Last day camping with the RV
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Road Trip Without an End – A Photographic Diary – By Zachary Gastin

November 11, 2021

I think most Americans have a special romanticism of the grand summer road trip adventure, and what better way to fulfil that almost obligatory urge than quitting your job, selling everything and setting off in a new-to-you 1992 Chevy motorhome? That is where I found myself after several years of trying to find a better job in a small city that has been singularly characterized by the rise and subsequent collapse of a little photographic film manufacturer Kodak. After several big career opportunities fell through, I began looking into masters degrees with a vague plan that we would relocate to whichever program I was accepted to, and in the meantime spend the summer having the road trip adventure of our dreams.

Last day in our house

Last day in our house Olympus MJU ii, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

Poppy doesn't like driving

Poppy doesn’t like driving

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC Olympus MJU ii, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

First Night on the Road

First Night on the Road Olympus MJU ii, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

South of the Border

South of the Border Olympus MJU ii, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

So began one of the busiest times in my life, as my partner and I began selling off everything that couldn’t fit in the little RV we bought. This included 2 cars, our restored vintage pick-up truck, a garage full of tools, and our house, while also fixing some very extensive water damage inside the RV and doing a full interior renovation. I did manage to fit in a pelican case of cameras and my stash of expired film, but that is the extent of the planning I had for any sort of photography project. The reality of our situation is that it all came together so quickly that we were still working on packing everything up and getting the RV functional the night before our house closed, and we were forced to leave the familiar comfort of our home and driveway for the unknowns of life on the road.

Cloud Burst Over the Bayou, Louisiana

Cloud Burst Over the Bayou, Louisiana Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 160

Sunset in on the Gulf Coast

Sunset in on the Gulf Coast Olympus MJU ii and 2007 Fuji Superia Reala 100 film

Miami, Florida

Miami, Florida Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

Cow pattern pants, cow pattern dog, Austin TX

Cow pattern pants, cow pattern dog, Austin TX Canon EOS Elan ii, 40mm, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

Northern Florida Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

We hit the road on May 12th 2021 with plans to go to Florida first to visit some family, and then only a vague idea of heading out west after that. It became pretty clear right away why we were the only old motorhome on the highways. Trying to keep up with Florida traffic at 70MPH while the wind from passing semi trucks blew us all over the road set the tone for the remainder of the trip, which we tried to keep to backroads and old highways after that.
I didn’t take too many pictures from the first leg of our trip, where we went from New York to Florida, and then across the deep south to Austin, Texas.

I think that road trip photos from old forgotten towns filled with dilapidated gas stations and diners built in that post-war period of space-inspired optimism have become a cliché of film photography, but in all honesty, driving through the forgotten highways of the deep south and rural America left me feeling sad. I felt intrusive just being there, and jumping out of our obnoxiously loud and slow RV with a camera to take pictures of other’s misfortune seemed especially uncomfortable. Instead we tried to just get through it as fast as our old RV would take us, with Austin offering a brief respite from the uncomfortable realities of the deep south.

JAL, New Mexico

JAL, New Mexico Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park Canon Elan II, 40mm Pancake and 2007 Fuji Superia Reala 100 film

Broken Down in New Mexico Olympus MJU ii and 2007 Fuji Superia Reala 100 film

After leaving the south, we made our way to New Mexico where the heat really started to get to us. We decided to change directions and go north to the mountains of Colorado instead of continuing west to California by way of the 115°+ temperatures that were happening in Arizona. At this point we had some slight engine problems that were to plague us the rest of our trip. What was a slight stumble occasionally when leaving Austin, soon became the transmission in limp mode and the engine stalling out half way up a mountain pass after leaving White Sands National Park. So began our 3 week stay in New Mexico. We limped it up to Ruidoso, a little mountain ski town with a few auto parts stores, where I began trying to troubleshoot and replace whatever was causing the issue. After throwing just about every part I could find locally at it, we set off for Santa Fe, where we thought there would at least be a mechanic and more parts in stock.

