'Escalante's Dream' Retraces The Steps Of The 'Spanish Lewis And Clark'

'Escalante's Dream' Retraces The Steps Of The 'Spanish Lewis And Clark'

Perhaps the greatest irony of the road trip, what Escalante's Dream author David Roberts calls "that quintessentially American concoction," is the façade of structure.

Weight-bearing or purely ornamental, nearly all of the classic road trip narratives establish a framework for the journey. As John Steinbeck writes in Travels with Charley, "When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going."

For Steinbeck, the pursuit was a literary one, or so he had us believe. "I, an American writer, writing about America, was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir," he wrote. "...So it was that I determined to look again, to try to rediscover this monster land." In the 1983 classic Blue Highways, author William Least Heat-Moon set about tracing America's backroads, printed in thin blue lines on the road map, after losing his university professorship. "For a man who couldn't make things go right could at least go," he wrote. And what of Kerouac? Campus life had "stultified." The zestful Dean Moriarty awaited him out west. But most importantly, "I was a young writer and I wanted to take off."

The burden of identifying even the faintest reason for the journey, of pursing an explicit goal, makes sense in a literary scheme, and yet what most of us — I hazard to believe — love about the road trip is the implicit spontaneity of the exercise. The freedom to ditch the map, to swerve off the itinerary. It's the unqualified acceptance of random acts, and the genre's canonical works take full advantage of the freedom to maneuver in whichever direction one well pleases.

But in Escalante's Dream, author and noted mountaineer David Roberts does just the opposite, surrendering in nearly wholesale fashion to the itinerary. 

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