A Modern Odyssey: Kevin Mascitelli and His Cross-Country Road Trip

A Modern Odyssey: Kevin Mascitelli and His Cross-Country Road Trip

Everyone thought I was going to die. It was difficult to resist agreeing with their looks of concern and easier alternatives. But the decision to embark on a solo road trip from Pennsylvania to California was already made. I picked an arbitrary date in mid-July and began preparing for my newest travel adventure. 

This voluntary odyssey was, in part, practical. This September, I will begin a graduate program in the sunny state of California. With a modern twist, I join the old American tradition of heading west for better opportunity — and though there are no covered wagons nor dysentery — the risks of disease and natural disaster are uncanny in the summer of 2021. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I nervously checked the weather reports and the wherewithal of my Toyota Camry.

What a cross-country road trip looks like,
A: Philadelphia, PA B: Huntington, WV C: St. Louis, MO D: Burlington, CO E: Ogden, UH F: Boise, ID G: Monterey, CA

Hometown

In a quiet corner of Pennsylvania, the morning was clear and hot. My car was packed, and my family asked for one more photo before I left. More than a year ago, in March 2020, I moved back to my hometown to weather the pandemic in a familiar setting. Despite the uncertainty, it was a comfortable time filled with campfire reunions and long walks down country roads. I watched the seasons change from my apartment window, uninterrupted by the excitement of weekend travel plans. I adopted pets, established a routine, and went to bed early. My life was happily domesticated. 

As I pulled out of the driveway, I wondered why I was leaving all that behind. Travel is funny that way — you can be swept up by a capricious desire to explore and feel the gentle nostalgia of the past all in the same morning. Somewhere, hiding in this soup of emotion, you’ll find a subtle appreciation for where you’re going and where you’ve been.    

The Road Trip Begins in Appalachia

If you ever get the opportunity to visit West Virginia, take it. Hidden away in its valleys are countless humble mountain towns. They charm visitors with antique stores and main street restaurants nestled in the great green wilderness. Spend the night, and an orchestra of frogs, crickets, and the occasional dog bark will be your soundtrack. These towns exist independently of each other, their perimeters marked by gas stations and farm fields. I drove through the Monongahela Forest, cutting across the center of West Virginia to “make camp”  in one such town.

I kept a schedule during my road trip. Each day,  I woke up around 7 am and drove until around 5 pm. Because I was driving solo, I thought a regular schedule would be a good idea. For lunch, I usually found a coffee shop with warm chai lattes and a comfortable place to sit. When I got tired, I would stop driving and go for a walk.

On my second day of driving, I found a quiet place to park, walk, and make a PB&J sandwich somewhere in southern Indiana. Rocks crackling underneath my tires, I parked in a dirt lot off Hatfield Road. Even after I removed the key and the car engine stopped, the cool AC air lingered until I opened the car door and the earthy scent of petrichor poured in from the forest. Moments like these were intermissions in the monotony of the highway. Surrounded by tall trees and dense underbrush, I stretched my legs and wandered along a trail for 45 minutes. Then I got back into my car and continued my journey.  

In-Between Places

Eventually, after I crossed the Mississippi, the hills and their features gradually faded away. Each town had fewer buildings than the previous one, and the space between the towns seemed to stretch out farther and farther. This was Kansas. A fertilizer plane flew parallel to the highway and suddenly turned around to make another loop. State troopers zealously patrolled the highway, so I switched on cruise control and observed the empty landscape. A peculiar haze had settled, and visibility was low. Oil derricks bobbed up and down in large fields next to the highway, adding to the unsettled atmosphere.

It was like this for hours, an odd repetition. During this time, I realized that much of the county is empty. Though, I quickly learned that there are different qualities of emptiness, just as there are different types of colors.

Wyoming, for example, was empty but in a way that made me feel tiny. The emptiness in Kansas made me feel submerged. When I arrived in southern Wyoming, I had reached another planet composed of massive hills and auburn grass. There were hardly any man-made structures along the highway in Wyoming, providing testament to its status as the least populated state in the contiguous United States. Driving through these beautifully empty states was like looking up at the night sky and tracing a path between distant stars.

