Just outside a gas station in the middle of the Nevada desert, they can all see it—something dark on the horizon. Standing by their road-weary trailer, the three Boston natives squint their eyes and watch as it comes closer, a pillar of cloud streaking down the highway. Soon, they can view it clearly: a car is towing an RV trailer engulfed in flame. As the vehicle careens down the road in a wild sprint, fire is bursting through the trailer windows leaving a trail of black smoke in the onrushing wind.
Ross and his two friends, Matt and Josh, have been on the road for just over three months. And the surprises just keep coming. Seeing the car wheel into the gas station, they run to the vehicle where the driver slams on the brakes and leaps out. The driver, an elderly man, and his wife begin frantically unhitching the trailer and trying to rescue the propane tanks before they ignite. Ross and his friends, shocked at first, finally react. Dropping their gas-station coffees, they search their own trailer for anything that can help. Ross finally emerges with a comically small fire extinguisher. Spraying the smoldering wreckage with the six-inch can is all he can do. It's like a scene from a dark comedy.
Other than that, there's little anyone can do, except watch the trailer melt into a blackened shell. When the fire department arrives, there's nothing left to save. The driver and his wife are flustered but safe. And as Ross and his friends take their own trailer back onto the highway, they can't help but feel lucky. With three wild months on the road behind them, Ross admits, “It is entirely possible that your trailer can be totaled at any moment.
Before his coast-to-coast journey began, Ross Friedman had never driven an RV. But Ross has always had the attitude of a camper: He does what he wants and does it on his own terms. At age 22, splitting time as a student at Suffolk University in Boston, he'd already founded a company that manages college concerts and nightlife events. So in 2020, when COVID closed the nightclubs and pushed the university to remote learning, Ross got tired of being boxed in. So he planned a road trip.
Having been in the music industry, he'd seen stories online about RVing and loved the concept. Over the course of the winter, Ross pitched the idea to his friends and began researching worst-case scenarios on YouTube. He was going to make this happen, and by the end of January, he'd already bought a 2011 CrossRoads RV Sunset Trail. He scored some recruits too: Matt Young, a local friend and DJ, who joined the trip on a whim; and Tim Mo, a fellow student and photographer. Personally, Tim had never seen the Deep South and interior of the country.
“Boston was closed,“ says Tim, “And I wanted one whole season of adventure.” Which made this trip too good to pass up. Together, the three acquire a used Chevy Suburban with an 8,000-pound towing limit. Embarking in February, they have no plan whatsoever for the road.
A blown trailer tire, the first of several
The Big Brake Down
YouTube can only prepare you for so much. Just a few weeks into the trip, en route to Atlanta, a message on Ross' brake controller pops up: The trailer's brakes are engaged—even though his foot is on the gas. Immediately pulling off the highway into a nearby vacant lot, Ross hops out just in time to see the trailer's back left tire explode. Plumes of smoke engulf the tire, and everyone scrambles out of the Suburban to throw water on the fire. Ashes cover the brake drum. For a good moment, Tim is prepared to see the entire trailer go up in flames. But as the smoke dissipates, the trailer remains intact.
Stuck in the middle of nowhere, they finally find a truck repair service. Turns out that the old, electric brakes short-circuited, causing the whole mechanism to engage while Ross was driving. The heat from the friction melted the entire braking system. Blew the tire right off the rim. Close call. From here on out, everyone in for the ride is on alert mode. Ross even considers abandoning the trip. But instead, they learn how to deal with disaster. Later in the trip, they'll have responsibilities down to a science: Ross digs out the jack and tire iron; Tim directs traffic.
Tim and crew crossing an intersection in Daytona, FL
When Prayer Goes South
Approaching Atlanta, the city teems with life, especially when compared to a chilly, shut-in Boston. At last in the Deep South, the crew heads out to hit the night clubs and discovers it's also the NBA All-Star Weekend. (A real double double.) Eager to cut loose, they hit the town, making tentative plans to visit Daytona Beach next. Once back on the road, the Boston troop makes a stop at a beautiful RV Park near Stone Mountain, mystified by the strange men on horseback chiseled into the rock face.
