May: The Greatest Month to be an Angler

11312723_10102343375693176_9203714639228523213_o
A pair of late-May bluefish were blitzing the beach on Fire Island in 2011.

Now, undoubtedly this is going to be a controversial topic, and largely a location-dependent argument (and I’ll stipulate that I’m only discussing the Northeast here), but since the internet was born to, above all other things, spark, fuel and then fan the flames of debate, I’ll go ahead and strike this argumentative match by claiming that May is the greatest month to be an angler. Now at this point you’re either thinking: “Yep, he’s right… for once…” or, “Hold on there buddy!” For those of you in the latter crowd, allow me to make my argument, and keep in mind this is coming from a guy who has spent 28 of his 30 years living in either Massachusetts, New Jersey or Upstate New York. Without further ado, May is the best month because…:

Striped Bass: Yes, it’s true, some stripers arrive to the Northeast in April. Holdover fish become more active in the rivers, and in the latter parts of the month states like New Jersey, where I lived for almost two years, will begin seeing what anglers call “fresh fish,” or migratory fish that, being smarter than the anglers chasing them, spent the winter off the coast of Virginia or North Carolina. But I’d be surprised if any serious striper fisherman considered April a “striper month.” May, however, is a different story. It’s in May that we begin to see those first full-on blitzes off the beach where schools of fish are crashing sand eels or bunker. If you were at a bar discussing the month’s exploits with a bunch of striper guys in the Northeast, and admitted you hadn’t hit the water in April, you might get some cross looks from anglers questioning your commitment. If, however, you said the same thing at the end of May, you’d immediately be shown the door.

Bluefish: Go ahead and curse them all you want, and I won’t even touch on their taste when grilled, but if you can tell me that you’re above bailing bluefish on the beach when they’re blitzing at your feet, then you’re far too good for my social circle. Legend has it that the bluefish show up on Cape Cod on Mother’s Day, and while they’re not always punctual, that’s usually a pretty accurate prediction. I’ve caught a few stripers in the surf, but by far my favorite surf memories are of days when you couldn’t get a plug back to the beach without a bluefish stuck to it.

Largemouth Bass: Here, we have a fish that anglers might not consider a “May” fish, because they’re typically in the Northeast considered more of a summer species. But for all intents and purposes, we’re just seeing the final ice come off the water in April, and May offers the first real shot at spending a comfortable day on the water in pursuit of bass. And show me an angler who doesn’t like largemouth fishing and I’ll show you a liar.

Trout: Here again, April is the month when anglers celebrate this fish, but May is the month we have the best shot at catching them. Don’t get me wrong, April 1 in my native Upstate New York is like a fisherman’s Christmas. The popular trout streams and rivers are as crowded as they’ll ever be. But, if you subjected anyone to a Northeast winter, and especially an Upstate New York one, for as long as we usually get them, it doesn’t take much to get us excited just at the prospect of being outside. When I was about 15, I had an opening day of trout season that might echo the sentiments a lot of my fellow Upstate New Yorkers have about the season’s first weeks. I was wading Nine Mile Creek with two cousins when I took a wrong step, and, in hip waders, took a spill into water that had only recently become something liquid, instead of solid. Drenched and shivering, I sat in a friend’s old station wagon, which couldn’t run too long without overheating, and blasted the heat for 10-minute intervals before killing the engine for as long as I could stand. Whether or not my cousins fished longer than they otherwise might have just to make me tough it out, I’ll never know. But your optimism about the opening of trout season leaves your body a lot faster when your body heat is also escaping through soaked skin, I can tell you that much. In late May, however, I’d wade similar creeks by my house in sandals and a bathing suit, and even be upset when the sun finally sank and I had to retreat home.

So, while every 24 hours we get through after that first snow flies is a blessing bringing us closer to another warm-weather fishing season, it’s May 1 that I really celebrate the season’s beginning. And no matter the excitement that June, July and August might bring, we can’t help but thinking that we’re slowly getting closer to snow with each passing day. May, however, we can steal, savor and soak in. I intend to, and I hope you do too.

