Monday, September 6, 2010

UD Student "Auto" Biography -- Ben Kohntopp and his Roadtrip Adventure



Hi folks -- what follows is the first in a series of student "auto" biographies from my current HST 485 seminar. I tell my students to get out on the road like this is worth more than reading a dozen books on America, particularly if you make a number of stops along the way and talk to genuine folks who live and travel on the road.


Benjamin Kohntopp

Dr. Heitmann

HST 485

3 September 2010

The Long and Winding Road

It’s really quite amazing how multi sensory a simple experience such as sitting in a car can be. The smell of the leather and the ever lingering “new car smell” attack your nose as your eyes feast upon the road ahead of you. All your ears can hear (unless the radio is blaring, of course) is the gentle rumble of the engine as it propels you forward, your fingers gently wrapped around the wheel with a certain sense of pride. This was me a little over a month ago, huddled down in parent’s Honda Ridgeline, rambling past Nebraska’s many cornfields with my destination foremost on my mind. This summer, my friend and I partook on a cross country road trip, starting in Toledo, Ohio (my hometown) and ending in the great city of San Francisco, California. It was by far one of the most memorable things I have done and will ever do; and it is all thanks to that wonderful truck.

She was a new truck, barely broken in, really. She certainly had never had the experience of a cross country road trip. At just three years old, this truck had seen very little outside of the flat fields of Ohio. It was decided well before August (well before July, even) that my friend and I would take the trip, but we were not quite sure where exactly to go or how we were going to get there. It was honestly just a careless idea, a whim that I had thought up at the end of the last year. I had told myself that I would see the Pacific Ocean and I was absolutely determined to see that through. After telling my friend about it, I thought up the idea of travelling across the country, but flying was never an option. We wanted to see this country the way people always have, from the earliest of times. The only difference is that we would be going about 80 miles an hour.

So when the moment came for me to pack up the truck and head out to pick up my friend in Chicago, I was a little bit nervous to say the least. I had never been further west than Illinois and there I was, about to embark on a trip five or six times that length (not including the ride back). Yet when I got in the truck, which was now heavy from all of the goodies I had packed aboard, something happened when I held that steering wheel. I honestly felt power. I felt like I was going on a life changing trip and that there was absolutely no way I could back down now. That smell of leather ran through my nose, and the grip of my hands on the wheel got tighter. I was ready to go.

My first stop was in Naperville, Illinois, which is a town just outside of Chicago. I stayed at my friend’s house for the night and, early the next morning, we were on our way. When I finally got onto I-80 west and saw nothing but road ahead of me, I knew then that this trip was going to be something special. We made our way into Iowa, stopping at the World’s Largest Truck Stop (we just had to stop) and slowly but surely finished the painfully boring trip through Nebraska. We were flying. After a good 14 hours of non-stop driving, something caught my eye. Not so much at first, but as I neared it, I wondered more and more as to what it could be. My first thought was that it was just another highway sign. But then I could finally read it and when I did I nearly swerved off the road with excitement: “WELCOME TO COLORFUL COLORADO”.

Before I describe my experience in Colorado, I would just like to point out that the mountains of Colorado are indescribably beautiful. I remember simply staring at them for the longest time, because in all my sheltered life, I simply had never seen something so beautiful. Luckily, we stayed the night in them, taking a back country camp site after a six mile hike. I will not say that I was sad to leave Colorado, simply because I knew more amazing things were in front of me, but I felt like I was losing something. It was almost like saying goodbye to a friend, someone who had captured my awe and attention for so long that leaving them seemed criminal. Regardless, we roamed onward. After another amazing 14 or 15 hours, we finally arrived at one of the most beautiful skylines I have ever seen. We had arrived in San Francisco, and accomplishing my goal was ever closer. After a short struggle in the downtown traffic, we rested in the hotel for a day or two, all the while seeing the sights that made San Francisco so great. After that, we headed to Santa Cruz, California and the ocean. When we finally arrived I was dumbstruck. I had finally seen it and I could not believe it. We made our way down to the beach and the first thing I did after casting my things aside was to run headlong straight into it. The water was bitterly cold, but I just did not care. I was so happy. I sat in the water with a simple but satisfying sense of great accomplishment. My journey was over.

While my friend and I went further, making our way back home with a few stops in the Grand Canyon and in Denver, nothing compared to the feeling I had while I was sitting in the ocean. I set myself out to do something and I did it, but it was certainly not an easy trip. It had taken about 40 hours of driving to get to that ocean, but it was driving that I was more than happy to do. And in the end, all I can do is thank that Honda truck. I would not have made it anywhere without her.

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