Interstate Flora and Fauna

Instead of wildlife, most interstate highways are home to an impressive ecosystem of semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, tractor-trailers, and camper vans. On Route 80, the herds of drivers gather at gas stations where they can rest and refuel. The gas stations vary in name, yet all offer the same amenities: food, water, coffee, and a bathroom.  If someone asked me to describe the thread that connects every American town, I would start at the gas station. Almost by definition, every American town has one, a visitor’s center of sorts. Gas stations give character to their town, providing unleaded gasoline and a vague sense of community to its patrons.

The Golden State

During my 3,000-mile journey, the first time I hit traffic was after I crossed the state line into California. It was fitting. Suburban sprawl and strip malls reminded me of the east coast. The backdrop differed —  golden hills, dotted with emerald green trees, accentuated by a clear blue sky. They encircle the horizon in waves that seem to spill over each other.

My destination was the seaside town of Monterey, a bizarre place with a historical past. If the United States were a lofty building, the rocky peninsula on which Monterey sits would be a small auditorium. An auditorium that remains vacant for most of the year but fills on occasion for magnificent gatherings.

I drove towards this town on the Pacific Ocean, and as my road trip neared the final few miles, I felt melancholy. It is a sad fact that all journeys come to an end, some endings more glamorous than others. But, at the same time, it is also true that an unceremonious ending may give way to an exciting beginning.

25 thoughts on “A Modern Odyssey: Kevin Mascitelli and His Cross-Country Road Trip

  1. Well written and a great emotional description of what it’s like to cross America. Similar to when we did Route 66, it sounds like your quest was an experience you’ll never forget.

  2. What an awesome trip! My husband and I have talked about renting an RV one day and doing a cross-country trip designed to stop at as many National Parks as we can. We are limited to the summer months only, though, since we have two boys in elementary school and need to work around their schedule.

  3. So amazing! I would love to be able to travel all the way across the United States and see all the amazing sites. That is great Kevin was able to do that.

  4. I like road trips, especially the ones that are unplanned. I’d like to go to random places. Your travel seems so enjoyable.

  5. I understand the mixture of emotions. I went to my childhood home at the start of the pandemic and I experienced them too.

  6. Nnnniiiccceeeee…I would love to take a trip like this! I wonder how long you took on this trip because the US is one large place!

  7. I admire people like him! The effort and the discipline.. I once dream of having a cross-country road trip.. But time and money won’t allow me..

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your adventure. I’ve always wanted to travel cross country but only made it as far as Nevada (Vegas) lol Lovely photos!

  9. What an awesome road trip. This is the kind of trip i want. Imagine embracing all that beautiful scenery from one state to another. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to drive. However, I’m sure my friends would love to engage on such a road trip with me.

  10. Gosh, I missed road trips so much. Though our roads don’t look that way, it’s still great to be able to travel again

  11. Taking a trip away gives our minds and our bodies a chance to let go of everyday stressors. It’s about saying ‘yes’ to doing things that we enjoy, slowing down and taking care of ourselves. Some time out helps you come back refreshed, ready to take on the world again!

  12. Wow! This is actually one for my bucket list. To do a road trip from east to west. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience. You just inspired me. Bookmarking this for future reference.

  13. Looks like an amazing road trip and there is nothing that I love more. We always usually travel by car as it is an experience like none other. ;)

  14. Great read! Sounds like you had an amazing adventurous road trip 😍 It’s my dream to do a long road trip with my husband from one state to another in my home country India!

  15. Such breathtaking views. It’s a dream of ours to go on a cross country road trip. I hope we get to do it someday.

  16. A beautifully written article Kevin ! While reading it I felt like I was part of this road trip. I always wanted to visit West Virginia because of John Denver’ song ” Take me home, Country Roads” and you convinced me to do it.

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