 

The Heart and Soul Behind Catch a Cure

12091395_10102696255289636_8511669274550224479_oI’ve had a few very kind anglers praise this project, and my ambition to eradicate skin cancer from our planet, and I’m grateful for every kind word, but I’d be remiss to take some kind of credit when there are people, and one specifically, who might not be blogging, who might not be on Facebook, but who is a hundred times the human being I will ever be, and who inspires me every day.

Pictured above is Marilyn Jones, my hero and my best and oldest friend. Ms. Jones, or ‘Nana’ as she’s know to those of us close to her, reminds me every day, every time I’m home, and with each phone conversation, how strong a human being can be, what we can endure, and how we can remain positive.

Marilyn Jones was born in 1934 into poverty, and has worked almost every day of her entire life. More than that, she has created a unique, accepting and loving atmosphere for her seven children and 13 grandchildren… a place where we all feel “home,” in a way we might not anywhere else.

When grandchildren started coming (I was the first in 1986), Marilyn closed up the doors of her yarn shop, where she knitted amazingly beautiful garments and sewed anything that needed mending, and began caring for the next generation. She watched me, my younger cousins, and a host of fortunate toddlers in Upstate New York and saw them through to the beginnings of adulthood. I have friendships to this day that were born in that daycare, and some of my closest friends are from those earliest days.

I am not, nor will I ever be a good enough writer to express how kind and compassionate, strong and beautiful of a woman this is, and I’d do her an injustice just in trying. In a single day, she’ll tell me she’ll mend ripped jeans, cook something delicious for dinner, tell stories from her past that will make you laugh until you cry, or cry until you laugh, and do it all in such a way that reminds you that there is nothing in life you cannot overcome… indeed she has been faced with and challenged by the most heartbreaking of human conditions, whether that was losing loved ones, suffering medical difficulties herself, or… most recently, losing her beloved West Highland White Terrier, Duffy.

But before she even has breakfast or reads the paper, takes her myriad of medications that keep her functioning as best she can, she has an idea for what to do that day, what can be accomplished, what problem can be fixed, what hope can be sewn where there was none before.

She is everything, every day, that I hope that I might some day become, and I am the most fortunate of men to have had her presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

The Most Fascinating Guides I’ve Ever Met

catchacure3
Texas bass guide Randy Oldfield shows off a Lone-Star-State largemouth.

Fishing guides, of their nature, are a fascinating type of person, almost all of them. The fishing guides who think: “Oh, I’ll get paid to fish!” are fishing guides for about three days. The good ones realize that fishing doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Yes, you have to be a great angler, but the job is equal parts tour guide, babysitter, PR rep. for the region, knot-untangler, therapist, conversationalist, storyteller, and… well… suffice it to say that if you can’t multitask, you’d be in the wrong line of work. I could never do a guide’s job, for even a single day, but I’ve met some who do it better than you might imagine someone could before you got to fish with them. Because I’ve been lucky enough to fish with guides in almost all of the lower 48, I could never list all the deserving ones who’ve helped in one blog, and this is by no means a “ranking,” of “best guides,” nor is it meant to be. But these guides will always stand out in my memory as fascinating people to have shared the water with.

Brett Isackson, Florida: Isackson is a bass guide with Bassonline, and these guys have the best. From Steve Niemoeller to Todd Kersey, this group is just hands down a crew of top-notch anglers who are fun to share the water with. The amazing thing about Isackson is that he invented a snake bait. Yep, this guy noticed that largemouth bass, and big ones, were eating small snakes at the water’s edge and he set to making a mold that allowed him to replicate the snake to target those big bass. Now, I’m a fishing nut, but I’ve never said to myself “Let me go home and in my garage try to create a bait from plastic that I melt from other baits, which will fool the bass nobody else is catching.” Genius takes many forms, and Isackson is a largemouth savant if ever I’ve met one.

