Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

more pavement, please

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I made it!

the Route 66 shield at Cadiz Summit, CA

the Route 66 shield at Cadiz Summit, CA

It was late at night, after over 11 hours of driving, when I finally arrived at the corner of Lincoln and Olympic in Santa Monica: the official end of Route 66.  I had read that the end was sort of underwhelming and indeed it was.  Most people move onto Palisades Park at Santa Monica Blvd. and Ocean Ave. where there is a Will Rogers plaque, which is a more symbolic – and more photogenic – place to end the journey.  I did drive on to the park but it was impossible to find parking with the trailer, and my friend and LA hostess Melody was waiting for me at her home… so I continued past the park and the monument, turned off the time lapse camera, put away the EZ Guide that I had been following religiously for the past five and a half weeks, programmed Melody’s address into the GPS, and drove on.

balloonsI have to admit that the end of the road came with a mixture of sadness and relief.  Without my singular goal and daily rhythm of drive-camp-eat-blog-email-backup files-sleep-repeat so clearly marked out for me, I was hit with a wave of emptiness and fear: what next?!  At the same time, I can’t tell you how good it felt to put the map book and the time lapse camera away, and be able to drive whatever route I choose and without the pressure of documenting it as accurately as possible.  As it was, I was already struggling with the reality that I ended the trip in Los Angeles at night time, something I have rigorously avoided doing the whole trip, for the sake of the time lapse document.  But, I figured, it’s LA, glamour and lights and all that – and ending the trip at night time might be a sort of fitting and neat end.  If it looks bad when I do test sequence with the images, I’ll just have to re-shoot it.  At any rate, the release of that particular tether was definitely a relief.

I know I am going to be processing this journey for some time, and I don’t just mean the films.  I know, it wasn’t a radical vision quest in some remote land, it was just driving Route 66 across America… but this trip was indeed life-altering for me.  At the start, this was just going to be a great road trip where I would get to see what was left along this famous highway and to document it photographically.  Because I lost my full-time job, I finally had the time to be able to do just that – to learn about the Route and to personally witness its deterioration and its restoration.  But somehow along the way, it grew into a much larger journey about my own personal growth.  Being alone on the road for so long, camping in unlikely places, experiencing random encounters with people I met, having strangers connect with me on the blog and getting attention from the media because I turned the lemons of job loss into a lemonade of adventure… it all brought me so much more than I ever imagined possible.

For one thing, I feel more confident.  I can feel it in the way I walk, my comfort in my own skin and body – I find that odd, but it’s palpable.  I realize that I am capable of more than I thought I was.  The first few times I parked in a parking lot and put the trailer up, I can’t tell you how exposed and vulnerable I felt.  It felt like there was a big sign with an arrow pointing to my trailer reading, “woman traveling alone HERE!”, and I just hated it.  But after almost six weeks living in that little mobile space, I can’t believe how used to it I have become.  A big part of me just wants to keep driving.

I’m also quite shocked by the blog.  I fully realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was just intended as a place for me to share my personal observations and experiences as well as some info and photos of the road with anyone who cared to read.  I expected mostly just my friends to follow along.  The fact that total strangers have written me and thanked me for doing what I am doing – and have given me money to help do it! – quite simply blows my mind.  I’m just doing what I love to do most: explore and share what I see, through photos and now, through written word as well.  The fact that people enjoy it, get inspired by it and want to support my doing it lends some credibility to the whole notion of “follow your heart , just do what you love most, and good things will happen”, etc.  One thing I know is true from this: you can’t predict what’s going to happen.  Don’t try to look into the future and say what will be if you take an action – you don’t know, and I am living proof.  I don’t know what is next for me, but I know already that I have received so much more than I ever imagined possible from this trip.  So if you have an inkling, some crazy idea of something you really want to do – just DO IT, if at all possible.  You never know what will happen if you do – you can much better predict what will happen if you DON’T.  Listen to your heart and stretch your comfort zone.  You’ll be so glad you did.

A big lesson for me was learning to accept contribution from others (and I am still working on that).  I was always someone who did everything for herself and rarely asked for help.  This trip has shown me that people generally WANT to help!  And, it’s allowed me to begin to accept that what I do has value to others, and to accept their willingness to contribute to me and what I am up to.  This is huge.

What’s more, I now believe that really: people just want to connect to others.  This is so cheesy-sounding, but no matter who it is or how different you may think someone is from you, we really are all the same and we just want to feel connected to others.  I truly can’t believe some of the conversations and connections I’ve experienced along the road, with people I never would have encountered in my daily life before.  Along the same lines, I think we’re too scared.  Sure, there were times where I felt vulnerable and scared, of course… but so far, no one has threatened me and people have been looking out for me more than they have been looking out to get me.  (In fact, the only place I experienced really negative energy from people in the last six weeks has been here, on my own blog – from people reading in the safety and privacy of their own homes – and not out here on the road, where it’s supposed to be scary.)

So although I’ve finished driving Route 66, I’m not at all done sharing what I saw and experienced.  You still haven’t met Mike the homeless guy at the Two Guns ghost town, Ed the beekeeper in Needles, or the Navajo-speaking Mexican at the post office in Holbrook.  I have photos and notes up the yin-yang, and I’m going to keep writing, so please keep reading.  And anyway: I still have to drive home!

Melody above her Route 66(z) shield

Melody above her Route 66(z) shield

After my quiet arrival in Santa Monica, my friend Melody made up for the anti-climactic end of the road.  Not only did she have “Congratulations!” balloons waiting for me;  she had made a “Route 66” shield out of white tape on the road in front of her house with an arrow pointing to her driveway, where a large “FINISH” line was also created in tape.  Classic Melody.  (Actually, the shield said “Route 66 z”, since it was the end / post Route 66 – hence the “z”.)

Speaking of “z”s, I need to get me some.  Good night for now.

Stay tuned.


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