The Art of the American Road Trip

Detours, Connections and New Perspectives Along a Dream Road Trip

In the summer of 2021, Russ and Cher Stamp of Port Townsend headed out on a cross-country road trip with no timetable and only a few points of interest in mind. Learn what they discovered on the trip.

Serenaded by a mother-daughter duo singing in arresting harmony, Russ and Cher Stamp sat on a bench and looked out on Lake Superior. Moored sailboats gently swayed in the water and a kayaker floated past. Seagulls flew overhead and the last bit of the day’s light cast a golden hue.

“If we were at home in our own stomping grounds, we might have just walked past and not thought about it,” Russ says.

But they weren’t home — the Port Townsend couple was four days into a nearly three-month roundtrip across the country. They decided to go to Grand Marais, Minnesota, a town of roughly 1,300 people perched on the north side of Lake Superior, after a friend recommended the spot.

The tiny dot on the map was about 250 miles from the nearest cross-country interstate, but detours like these were exactly the point. Although the couple had planned the road trip around Cher’s mother’s 90th birthday celebration in New York, they’d given themselves no other agenda. If they liked a place, they stayed longer. If they had an itch to explore, they got back in their 21-foot van and set off.

“It forced us to slow down and not be in this big hurry to get from point A to point B, to actually take things in and see them instead of this blur from 60 mph,” says Russ, 65.

So, they set out with only a few places in mind to visit in a 2019 Roadtrek ProMaster van that they’d bought two years prior.

The winding Cabot Trail next to the sea in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Along the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. By Russ Stamp.

A Road Trip Without a Timeline

“It wasn’t much of a plan,” Russ says with a laugh. “I’d drive, she’d try to figure out where we were going to stay. We didn’t make a single campground reservation for the whole trip. We didn’t know where we’d be or when we’d be there.”

From the passenger seat, Cher used various apps to find campgrounds and RV hosts, decisions that steered their journey down some memorable paths. They stayed at an alpaca ranch in Montana, a berry farm in Connecticut and in the parking lot of a general store in Maine. A nice couple in Nova Scotia let the Stamps stay on their property, and the foursome ended up talking for hours. In the morning, the Canadian hosts made the Stamps cinnamon rolls, and Cher gifted them a piece of sea glass jewelry she had made.

“We were sitting there with complete strangers in their backyard. We just clicked,” says Cher, 68. “Stuff like that is really special. It’s hard not to think something has led you to that spot.”

Road-tripping, Russ says, has a way of changing your perspective with eyebrow-raising sites on the open road and pitstops at places too small for maps to notice. You witness every inch of your journey and can immerse yourself in the-in-between places. And for the Stamps, that lesson was the most apparent when it came to meeting new people.

“It brought that barrier down that you might normally have,” Russ says. When encountering new people, he says that “sometimes, you feel like there’s an ulterior motive. It’s not something you focus on, but it’s always there until you get to know them a little bit. During our trip, it felt good just to know there’s good decent people everywhere.”

Russ and Cheryl Stamp at Acadia National Park

Russ and Cher Stamp at Acadia National Park.

Making Memories and Connections

Having spent most of his adult life in landlocked Colorado, Russ, who is a photographer of many years, says that seascapes are his recent muse.

Although he captured breathtaking cliffs in Acadia National Park, boat-filled harbors in Maine and colorful houses perched along the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia, some of his favorite photos were taken when his Fuji mirrorless camera was tucked away. The iPhone photos capture special moments when Russ snapped a quick photo just to remember the feeling.

“They take me back to a particular spot,” he says. “To me, that’s what a great photo does. You can almost smell the smells.”

For Cher, the road trip also included a trip down memory lane. A video shown at her mother’s birthday party told the story of her family through nostalgic photos, and the couple made stops at two places Cher had lived when she was in her 20s, including a cottage in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. They stopped into Geddy’s, a pub in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she was one of the first female bartenders in the 70s.

In between their highlights, the couple found joy in the routine of their chore days, doing laundry, refilling their 30-gallon water tank and shopping for groceries. Even driving had its perks. From their bug-splattered windshield, the road stretched endlessly as the countryside changed before them. 

“This trip, it opened up my eyes to the beauty of the country,” Russ says. “When you fly from one place to another, you only see the destination. But when you take a road trip, you soak it all in. It’s how you discover things accidentally and make lasting memories.”

–Written by Emilie Gillespie.
–Top photo of Cher Stamp by Russ Stamp.

Interested in planning your next road trip with AAA Washington? Call your travel agent directly or your nearest AAA store to get pro tips, TripTik maps, and more. Find more Pacific Northwest scenic drives and road trips.

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