Brook Hidell, Maine: If you cross the border into Maine from Southern New England, you’ll run into all the “Maine” things: a picturesque coast, more lobster restaurants, shacks and shanties than you could shake a stick at, and beautiful coastline. It’s when you keep going that it really gets interesting. Now, Lake Sebago isn’t way up, as far as Grand Lake Stream, but it’s far enough removed where you’re out reach from the day-trippers from Boston. Hidell trolls flies on Lake Sebago (yep, he trolls flies) for the landlocked atlantic salmon and lake trout that inhabit that beautiful part of the country. Again, he’s just one of those guys that took a unique approach to a legendary American fishery, and like Isackson, he couldn’t be nicer to the people he fishes with.

John Kobald, Meeker, Colorado: Now, first I’ll start off with a confession here… I’ve caught fish on the fly, I love fly fishing, but I’m far from great at it. So if a guide can put me on fish on the fly, he’s truly one of the best. Kobald not only got me some of my biggest browns on the fly when I was in Meeker, he even had his son Shane, who could not have been older than 10 at the time, catching 15-inch brown trout on the long rod. Like Isackson, he’s a guy who loves to create, and he is as good of a sculptor as he is an angler.

Matt Wettish, Connecticut: Although Wettish doesn’t guide for a living, he could if he wanted to, and he guided me to one my biggest trout ever. Here’s a guy who really seems to have pioneered a unique way to catch enormous trout. He fishes for them with ultra… UTLRA-light spinning gear (we’re talking 2- and 4-pound test) to almost create a hybrid method between fly and conventional angling. I’ve only caught a few “truly big,” trout in my life, but one was with Wettish, it was all of 18 inches, and the way we caught it had the ultralight drag singing for seemingly endless seconds.

Randy Oldfield, Texas: If all you did, while fishing with Oldfield, was listen to him tell stories about his life before he became a guide, you’d get your money’s worth and then some. But this guy is one of the best bass guides in Texas. He’s truly one of those guys that just has an absolute fascination with, and appreciation for, all the subtleties that make big bass tick, and he puts that knowledge to great use on behalf of his clients.

Chris Senyohl, Seattle: Seattle was one of, by far, the most beautiful parts of the country I got to see, and I have little doubt that it’s because guys like Senyohl took the time to show it to me. Senyohl chases the native species around Puget Sound in a lot of different ways, but backtrolling for chum salmon from a drift boat was about a cool a thing as you could have asked me if i wanted to do at 24, and I’m grateful every day that I did. Letting him talk me into whitewater rafting? That might be a first- and last-time thing for me.

Chris Robinson, Florida: The Robinson Brothers guide service on Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” are the guys to go to if you’re looking to get away from “Disneyland” Florida for a few days. Robinson is one of the better redfish guides I’ve ever met and a joy to share a day on the water with. He introduced me to oyster rockefeller, a part of Florida I’d fall in love with, and put me on some nonstop redfish action for an entire afternoon.

Tommy Scarborough, South Carolina: This is another one of those guys who, if all you were doing was taking a boat ride with him to hear stories, it’d be worth the money and then some. But Scarborough, who put me up on his couch, hooked me up with a shark and a few redfish in the same week, and managed to even make fun of me while the shark was, in his words “Whupping my butt,” is both a hilarious character and a first-rate angler.

Rob Alderman, North Carolina: Alderman’s specialty, out of the Outer Banks, is kayak fishing. And let me tell you, the OBX is known across the country for its legendary offshore bite, but if you make it to Hatteras and don’t fish from a Kayak, you’re missing something truly special. Again, I’m no kayak expert, but Alderman had me launch in the surf, put me on a few fish, and even made sure I got back to shore in one piece. When, trying to execute a surf landing with the kayak, I flipped the kayak in the wash (waves were breaking hard on the beach) and snapped one of my rods, he said: “At least it wasn’t your neck.” I’ve never felt so good about a broken rod in my life.

