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want a copy of Travels with Charley?

I so enjoyed John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America that I just purchased two copies to give away on this blog (see end of post for more information). Steinbeck not only identifies something similar to my deep down desire to just Forrest Gump it out of town, but he also gently suggests that being “away” only satisfies for a bit before you find yourself longing for your own bed and your people.

The first few sentences:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job.

Instead of waiting on senility, Steinbeck decided to go on a 10,000 mile road trip around the country with his dog Charley, starting and ending his journey at his home in Sag Harbor. He knew he’d need a special vehicle for this trip, so he had a truck manufacturer build a home on wheels (not wanting the hassle of pulling a trailer). Having a compact unit made it easier for him to just pull over in a pretty area or when he was too weary to keep driving and camp for the night.

this is Rocinante, the truck and camper that served as Steinbeck's home on the road – he special ordered the camper, asking that its builder create something like the cabin on a small boat – Charley the dog generally rode in the passenger seat of the cab

Steinbeck describing himself:

For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.

Awesome. He says similarly righteous things about his dog Charley, a standard poodle that was blue in color. That man loved his dog. I, of course, kept envisioning my own Travels with Stella: Seeing America with a Ratdog. Coming soon.

Steinbeck and Charley

After reading Travels with Charley, I’m left with this. Travel. See the countryside. Interact with the people. Take their temperature and, by extension, yours. Note the similarities and differences of place. Enjoy the beauty that the land has to offer. Spend time communing with your dog and with the earth. Take the old highways (not the interstate or the toll road) so you can actually see the countryside. Know when it’s time to go home. And return there gladly.

the interior of Rocinante, now stationed at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (if I'd read this book just a few weeks ago, I would have taken the time to visit Rocinante when we were in California – the museum is just 20 or so miles from Carmel) – love the dog-themed curtains and great use of space


  • National Steinbeck Center
  • Not even in the same universe as Rocinante, but you can get a tent for your pickup (so you don’t have to sleep on the ground) for amazingly little money. If you don’t have a pickup, you can get a tent that sets up on the ground but attaches to the ass end of your SUV (the back doors of which would open directly into the tent).
  • I’ve shared a link to this site before – it’s a place to buy a small pop up camper trailer that can be pulled by a motorcycle or small car. Even my Mazda!

BOOK GIVEAWAY: If you’d like a copy of Travels with Charley, please leave a comment on this post about your wanderlust – tell me where you want to go and why or share a story about where you’ve been and what you found. If, by the grace of something, more than two of you share a story, I’ll find some way to randomly choose two of you and will email you for your mailing address.

Comments (



  1. artbuild

    When he took his trip in 1960 the Interstate highway system had only been approved 3 years before so not much of it was yet built.
    The blue highways were the only choice. Funny thing is now some of the earliest completed interstates have been in place longer than some of the roads on Steinbeck’s route were at the time.I first travelled through Tennessee on its’ interstate in 1968. Now that road seems hoary and in need of replacement.

    If you would like a similar but more recent travel the highway story by a much less talented writer try ‘ Blue Highways’ by William Least Heat Moon.


    1. Crystal Jackson

      Thanks for the recommendation. I will add it to my ever-growing list.

  2. Conn

    Back in 1998, I lost the job I had been at for the previous nine years, and as usually happens to me in that situation, I fell into a nasty funk. I wasn’t doing too well, until I got a call from my step-brother up in Illinois telling me some bad news involving my nephew, and when I told him I wish I could be there, he asked me “Why can’t you? You don’t have anything holding you down right, why don’t you get your ass up here?”. It was like the clouds had opened up and a shaft of dazzling sunlight flooded down on me. I totally flipped my perspective and realized that I was in a very powerful position, I could be anywhere I wanted to be at that moment. I had a decent amount of money in the bank, I had just bought a new car a few years before and I could check in with the unemployment office from any phone in the world.

    So, I packed all of my camping gear and clothes and a big cooler into my Saturn and hit the open road. That road trip ended up lasting three months. I headed up to Illinois and got to visit with family for an extended period of time, and drove my Mom & Aunt Barb to upstate New York to visit my sister for a week or so, then stopped in Niagara Falls on the way back to Illinois. Then I headed out east and visited Chicago & Philadelphia, stayed a few days in Gettysburg and walked the entire town and battlefield a couple times. I camped out halfway between Baltimore & D.C. at a KOA and a van would come every morning and taxi people to the Metro station. So, each morning, my biggest decision was if I was going to Baltimore or D.C., that day. I drove down the Blue Ridge Mountains and cut across the West Virginia, and I swear, if that state was flattened out, it’d be bigger than Texas. I don’t think I encountered a flat spot the whole way across. I drove down the Bluegrass Parkway and visited Mammoth Cave and stopped for a tour of the Maker’s Mark distillery. Visited Nashville, Memphis, & Kansas City, and drove through Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozarks. Then I had to decide if I was gonna visit New Orleans or not, but I decided to point my nose towards Texas instead, and eventually ended up working my way to Austin. Emma was going to UT then, so I stayed with her. When I picked up a copy of the Austin Chronicle, I discovered that Son Volt was doing a seven gig warm up tour of bars before their arena tour and they were gonna be at Antone’s on Wednesday, then the Satellite Lounge on Thursday. So, my road trip ended with me catching the show in Austin, where Doug Sahm jumped up on stage with them; then the Satellite Lounge show, the following night.

