unfortunate part, the crime against nature. I have to stop doing something I really love doing. I must spend less time on building my Frankenstein. I can no longer gobble down and force-feed my face with both hands. Now I can only taste the honey that I have grown to crave.
My Inner Child is not coping well with the upcoming reality. I fret and flail. I cry for my loss and wail for the sacrifices that I will have to make. I will no longer serve myself. My art cannot remain the focus of my life; I have to pay the Piper.
I will have new masters and I must serve them. In return for their paycheck, I pledge the best of my efforts. Their concerns will be mine. Their goals and objectives will become the overwhelming influence in my life. Values must be realigned. It will matter how I look and dress. I’ll need to be personable and liked. It will matter what you think of my car. These shall be some of my new concerns… It is a crime against nature.
Right now, the Better-Man-Within-Me is struggling to get out of his coffin and place a reassuring hand on my shoulder. “Kid, it’s all gonna be Okay!” Greater wisdoms must prevail and realities accepted. This road trip was to be that hand, to lend confidence and to gently turn the direction of my gaze.

Kernville, the Gateway to the Sierras, has been a tourist town since Henry Ford promoted the first road trip. It’s a sweet little burg on the Kern River with a few choices for decent food and old-school motels. It’d be a great place for a lover’s assignation. It was also the last time I ate well and slept soundly.


The best part of a road trip is the people you meet and the lives revealed. Quite often, this leads to wild and amazing adventures and tales often told. It’s fun to meet new people.
I didn’t get any of that. Obviously, the dog dominated my attention but it was the Germans that put the kaput on the kamaraderie. I didn’t meet anyone who spoke English. The Germans love our heat; Death Valley and the Wild West is their Mecca. Everywhere you looked—Germans. Not an Italian or a Belgian for miles. All Germans. In droves.


The trip had another agenda. Nora, a two year old, gets very nervous when riding in the rig. She has a deep-seated fear of semi-trucks that belch and roar. I wanted to teach her a love of the highway and break her need to sit in my lap. It’s annoying, dangerous and really looks stupid.
In retrospect, I forgot what I had been taught: Terriers are Terrorists.
By the time of the car accident, we were both exhausted in our battle. Every time she snuck onto my lap, I’d pick her up and set her back down in the passenger seat. With both hands on the wheel, my arm served as a fence. She learned to wait for her right moment then leap over my arm and land in my lap. Imagine that surprise while kissing a canyon wall against a sheer cliff. My ride down to Kings Canyon, a masterwork of nature, was a real life Hitchcock thriller. We almost flew off the road in Pine Flats. I don’t know how we didn’t end up in a ditch in Glenville. Nora was unrelenting. But so was I.
Just to set the scenario, Nora looks like Dashiell Hammett’s Asta or Tin Tin’s Snowy, both Wire Hair Fox Terriers. She’s elegant. If Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman or Katherine Heigl was a canine, she’d look like my lil’ Nora. She’s a honey. She tries to please. But when she gets scared, she seeks shelter and security with absolutely no regard for automotive safety.
We were coming to a slow stop on a lonely intersection in a grove of oranges near Pixley. A passing truck downshifted with thunder and Nora got spooked. When the eighteen-pound fur-ball hit me in the gut, I must have relaxed my braking foot because we bounced into the heavy trailer of a semi. It didn’t feel like much. The trucker never noticed it.
Only later did I discover the broken transmission hose, sagging bumper and krinkled grill. I got lucky in Visalia, home of the Sweetest Onion, with a sour mechanic and a roll of duct tape.
The accident was a turning point in our battle. After two days, dog and master were war-torn. Maybe there are some tricks you just can’t teach a dog. I didn’t want to tie her down or stick her in a cage. She’s my baby.
I was the first to cave. Slowly, her time in my lap began to increase. We tried to find a position that worked for us both. We were like a couple of newlyweds with a copy of the Kama Sutra; we must have tried it a million ways until we found two. I could drive like Speed Racer if she laid flat, or, sat up straight, looking out the driver’s window. It took three days but we found our bliss.


This road trip realigned a confusion of realities. I realized how manufactured my life had become when I smelled the orange blossoms that hang heavy throughout the great Central Valley. I have been battered by aromatherapy, retail psychology and the cult of ‘fresh’. I had forgotten the languor of a real orange bloom. In the strawberry fields outside Porterville, I savored the smell of sweet. These are sensations that man will never be able to re-create; it can only be experienced in nature.


For the last several years, I have been living like Fitzcarraldo and his fevered dream: mad, obsessed and singularly focused. I stripped it all down; life, friends and family for more speed and greater productivity. With an eye on the clock, I pushed myself further and harder than ever before… That period is over now. The hands of the stopwatch are still. Now I have to breathe slower and must make each action deliberate.


Summer is dancing with the Spring. The bright saffron of the California Poppy is fading. The lavender has become a muted blue. The colors are melting into the golden grass of the rolling hillsides.


On a road trip, your influences and focus are limited to the road at hand and the comfort of the journey. Music is an acceptable influence; an on-board TV is not. To ‘hit the road’ acknowledges a joy in the discovery of the unknown and an acceptance for the processes and cycles of Life. A steaming, screaming radiator is not a tragedy; it’s just a part of the highway. A road trip is a literal and experiential celebration of the journey of Life.


Gigantic became a recurring theme throughout the road trip. The Central Valley is massive and wide and alive and producing. Kings Canyon is aptly named; it is a cathedral of epic architecture. The actual scale of a Sequoia is breathtaking; the treetops do touch the stars. I was not ready for the impact of Yosemite. The whole valley exploded upon me as I emerged from the Wawona Tunnel. It was as if I had been hit in the chest; the sensation was physical. It was then and there. The enormity of Yosemite is otherworldly. Yah, I’ve seen Ansel Adams work, but none of it has ever prepared me for the spectacle of it’s experience. I was staggered by the instantaneous rush of overwhelming AWE. This was not a moment of Transcendence, but one of respect and humility. I was standing before the great face of God.

Economics are keeping us indoors; it’s too expensive to leave the house. The portal of our computers is no longer an entertainment or an aide; it’s a vacuum. Everything we see and hear comes from this one source. There is no clarity of vision, for this worldview is merely a series of manufactured filters. I think this road trip pulled me from the abyss, in the nick of time…
I have to go back in; there are many more Tours of Duty to be fought. I must remember not to confuse my quest for beauty with the authority of nature. I must keep my vainglory in check and stand humble. Never will I create something as beautiful and brilliant as a simple California Poppy. This lesson will stay fresh as long as I keep a foot on the gas pedal and an eye on the road.

GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based artist. His visual and literary works can be found at