Dan Harrison, Massachusetts: I bet there’s a lot of people from the greater Boston area who, in an attempt to see beautiful wilderness, catch wild trout and drift scenic rivers, drive about 40 hours farther than they’d need to. The Deerfield River in Western Mass. is truly one of the most unique bodies of trout water I’ve fished, and when you’re on it you have to keep reminding yourself: “I’m smack dab between New York City and Boston.” The Harrison Brothers guide the Deerfield the way they did out West, and even in Chile, and they bring all that knowledge and experience to bear on a body of water you won’t need to fly back from if you’re a Northeast angler.

(One More) Joe Demalderis: I have the words ‘one more’ tattooed on my arm, you didn’t really think I could stop at ten, did you? Demalderis guides on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and New York and is one of the more experienced and accomplished trout guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of fishing with. Again, he’s one of those guys who is a wealth of information to share the water with, and will send you home laughing with stories to tell regardless of how the fishing is… although I can’t imagine for the life of me this guy floating a body of water without getting his clients on at least a few trout.

Now, it goes almost without saying that I’ve been luckier than most, and I’ve fished with some amazing guides who I didn’t get the chance to list here, because… well, these blogs are supposed to be relatively short, right? But some day I’ll make a list of the best 100 guides in America, although even then I doubt I’d get to list as many amazing anglers as have helped me on my journey and… anglers who… you should definitely make a part of yours.

 

 

 

Can we Finally Say: Print’s Here to Stay?

Drake
The Drake: Always an interesting and enlightening read.

While home in Upstate New York for a weekend this winter, my mother was excited to show me a recent purchase she’d made to play music: A record player. Yep, I’m talking about vinyl. She’d found a record player, and even a few (Springsteen) records to go with it, for sale at a local Best Buy. She was understandably excited, as I’m sure it brought back memories of the first music she owned, played and loved. I’m not sure she’ll be using its capacity to play MP3s anytime soon, but a record? Those she is more than familiar with.

Analyzing trends in the way we purchase and consume media is something we’re all trying to do in this business, with the aim of being one step ahead of the curve so that we might be working on something worth sharing tomorrow, today.

But I have to say (write), trends I’ve been seeing in publishing give me some hope that we are not all destined to absorb every piece of information that we read or view through an electronic device. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I’m missing a limb if I don’t have my phone within reach, but I don’t think it’s the ideal medium for everything we want to read, view or share. That’s not to say I deplore various social media that have crept up in the past decade. Instagram seemingly has more inspiring, beautiful photos every day, and I’ve tried to use it to share my Catch a Cure journey with you as best I could. If ever we needed to be reminded, as Shakespeare wrote, that “brevity is the soul of wit,” there’s Twitter, which, like it or hate it, will make concise writers of all of us who use it.

And we haven’t changed our name to the “United States of Facebook,” but let’s face it… that platform has had a more profound impact on the way we share, consume and absorb content than almost any in the past half century. Here again, I have to admit it has been a powerful tool in sharing Catch a Cure with sponsors, donors, anglers and readers. The advertisers that seemingly know me a little too well… I guess that’s something we have to put up with.

But I recently received my Spring issue of The Drake, and it was a robust 116 pages. Our family just adopted a new four-legged friend, and let’s just say… if you’re a dog person, there’s at least one feature in this issue you’ll like (although likely many more). It’s probably worth noting that I am in no way affiliated with The Drake, although they did publish one piece I wrote a while back, so perhaps I’m not entirely unbiased either.

And I’ve become a fan of a relatively new magazine called Anglers Journal, which I think is looking at conventional angling through the more artistic lens traditionally reserved for fly fishermen.

Of course I have a vested interest in this topic, I’m hoping to start a fishing publication you’ll love, by administering a survey to find out exactly what that is, and while I’d love for that to have a presence in all forms of media, I’d especially be excited if you’d be as interested as I am in putting it on something you didn’t have to plug in.

Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, two magazines I’ve read and loved for as long as I can remember, have held their own on the newsstand while they’ve added a myriad of web options over the years. And, of course, I think many of my New England neighbors would riot in the streets if their On The Water didn’t show up regularly in their mailboxes.

But what I’m cautiously wondering, while knocking on wood… is this: For years as the web grew and became more interactive, capable and dynamic, pessimists predicted that it would only be a matter of time before trees were safe in the woods, no longer needed for print (magazines anyway), which would go extinct as everyone turned to smartphones and laptops for all their information and entertainment.

What I’m finally beginning to hope, out loud, in light of the progress we’ve seen from all of these publications, is this: Is print here to stay? And perhaps… even… grow?

Road Tunes: The Soundtrack Behind Catch a Cure

Clarence
Fishing with Clarence Clemons in 2010 was a dream come true.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

This quote is one that, depending on which stage of life you’re in, might make sense to a greater or lesser degree. If you’re a young person inundated with the various forms of streaming music, free music, YouTube music and every other kind of music, music might just be a constant part of life you are able to take for granted.

If you’re a little bit older, and remember getting a cassette for your birthday, that you could put in the tape deck of your first car, maybe music for you, like me, is the soundtrack to escape, freedom and discovery that paves the potentially rocky path from adolescence into adulthood.

I said recently in a blog that part of the reason behind Catch a Cure was my love for the open road, but that’s only part of the story. Were that ride down the East Coast and out to the Pacific, or that first Catch a Cure, or this most recent one, a quiet one… it might not have been undertaken.

On the road, with the right radio station on, the little nagging thoughts in your head, the worries, concerns, the self-doubt, fear or anxiety…those bumps seem a little smoother as you roll over them, the shocks in your soul respond a little more lovingly, forgivingly.

We all have our own music, and the fact that it is ours, that we discovered it, however we did, is part of what makes it so endearing to us. But the true beauty of music is that, no matter how personal it is to us, we get to share it with a community of people we might not know otherwise. If you are the only fan of a given musician or band, well… I think you’re mistaken if you believe that you are.

With that in mind, in hopes of connecting with more of you music-lovers out there, here are the top three bands that kept the bumps in the road on both journeys less jolting, because the musical shock absorbers were there to help me take them in stride.

Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band: This guy, and his musical catalogue, almost defies any attempt I’d take at describing what he means to his fans. I fell in love with Bruce at the age of 18, and 13 concerts, one tattoo, and one trip fishing with saxophone player Clarence Clemons later… suffice it to say it’s only gotten worse. I am one of those Bruce nerds who could debate the different lyrical versions of Thunder Road with you well into the wee hours of the morning, and if you’re of a similar mind, I hope we fish together some day. But for those of you who aren’t, I’ll quit rambling romantic about the Boss. Suffice it to say he is, and always will be, number one in my book, my first radio pre-set, and a concert I’ll always try to make it to if it’s at all possible.

Pearl Jam: I believe in a lot of ways these guys inherited the Rock throne from Bruce, or at least co-occupy it at the moment. They’ve stood up in defense of important social issues, they’ve written passionately about the political climate in America, and year after year, they’ve produced important, incredible and highly enjoyable music. Like Bruce, Thank God, they have their own Sirius radio station. I once drove 14 hours to Alpine Valley, Wisconsin, and slept in a parking lot for two nights, to attend Pearl Jam 20, the celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary.

The Gaslight Anthem/The Horrible Crowes: I’m grouping these bands together, because they’re headed by the same frontman, Brian Fallon of Red Bank, New Jersey. If Bruce is the old guard in my musical collection, and Eddie Vedder’s the now-accomplished Rock Star, I think Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem is the budding “future of rock and roll.” (Bruce nuts will get that reference…) When I lived in Red Bank, I’d run into these guys once in a while and they could not have been nicer. I’ve seen them in concert a handful of times now, and Fallon is equal parts rebel and poet, and I’m hoping his bands, his solo projects and his musical efforts are the beginning of a career as long as Bruce’s.

