Life on the Road in the Statesian West

The roads we do not know often take us to the best places

By: Carter Clark + Save to a List

Often times I hop into Jeep with intentions of spending time in the mountains with dear friends. Some of those times, I decide to not go back to where I started. It's how life on the road begins. Never planned. Always under packed. Continuously excellent. 


I’m a part-time overlander, full-time nomad. When I find seasonal work that makes me feel super alive, I take it. When it’s more fun to be wandering around in Jeep, I do that. At the end of the summer I left Alaska, bidding farewell to otherworldly glaciers and midnight sunsets, but also a set of walls and electrical outlets. I was eager to be back on the road. In the months following, Jeep and I enjoyed 12,000 miles together. Turns out this country has more than a few epic mountains to explore. I try to have more days spent with them than with the Internet found in public libraries. It feels right and makes no sense and is probably the reason we’re all out here. To sit around campfires and eat each other's cooking and say it was good.

A lack of destination pulls me to the right places in an incredibly efficient way. I have not yet decided if it's a good or bad thing that so many people never leave the main stretches of America's highway system. They're chasing the end of the line and expect network service for their global GPS devices and quick gas fill ups along the way. The wild among them may follow a brown governmental sign that tells of the best places to pull over and take landscape photos without unbuckling their seatbelt. For me, I'll take the crumpled pages of my atlas and the "No services for the next 78 miles" sign any day of the week. 


"The roads we do not know often take us to the best places"


A man among men and someone I'm incredibly thankful to call a friend told me this once. Kern Ducote gets it. He lives it. It's so simple. It just takes going slow. Getting lost. Being a part of where you are. Both of those photos up there are in stretches of land where few humans go. The roads to them come and go with changing weather. There's no signage to tell you just how cool they are. Want directions? Keep stumbling around. You'll hit it eventually. 

Each morning's light brings with it plans of grand adventure. I would meet buddies with the intention of getting lost in a patch of well-known land or to switch belays back and forth on fresh, new walls. The refusal of any sort of schedule leaves me driving all over the place. Cool and clear at the crag? I'm there. Wicked storm's bringing a first snow? Give me a few hours. Hot cup of tea and a couch to crash on? I'll be there tomorrow night, promise.

There is so much moving and experiencing and being. So many hard earned summit sunsets and cabins placed in the silence of snow. You must be intentional to remember how grand the little things are. When friends drive forever to meet you on the sides of remote back roads, cherish them. It's a prettier sight than the greatest of vistas. 

I whole heartedly believe there are few things greater in life than finding an abandoned off trail dwelling. Be still my heart. Timber joinery. Lack of unnecessary walls. Trees turned ladders that lead to the most excellent of lofts. Too good. Every single time. The ones I found in this last season of wandering were awe inspiring. They protected me from wind on nights where everything I own turned to frozen blocks. They stopped rain from stealing my camera. Kept me cool. Taught me architecture. Made me happy. To the creators of these places, I applaud you and hope one day to find you on trail. To sit and chat about your reason for constructing. To hear stories of other dwellers. One day, I will make one of my own and leave it to be consumed by crunchy leaves and dirty boots. Until then, I will continue to wander off trail until I find as many of these guys as I can.

While the time off the beaten path is rich in life, the known world holds some pretty incredible things too. I don't want to miss out on things simply because they are so accessible and lack adventure. Example: I spent a good bit of time up in Yellowstone National Park this season. Slept in an aforementioned off-trail dwelling, became accustomed to bison traffic jams, and got lost enough times to know the best places to hike with only a waning crescent moon. But... I've never seen Old Faithful. As an over-populated tourist trap, it is nothing I want to be a part of. As a geyser shooting boiling water into the air that General Sheridan's men managed to use as a laundry service in 1882, I want to be all over it. Mistake. I'm learning... 


I knew better than to go back to Colorado Springs and not ride the singletracks of Garden of the Gods. Set at the foot of the Rockies, this place has seen this range rise and fall and rise again. Through time, it has seen dinosaurs eat its tropical plants, sea serpents surf its shallow waters, and mammoths trudge through the depths of its snow. The gravity of just how awesome that is was not lost on us as we biked through in this morning's sun.

Life is full of wonder and all kinds of good out here, but that is not to say it's without fault. Every so often a large rock will fall off a mountain and make acquiantances with Jeep in a very ungracious way. Engine lights go on. Tires go flat. Sometimes you wake up and the only thing greeting you from the warmth of your sleeping bag is your window's explanation of how arctic-like the conditions are outside. Guess what? It will all end up fine. Onward.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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