Echo Amphitheater, New Mexico

Echo Amphitheater, New Mexico Olympus MJU ii and Fuji X-Tra 400

Texas Thrift Shop Cowboy Boots, New Mexico

Texas Thrift Shop Cowboy Boots, New Mexico Mamiya 645e Kodak Ektar 100

Storm Over Echo Amphitheater

Storm Over Echo Amphitheater Olympus MJU ii and Fuji X-Tra 400

We soon found out that we were really no better off in Santa Fe, with the only mechanics that would even look at an old RV booked at least 2 weeks out. We spent another week and a half at an uncomfortable RV park between strip malls and shopping plazas, ordering and replacing everything we could get our hands on. Eventually we had found and fixed so many issues that we were sure at least one of them was the cause of our serious drivability problems and decided to try our luck and head out. We left Santa Fe with the engine still misfiring but at least not stalling out anymore but the scenery unfolding around us as we sputtered out of town and into the desert helped calm the fears of another breakdown. The first camp spot outside of Santa Fe was surrounded by beautiful red rocks and we watched a storm roll across the valley just before an amazing sunset. It finally felt like we were on the trip we had dreamed about for years.

Camping at Hartman Rocks, Colorado

Camping at Hartman Rocks, Colorado Canon Elan ii 40mm 2.8 Kodak Portra 160NC

Poppy doesn't really like cows

Poppy doesn’t really like cows Canon EOS Elan ii 40mm 2.8 Kodak Portra 160NC

Spud Lake, Colorado

Spud Lake, Colorado Olympus MJU ii, 2007 Kodak Portra 160NC

Mining Town Just After 4th of July

Mining Town Just After 4th of July Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

Silverton, Colorado

Silverton, Colorado Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

We made it into the mountains of Colorado on July 1st, as more heat waves hit most of the west. While lower altitudes were hitting 100°+, we spent most of July at the highest altitudes we could find in CO, hiking, biking, swimming in mountain streams, enjoying the chill of the high-altitude mornings and the absolutely incredible and constantly changing scenery of the Rocky Mountains. We hiked a 14er outside of Leadville where we started at alpine meadows in fields of wildflowers, passed glaciers and a mountain goat, and ended on a windswept summit at 14,032ft. We walked along red rock canyons, biked through fields of massive granite boulders, and wandered through old mining towns, all the while in awe of the massive peaks of the Rockies always visible in the distance. After what was quite honestly a few of the best weeks of my life, we decided it was time to head through Wyoming to check out Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

Colorado

Colorado Mamiya 645e, 80mm, Kodak Portra 400

Mountain Goat at 14,000ft

Mountain Goat at 14,000ft Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

Snow in the Summer, Colorado

Snow in the Summer, Colorado Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

Mt. Sherman Summit, Colorado

Mt. Sherman Summit, Colorado Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

The Rockies

The Rockies Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 160

Ice Cold River in Colorado

Ice Cold River in Colorado

Unfortunately what we found as we came down from the mountains of Colorado and into Wyoming is that massive amounts of smoke were blowing in from wildfires that are probably still burning across the west. After a few hazy days camping on a beautiful river, we were excited to see the National Parks. But by mid-day in the Grand Tetons, the smoke had gotten so thick we couldn’t see the mountains and it was getting hard to breathe. Alongside the constant stumbles and misfires, the AC had broken in the RV and replacement parts were unavailable so we were stuck driving with the windows open through the eye-burning thick fog of smoke and increasing temperatures, compounded by a manifold exhaust leak that blasted our feet with with hot air from the engine bay.

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons with a lot of smoke

Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons with a lot of smoke Mamiya 645e, 80mm, Kodak Portra 400

Had to get "the shot" at the Grand Tetons

Had to get “the shot” at the Grand Tetons Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

Got the shot

Got the shot Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

"The Shot" obscured by smoke

“The Shot” obscured by smoke Mamiya 645e, 80mm, Kodak Portra 400

Enjoying a Glacier-fed river in Wyoming

Enjoying a Glacier-fed river in Wyoming Mamiya 645e, 80mm, Kodak Portra 400

After frantically checking smoke maps and realizing that there would be no relief until we crossed over the Cascade mountains into western Washington, and with another heat wave in effect, we had to make the call and get across Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington as quickly as we could after a quick daytrip through Yellowstone that seemed necessary since we were already there. The next few days consisted of driving  early in the morning and then hiding out at RV parks during the heat of the day, until we reached Grandma’s house in Eastern Washington. We got to spend a few days with her appreciating the amenities of a house with AC and air filters while waiting out 100°+ weather and thick hazy smoke. After that, we were just a few hour’s drive into the Cascade Mountains that separate the desert of Eastern Washington from the mild and temperate Pacific Northwest.