The Second Greatest Game Fish… Ever: The Miraculous Striped Bass

 

Hip-Deep in the Fall Run
Fishing Montauk’s coast during the Fall Run.

If you’re an angler who grew up in North America, it’s almost guaranteed that your first love was largemouth bass. For some, it might have been trout, instead, but largemouth bass are almost undoubtedly “America’s Fish.” And for that reason they’ll always hold a special place in our hearts and be tough to top. Your first fish was probably a largemouth, you most likely catch up with your oldest friends while targeting them, and those really old pictures that your mom breaks out, where you’re wearing a Batman bathing suit and have a bowl cut… you’re probably holding a bass in those pictures.

I’d never question or challenge the lore of the largemouth in my, or any American’s, personal past. It’s been an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to target them from Oklahoma to Florida to South Carolina following the B.A.S.S. trail and I certainly learned how much there was that I didn’t know about catching them in the process.

But you know what makes that place you went on family vacations as a kid so special? Perhaps a bunch of things, but foremost among them was that you had to come back, you had to return, it was a limited-time, expiring offer which made every second seemingly more magical.

And I believe that all of us have that fish that, if not first in our book of sacred species, is a close second, and that fish for me is the striped bass.

I was lucky to target stripers from a young age, because our enormous Irish-Catholic family (six aunts, one uncle and a dozen-plus cousins) rented and shared a house on Cape Cod since 1989. Later I’d live on the Cape, then New Jersey and now Boston, and continue to fall in love with them, but it was those first stripers that were caught before I could even drive that endeared them to me more than anything.

And I’ve asked myself repeatedly what it is about these fish that makes them so utterly lovable. Sure, they’re beautiful, they taste great (should you decide to eat one), they fight hard and grow to pretty impressive sizes, but that’s true of a lot of inshore species. And claiming an undying allegiance just because Field & Stream Fishing Editor Joe Cermele designed me a striper tattoo when I interned at F&S seems like a cop-out. There was a reason I was so willing to have a striped bass on my shoulder forever, and it was formed in my soul long before the tattoo artist left the image of a striper on my skin.

I think the thing that is so endearing about stripers is that they bring the mystery of the Atlantic right to our wader boots. These fish, which swim enormous distances from Maine to North Carolina, and range far offshore beyond any angler’s cast, have the curiosity, the decency and the courage to come right within casting distance of any angler with a rod and good timing.

For that moment while we’re connected with one, we’re connected with something more: everything the fish represents, the beauty of the migration, the mystery of the Atlantic, the incredible ability for the species to survive and thrive despite hardship imposed upon it by human beings, and we are connected by the thinnest of possible measures, only a line. When a striper hits a bucktail or a bait, it is almost like hearing a faint whisper on the wind in response to a prayer. We cast, and we pray, with almost certain knowledge that it matters, but that does not change the fact that every surf striper, like every answered prayer, still feels like a miracle come true. And it, I believe, is for one simple reason. No matter how strong our faith in God, we must rationally allow for the possibility that he does not exist, that we are animals, products of evolution, and nothing more.

And along those same lines, every cast we make into the surf is one that might very well be into a portion of ocean empty of striped bass. They may have migrated further down the coast, or be offshore, out of casting distance. On a lake or pond, the body of water is finite enough that it stands to reason that bass must be somewhere, and if we fail to catch them, it’s a reflection upon our inability to do so, not their presence or lack thereof. But with striped bass, no matter how resolute our faith, our rational brain must admit that our attempt might be an exercise in futility. So, every time that it’s not, is though a miracle has transpired before our eyes.

 

The Real Reason Behind Catch a Cure: Coming Clean

DSC_0023 39
The sun sets over an Atlanta highway in 2010.