    There were many, many mini-adventures and special moments throughout the three months and I met an army of new people throughout the journey. Many of the people I met and conversed with were out traveling because they were retired, and when I told them my situation and what I was doing, almost all of them told me that they wish they had taken the time to hit the open road when they were younger. It’s one of my life experiences that I cherish the most.

    1. Crystal Jackson

      That’s awesome, Conn. Thanks for sharing. (I think I worked that Son Volt show at the Satellite…)

  3. M

    I long for long, dusty travels down dirt roads in Texas. Through towns with names like ‘Dimebox,’ ‘Bonus,’ and ‘Uncertain.’ Where cattails and johnson grass dominate and dogs and chickens roam free. In this dream, I’m always in a pickup truck, it’s faded teal, old and busted with a radio that plays only Joe Ely, Shake Russel, Lyle and other Lone Star Troubadours. the window is always down so that i can hang my elbow out and wave to citizens. I eat at diners with torn screen doors that lure me with promises of butter grilled cheese sandwiches, sweet ice tea and homemade pies. I’ll sleep in similar establishments and finally write my Great American Sentence.

    1. Crystal Jackson

      You should be good for at least a novella, if not a big daddy novel. And then you can record the audio book with your melodic voice. Like father, like daughter – your dad is published, after all.

  4. Janel

    I love this book!!! I first read it on one of our family cross-country vacations (I think Texas to Idaho). The book has long since disintegrated from repeated reading.

    I blame my travel bug on my parents. We used to go on cross-country trips every 2-3 years. I’ve traveled to just about every state (except Alaska, N & S Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas & Maine) and half of the Canadian provinces by car. Two of my favorite 4-letter words are “road trip” (right after “shoe sale”). I get twitchy if I don’t drive across multiple state lines every few years. Your blog is rather timely. I’m in the process of planning my upcoming vacation to far West Texas. I’ll be driving out to Marathon, Marfa, down to Big Bend and the Rio Grande. I can’t wait to get off I-10 and really see West Texas.

    Thanks for posting the pictures of Rocinante. I’ve never seen her before, but she looks close to what I always imagined she would.

    1. Crystal Jackson

      Hi, Janel! I’m so glad to have finally read this book. I was talking to my brother about it, and we discussed the fact that there’s a lot to see just in Texas alone. I’ve never been to Big Bend (spent one very short night in Marfa on the way back from Grand Canyon but was in bleary-eyed road trip mode and didn’t see much). I’ve never been to the Panhandle, haven’t been to East Texas since I was a kid, don’t make it to Central Texas very often and have only been in far West Texas once. So maybe instead of leaving the state via airplane, our 2011 vacation will be a road trip around Texas. You can certainly spend a long week going from section to section and still not see it all.

      Have a great time on your trip!

  5. Curious Genius

    Howdy again,
    One of my favorite books. “Blue Highways” is good too. The bit of describing himself is a favorite quote of mine, much deployed eons ago when Austin was my home. If you have not read them yet, “Tortilla Flat” and “Cannery Row” are also magnificent but often overlooked, albeit more fiction than autobiography. Their being overlooked is understandable given the greatness of “Of Mice and Men” and “Grapes of Wrath”.
    I too appreciate the photos of Rocinante. I had only previously seen the interior shot and the one of John & Charley. Loved the bit with the Redwoods.
    Before I go I must applaud your efforts in giving away copies. I myself have distributed two or three copies. I currently own 2. It is one of a couple dozen or so that I will always pick up used for a little money with the sole intention of unloading it on some unsuspecting person who admits to never reading it in my presence.
    Some of the others, because I suspect you might be interested are, “The Autobiography of Malcom X” as told to Alex Haley, “Dharma Bums” & “On The Road” by kerouac. “Catch 22″ by Josephe Heller, A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess, “The Sound of the Waves” by Yukio Mishima, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “Candide” by Voltaire, “Dune” by Frank Herbert, “The Education of Little Tree”, by William Least Heat Moon, and some others. Newest on the list is “Oryx and Crake” by Margret Attwood & “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. I seem to remember I mentioned both of those last two the last time I commented here.

    Books – among the best things we do on this rock.

    1. Crystal Jackson

      Well, that’s two votes for Blue Highways, so I’ll be reading that soon. I sort of think that, aesthetically, mid-last century on the California coast is an era I would have dug writing in. Hanging out on the rugged central coast before the yuppies arrived, writing about the land and the road and the wind-burned people. It was a boys’ club, but I can hold my liquor so I think they would have allowed me in.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing some of your favorite titles.

  6. Curious Genius

    Oh Crystal! Given that comment you really need to read Tortilla Flat. And I goofed in my previous post. I’ll blame it on a mental slip. The Education of Little Tree is by Forrest Carter, not the same guy who wrote Blue Highways.

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