Peregrine nation documents a 20,897 mile, 36-state, nine-month road trip around the country, undertaken by Peter Keyes, a middle-aged architecture professor at the University of Oregon, and his 14-year-old daughter, Greta. (We’ve also added a few blog posts from later trips in our trailer, Peregrine).
When it first arose back in the spring of 2015, the idea of hitting the road for a year with Greta seemed like one of the craziest ideas ever. But the more Linda and I pondered it, the more reasonable it appeared. I was really frustrated at work, and it was clear that middle school would continue to be academically worthless and socially toxic. As Jonathan Raban writes, the impetus for most travel is not so much to go anywhere, but just to get away from where you are. The trip was wildly successful at that level.
The second major goal was for Greta to see more of the world. Eugene is a pretty homogeneous place, and getting away to see other cities, landscapes, lives and people (all while eating different foods) at fourteen years old seemed optimum. This worked out incredibly well too, and we quickly realized she had learned more in the first few weeks than was likely in all of eighth grade.
Third, there was the attraction of revisiting favorite places around the country, and also hitting specific places that were more off our beaten track. Having the time to explore and linger, rather than follow a predetermined plan. And to take enough photographs of cities and buildings that would probably last me the rest of my teaching career.
Fourth, we got to visit family and friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen in decades, and whom Greta had never met. This was the most satisfying part of the trip for me, and I only wish I had taken notes on those late-night conversations.
Fifth, we ate fantastic food everywhere; the promise of eating barbecue across the South was one of the three things that convinced Greta to make the trip. We didn’t seek out fancy restaurants, but relied on local informants or Greta’s Yelp searches to find interesting local options. Dinner was also the time when we slowed down every day, sat down in a comfortable place, and talked about the day’s activities. Since our return, we have been cooking a lot more, partially to replicate the differing cuisines we found on the trip, but mainly because finding, eating and discussing food (as Greta was working on her food blog posts) on the road made us think about food more, and that engagement has become a more central part of our lives.
Sixth, an implicit theme for the trip was Climate Change Farewell Tour. I had realized that the world we live in will change dramatically in Greta’s lifetime, and I wanted her to have a good baseline understanding of what it was like for most of human experience. With increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and bigger storms, it’s hard to see how some of these places we’ve visited will still be inhabitable 50 years in the future. Indeed, as we have watched the news over the past three years, it’s been noticeable how many of these places have already undergone dramatic events – hurricanes, flooding, extreme heat waves., etc. They re all real places to us now, not just names that show up on the news.
I’m now rewriting this page four years after we began the trip. From this distance, it sometimes seems hard to believe we actually did it, but on the other hand, many of those experiences are still more vivid than what happened last week. I’m back at the university, and while the teaching is still great, the grinding bureaucracy of the institution has become ever more enervating, especially after the simplicity of travelling. We got Peregrine on the road to Glacier and the Palouse last year; retirement is looming over the horizon, we’ve sold our summer house on Whidbey Island, and Linda and I are contemplating more road trips such as this. (Although Greta has said that we have to get our own trailer, as she wants Peregrine.)
If our lives are much the same, Greta’s has shown the rapid changes that come with adolescence. She’s now a senior in high school, very much into science and writing, co-captain of the robotics team, and getting more into outdoor activities. I like to think that much of her independence, self-assurance, self-reliance and ability to engage with everyone she meets came from this trip, where she had to roll with the punches and get outside her comfort zone every day. Greta turns 18 next month, and college applications are being filled out, so it’s likely she’ll soon be heading back to one of these places we visited.
2020 update: Things have certainly changed this year. We haven’t really left town in five months, and we are amazed and ever more grateful that we did this big trip when we could. Greta was planning on attending the University of Washington in the fall to study environmental science, but the pandemic and online education caused her to reevaluate. She thought about her likely options, and signed up for AmeriCorps NCCC. She’s been offered a position in the Southwest Region (Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming), and if AmeriCorps is up and running, she’ll be travelling the region with a team of around ten members, working on community-based projects. If we visited you on our trip five years ago, and she passes through your area, she will certainly give you a call. And she’ll make it to Arkansas and Oklahoma before I do.