Alright, it’s time I fessed up, came clean and leveled with you guys and gals that have been reading this blog. I’ve taken to the road under false pretense, claiming a grudge against melanoma and a desire to build, with your help, the best fishing magazine you’ll ever read. But there’s more to it…

I left out a key component: The Road. Since I turned 16, nothing has given me more joy, relaxation, hope, inspiration and faith than the American open road. My best memories are behind the wheel, I’ve dealt with the hardest times in my life by just putting the key in the ignition, and when it seemed like there was little else, there was always something on four wheels with at least a little gas in the tank, an invitation to everywhere.

My first vehicle was a 1996 Chevy Beretta. For those of you who think this is either a gun, or a car that doesn’t exist, I’ll give you a brief primer on the now-extinct Beretta: It was a sports car for people who couldn’t afford sports cars. Mine was a hand-me-down from an Uncle, and while it was a two-door with a V6, it wasn’t exactly a Corvette. But at the time, it felt like one.

When it became apparent that all my fishing gear would never fit in a coupe, my parents helped me upgrade to a used regular-cab Dakota. Here again, if you’re new on the road, you might be going… “Wha…?”

Because, you guessed it, Dodge has stopped producing its mid-sized Dakota. It was a great little truck, but it has gone the way of the Beretta.

Finally, realizing that I needed a vehicle that I could live in, if I was going to fish the entire country without paying for motel rooms, I became a Jeep guy, which I remain to this day.

I’ve tried on numerous occasions to contact Jeep, hoping to enlist their support for my effort, but haven’t had any luck. Still, I can’t help but be a walking Jeep commercial. These vehicles are everything they claim to be, and I’ve tested them to the limit. I’ve had my Wrangler buried in snow in Wyoming, mud on things you’d only call “roads,” to be nice in Florida and Alabama, and most importantly, I lived in one for more than 200 nights from Maine to Montana.

I have never been able to articulate what it is about the open road that calms me down and makes everything in life seem, if not ideal, then at least manageable, but I know when I meet a person who “gets it.” My uncle, Charlie Jones, drives an 18-wheeler back and forth from Upstate New York to Harlem several times a week, and used to drive all over the country before opting for a more local route, and his father before him was a truck-driver. All we need is a road map for hours of mutual amusement. You can try to describe the beauty of the Oregon Coast, the strange feeling of staring into Mexico that you can get in some parts of Texas or the sheer Majesty of the Florida Keys to someone who has never been, but it’s much more rewarding to just talk with someone who has, to just point to a map, nod, smile and say some guy-thing like: “Oh, unbelievably beautiful, for sure…”

Being born on the East Coast, the 3,000-mile expanse to another ocean always seemed to me like a dare, a challenge or an invitation. It seemed as though we were born on the starting line, and a gun went off when we were handed our license for the first time.

But if driving across the United States, or down the beautiful East Coast, has an exact antithesis, it’s a race. There are more beautiful small towns, amazing beaches, breathtaking views and unique communities in America than you could visit if you had a lifetime and spent only a minute in each.

The truth about the road, or what I’ve found, has nothing to do with America and everything to do with you and who you are. When you’re traveling from place to place, town to town, from Maine’s rocky shoreline to San Diego’s beautiful harbor, you discover something that most of us search for our whole lives: Yourself.

The road allows you to be anything and anyone, and at the same time forces you to be something, someone. You cannot hide unnoticed in a cubicle on the road, you cannot lock a door and stare at a television: you move, interact, introduce and become.

At the same time you are introducing yourself to the amazing people of each huge city and small town, they are introducing yourself to you, by forcing you to become just that. Behind the wheel, on the road, you are not an employee or a boss, you are not a son or a nephew, you are not a neighbor or a tenant: You are, and you only are, yourself.

You choose when and how to define yourself with each interaction, introduction and discussion and while the beauty of our country defies description and should be something everyone tries to see all of at least once, the best, most liberating and beautiful thing about the American open road is that it allows you to become who you are, who you’ve been underneath all along, and who you were always meant to become.