“The Road Trip That Never Ended”

Finding purpose in everyday life can make even the most effort-filled days feel effortless, according to this author's reflective narrative.

Before my life stabilized with a family and career, I gave myself to the summer road trip every chance I had. I even spent one summer on the road filming a documentary on romantic love.

It was a quest for truth, and though I don’t think I ever found it, the fact that I set out to search for it continues to shape me. It was a big decision based on a hazy feeling, but I’ve never regretted following the call I heard.

When I was living in New York City, one night a friend showed me some video work he’d been doing. He was an artistic type, like me, and the medium seemed to offer an expansive landscape for expression. I immediately began saving for a camera.

I bought it just as the summer was starting and planned to keep it rolling continuously during a road trip I was taking from New York to Portland, Oregon, to give the best man’s toast at a friend’s wedding. After convincing a fellow groomsman — my buddy, Lud — to make the drive with me, I emptied the back of my parents’ minivan and set out on one of my many drives across this wild country.

I picked up Lud in Chicago and learned he had just returned from a cross-country trip, himself. He’d convinced a long-time crush to allow him to help her move from Los Angeles to Denver and the 3- or 4-day trip had become a month-long tour of national parks and, subsequently, a super-secret engagement between the two.

Immediately taken by the story, and equipped with a new camera and open road, I recorded everything we did and said, much of it a long and enlightening study of the love he’d just found.

After a series of adventures, and our own month on the road, we got to the Portland wedding and made it back home in one piece. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how full of purpose the experience was. We often joked, passing the camera back and forth, that we were making a Sundance film. Sometimes, we lied to strangers about having our own MTV pilot and interviewed them about nonsense. I finished with dozens of hours of footage.

Life on the road was not only more exciting, but more authentic somehow — as though what happened while I was stationary wasn’t the real stuff. I felt like an explorer. For the next three years of “normal life,” a little thought kept spreading across my consciousness: What if I could make time on the road a job unto itself? What if I really did travel the country making a movie?

Lud was convinced that his story bore spiritual significance — that he was called by something beyond himself to find love. Perhaps it was his insistence on this notion, but I began to hear something similar. He had been called to step into a love story. I felt called to tell that story, if only to test his central thesis and determine if I could find any truth in it that would speak to others.

I had this voluminous bucket of footage from the summer when we recorded the emergence of Lud’s love story, so I raised some money and bought professional video equipment. I convinced my younger brother to partner up with me on the project, then called Lud and told him I felt called to tell his story — to capture and document that romantic experience from every angle.

“Hells yeah,” he said. “We’re in.”

We hit the road sometime in July. For the next couple of months, we interviewed Lud and his love (Emily), their family, their friends, and anyone else who had witnessed anything between them.

My brother had never seen the Rockies. We slept in the back of the minivan with boom poles and shotgun microphones and cameras and lights. We barely knew how to use any of it, but it didn’t matter. Taking the thing seriously was effortless. Everyone we met was eager to help. A sort-of famous musician agreed to write and record an album for me to use as scoring and a soundtrack.

It didn’t feel destined, but it felt true and purposeful. We put time and money on the line. We took an idea and set out to work on it. We committed to create something together — a polished film — that was real and concrete and could be shared with others.

Is all that what one refers to as a calling? I hope so. Because that’s what I still follow. I feel the same purposefulness now when I do right by my kids or succeed in work through honest and committed effort.

At the end of the film, Lud is looking into the camera. It was set on my minivan on the day I left the first road trip to return home, during the summer he fell in love. He says we all need journeys like the one we’d been on to clean out the debris that collects in our minds and in our days. The effort and sacrifice we made to set out on that journey gave us clarity, which is why it’s The Trip There that matters (which became the name of the film) — wherever “there” ends up being.

My takeaways were many. But one that remains to this day, that continues to influence my waking hours, is the fact that I’m still making the movie. It’s not about Lud anymore. It’s not about his love story. It’s my story of exploration and purpose. It’s dealing with clients in my day job. It’s guiding my children through divorce and kindergarten and eating vegetables. It’s writing. It’s making the bed and doing the laundry. It’s all effortless when you take it seriously. Even when it requires great effort. And it doesn’t need to be posted to Facebook or Instagram to feel real.

I’m still on those road trips. I’m still trying to answer the call, because I still hear it. Is it the Spirit speaking to me? Is it the universe reaching out in some way? Is it me talking to myself? I’m okay with not completely knowing that part of it. But when all of life belongs in the story you’re living, I think you have to be on to something true. And even the most routine days can be like making a documentary on love.

The idea of making the film never went away after it first formed. When such things occur, the way you respond, saying yes or no, will have everything to do with who you are and who you become. I’ve always favored erring on the side of being bold in that regard. I don’t know if that’s wise or unwise. But it feels right, even when it falls short of expectation.

When I used to be on the road, there was something so sublime about being behind the wheel with nothing but a road almanac. I could go anywhere and do anything. Often, I could be anybody. I don’t think we’re supposed to throw that part of ourselves away when we grow up. I still think we should listen to what is calling us and respond affirmatively. Why not?

Grotto quote graphic about finding purpose in everyday life: "Even the most routine days can be like making a documentary on love."

Be in the know with Grotto