Bison, roadside in Grand Tetons National Park

Bison, roadside in Grand Tetons National Park Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

It wasn't really that great

It wasn’t really that great Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

KOA Yard Truck, Eastern Washington

KOA Yard Truck, Eastern Washington Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

Geothermal stuff on a super volcano, Yellowstone

Geothermal stuff on a super volcano, Yellowstone Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

We Waited half an hour for Old Faithfull at Yellowstone

We Waited half an hour for Old Faithfull at Yellowstone Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

Sometimes it just gets tiring

Sometimes it just gets tiring Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

At this point the reality of moving for school had set in, and with tickets booked, our never-ending summer vacation all of a sudden had a very real and rapidly approaching deadline. We made it over Snoqualmie pass on August 1st, escaping the 100° smoke-filled air of the Yakima valley and found ourselves in the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. Waterfalls, lush mountains, giant ferns and moss draped from branches surrounded us while we enjoyed the clear air and cool weather while trying to make the most of every day we had left.

Waterfall in Washington Forest

Waterfall in Washington Forest Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

Remains of Giants

Remains of Giants Nikon FE2, 50mm 1.2 and 2007 Fuji Superia 800

The coldest water

The coldest water Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

A crystal clear lake in the mountains, Washington

A crystal clear lake in the mountains, Washington Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

Cabin in the woods, Washington

Cabin in the woods, Washington Olympus MJU ii, Kodak Portra 400

The Pacific Northwest has always seemed to have some sort of draw for me, although this was my first time really experiencing it. We spent most of August around Mt. Rainier and then driving around the Olympic Peninsula. We hiked to mountain lakes and waterfalls, camped along ice-cold glacier-fed streams, and experienced some of the only remaining old-growth rainforest in the US, surrounded by 1000 year old cedar, spruce and maple trees draped in moss and surrounded by ferns. There was something inspiring, but also incredibly sad to be surrounded by 300ft tall trees, knowing that once-great forests covered the continent, but after just a few years of industrialization, this is all we have left. The massive decaying stumps constantly marking out the locations of where these giant trees had silently stood for a thousand years, and that it would take another thousand years for a forest like that to return.

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park

Hoh Rainforest, Olympic National Park Fuji GA645 and Fuji Pro 400H

Very Big Trees in the Hoh Rainforest

Very Big Trees in the Hoh Rainforest Olympus MJU ii and Fuji X-Tra 400

Hood Canal, Our first taste of the Pacific Ocean

Hood Canal, Our first taste of the Pacific Ocean Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

Giant Cedar Tree, Quinault Rainforest

Giant Cedar Tree, Quinault Rainforest Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

We made it to the coast in mid-August and while the water was certainly not the crystal-clear blue of Pensacola, the gray, drizzly days and cool air off the ocean were an incredibly welcome change from the constant heatwaves. One particular highlight was baking fresh English muffins while watching whales and otters in the waves just off the shore from our camp spot. While the cool weather was welcome, it also brought on a feeling that this was the end of summer, and with it a realization that our summer of freedom and adventure was quickly running out while the to-do list before our move was quickly growing and taking priority.

Sea Stacks at Rialto BeachFuji GA645, 2005 expired Kodak T-Max 400

Sea Stacks

Sea Stacks Fuji GA645 Kodak Tmax 400

Dungeness Lighthouse, Olympic Peninsula

Dungeness Lighthouse, Olympic Peninsula Fuji GA645, Kodak Portra 400

The last few days of our RV adventure were spent at a recently logged forest outside of Seattle and it felt sad knowing that a true once-in-a-lifetime trip was over, and how much of it didn’t turn out the way we had hoped due to vehicle problems and climate events. After two days trying to make the most of very mediocre camp sight after a summer of extreme beauty, we headed into Seattle to sell off the RV and everything else that wouldn’t fit into a few suitcases. The next few weeks would be spent packing up and preparing all the paperwork necessary to move to Germany with a dog during COVID travel restrictions and enroll in university. While our great American road trip has ended, and with it maybe the romanticism of the American road trip, our adventure is not over. I am finishing writing this from our new apartment in a small city in Germany while getting ready to start classes.

