After a breakup, writer and talent manager Nathan Pettijohn decided to rent an RV, leave Los Angeles, and explore the West with his puppy, Raphael (“Hafa”). Though he was inspired to take the trip by author John Steinbeck’s similarly titled book, Travels with Charley, Pettijohn admits he wasn’t interested in “getting to know people or learn anything specific about our society.” Rather, he aimed to reflect, discover more about himself, and have “time to spend in nature with Hafa” as well as the family and friends who sometimes accompanied them on parts of the journey.
Pettijohn’s story strikes a satisfying balance between realistic and idealistic. On one hand, the book feels like a diary, chronicling the author’s days down to the movies he watches before he falls asleep each night. Pettijohn offers up some hard truths behind the great American road trip: the campgrounds aren’t always clean, driving a massive RV can be dangerous and scary, and sometimes you just forget to bring your towel to the communal showers. On the other hand, Pettijohn reveals the awe that can be found in the most unexpected of places—and people. His writing is strongest when he’s sharing the spotlight with his companions, like his brother Aaron. By repeating the refrain, “This is camping,” the reader never loses the sense that, despite its trials, traveling by RV around the country is still a magical and worthy experience.
That said, at times Pettijohn’s irreverent words and actions might cause readers to cringe. He describes an LA neighbor as “a pain in the ass” and a homeless man as a “crazy kook.” And at an RV park in Alpine, Wyoming, he purposely pays $10 less than the clerk had intended to charge him. As his trip progresses, though, Pettijohn seems to develop more self-awareness. He even notes that when traveling, “you should embrace the customs of the town you’re in … as I needed to keep reminding myself.”
Toward the end of the book the author begins to include the types of statistics and background information that give a travelogue depth and breadth beyond an individual’s experience, beyond his earlier decision to “assume that [his] experience was representative, as people do.” This shift seems to symbolize his own growth and expanding awareness during his trip. Ultimately, Pettijohn sought to pass on his advice and experience to readers. In this, he succeeded.
Nathan Pettijohn’s TRAVELS WITH HAFA reveals the not-so-pretty realities of an extended RV trip, while never losing a sense of wonder and appreciation for the journey.
~Christina Doka for IndieReader