I don’t have any great insight to share from the experiences we had on the road, but I know that it has changed how I view the world. Despite all the setbacks and challenges, I will always look back on our photos from this time fondly.

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Phillip
    November 11, 2021 at 11:58 am

    I really loved this post. Beautiful pictures full of emotion.

  • Reply
    Marcello
    November 11, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    Wow! Despite all the engine troubles, what a beautiful experience! Nicely written and illustrated with those pictures! Great!

  • Reply
    Mark
    November 11, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    And the dog is a ??? mix?

    Would be nice if the great photos had a note of location. Yes the narrative gives strong suggestion but a note would be better IMO.

    All the best for your new adventures in Europe and I’ll hope for more beautiful travelogues with no engine issues.

    • Reply
      Zachary Gastin
      November 12, 2021 at 10:17 am

      Thanks! As an old car enthusiast I’m sure I’ll suffer through some more engine issues, self-inflicted of course. The dog is a bernedoodle, Bernese mountain dog and poodle mix.

      I had actually written captions for all the photos but I think I put them in the wrong field. When I get a chance I’ll update them to display under the photos.

  • Reply
    Paul Brant
    November 11, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    good read ; and pics! .
    thanks

  • Reply
    Fred Nelson
    November 11, 2021 at 5:30 pm

    Very nice!!! Wonderful to look at! Good Luck in your new endeavor!

  • Reply
    Alexandre Pontes
    November 11, 2021 at 5:32 pm

    I loved your article and, specially, the amazing pictures. Good luck in your new journey in Germany.

  • Reply
    Harry Machold
    November 11, 2021 at 7:43 pm

    Zachary & Young lady,
    wonderful to read and wonderful to look at all of these pictures. I can so much feel after you..
    I made a trip though the canyons so many years ago; in a Mustang convertible and with no fires at all…different times..
    I see you both smiling and I hope that this all will stay like this forever.
    I am German and live in Austria. However, if there is anything I can do for you up in my home country; please let me know.
    I once lived in Manhattan for 10 years and had a wonderful time…
    Wishing you both the best in this crazy world…
    Harry

  • Reply
    Alan
    November 12, 2021 at 1:51 am

    Real nice travelogue photos there! 🙂

  • Reply
    Steve B
    November 12, 2021 at 2:27 am

    What a great adventure! Thanks for taking the time to post this. What city in Germany are you in now?

  • Reply
    yuze
    November 12, 2021 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for sharing Zachary. What a vacation you had! I’m already jealous just having a taste of your wonderful journey and that’s probably less than 1% comparing the real experience. Hope I can be this courageous some time in my life. Enjoy your time in Germany!

  • Reply
    Will Newberry
    November 12, 2021 at 9:33 am

    Wow! I really admire you for taking such a massive decision. I hope you are happy and successful in Germany. Photos are great, very evocative.

  • Reply
    knipser
    November 12, 2021 at 1:27 pm

    Beautiful pictures and an entertaining travel narrative. Despite the adverse conditions, you always look very cheerful!
    Where in Germany do you live now?
    Greetings from Frankfurt

  • Reply
    Juna
    November 12, 2021 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for taking us on this trip. Despite all problems – which somehow belong to such trips imho, I hope, it still was something you were aiming for and maybe, there will be another trip one day. Europe maybe? Speaking of that: Welcome to Germany. I very much hope, you will have a good start here and whenever there’s something confusing or anything you need to know or help for, just let me know.

  • Reply
    Gary
    November 13, 2021 at 7:12 am

    Very sweet. Ah, youth! The photos are snaps but very evocative. Best of luck in Deutchland!

    • Reply
      Gary
      November 13, 2021 at 8:06 pm

      Typo. Deutschland.

  • Reply
    Kevin Thomas
    November 15, 2021 at 12:17 am

    Great article! Road trips in an older vehicle can definitely be an adventure.

    Oh, and I spy Austin – Jenga building is a giveaway 😁😁

  • Reply
    Jamie W
    November 15, 2021 at 12:57 am

    Thanks Zachary, great adventure!

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