Pressing toward Daytona later that night, another tire blows. The trailer is stranded on the roadside. In the middle of rural Georgia. Surrounded by farmland. A small house is nearby, and within minutes, a man approaches from the house asking if they need help. Ross politely refuses: They've dealt with tire issues before. But as the sun sets, Ross realizes they'll need a new tire. Just then, the man's wife and teenage son emerge from the house and walk down to trailer, with all their Deep South hospitality in tow.
“Howdy, y'all! You guys need anything?” She asks, even adding an invitation, “Do you want to come in for dinner?” Ross and Tim say that they're alright, but she's not letting them get off that easy, “Well, if you won't let me do anything, at least pray with me.”
Everyone, weary and heavy-laden, makes a small circle on the side of the road as the Georgia family lifts the travelers up in prayer. (Tim had wanted to know what the Deep South was like.) And sure enough, a blessing came.
Arriving at last in Daytona, Ross discovers a sweet RV park with a spot directly on the beach and full hookups. Somehow, it's Daytona Bike Week, for which attendees often book years in advance. Ross laughs, “If we had planned it, we wouldn't have made that happen. It was just so accidental and lucky.” Tim smiles with a wry theory of his own: “Peak effectiveness of the prayer circle.” Watching the stars light up the night sky at Daytona Beach, it does feel like a miracle. There hasn't been a plan since leaving Boston, but here they are.
Passage to the Pacific
Continuing to press westwards from Memphis to Hot Springs and from Hot Springs to Texas, Ross and his rambling crew enter their second month on the road. In the Suburban, trailer in tow, Ross drives down a single-lane road on a foggy day into Corpus Christi. Everyone's cell phones are rolling in and out of service as they enter Mustang Island, State Park. This is their third attempt at finding a beach where they can camp, and morale is in the dumps.
No one even sees the name of the beach as they arrive. But something changes. An unimaginably wide expanse of flat sand extends down to the water, with plenty of room to boondock near a sand levy. As day flows into evening, the fog lifts, and the sun makes an appearance. Everyone watches it set over the beach, its orange orb fading away from the long, blue waves that make the edge of the earth. With the sound of the tide in the background, Ross fires up their generator. Matt begins setting up a DJ booth, and the aura is complete—laughing, listening to music, mingling with other RVers (and noting how much better their RVs are). The next morning, they wake to the sound of sea waves. Tim says he will never forget that feeling.
Still proceeding west, they ride horses in Palo Duro Canyon, stop by family friends in Colorado, trek through the red rocks of Utah—crisscrossing their way to Los Angeles, where they pick up their friend Josh, and Tim catches a flight back. Reaching the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, they park on a cliffside just off the Pacific Coastal Highway, an expanse of cool ocean stretching out to the golden western horizon. Then it's north to San Francisco, where it's time, at last to head back home—cutting through the Northern Nevada desert, with its flaming trailer.
A Wanderer's Return
Turning back east, Ross takes a route with one last destination in mind: Yellowstone National Park, where he wants to boondock. He recounts, “We went to the middle of nowhere, and then turned left and kept going.” Heading into an area with no defining geographic features except a small lake, the Suburban winds across dirt roads and switchbacks to a lonely RV park designed for boondocking. Their surroundings are a picture-perfect postcard. With mountains all around and the lake lying still in front of them, Ross sets up camp as the ever-dimming rays of the sun play on the face of the water. It's June, and the night only begins to set in after 10:30 p.m. Then the bright moon rises and takes its turn on the lakefront. It's like a scene from a nature documentary. Or a vision where the heavens touch the earth.
Racing back across the country, one last delay awaits. Hitting Philadelphia, five hours away from Boston, the braking system melts down—again—leaving Ross and Matt stranded on the side of a highway for a whole night. Somehow, it seems appropriate. But by now, they know exactly what to do. They're not newbies anymore. And on June 17, they arrive home in Boston. The entire trip has lasted four months and gone over 20,000 miles coast-to-coast—an achievement of great cost, at least $40,000 for the whole trip. Doing it over again, Ross says he'd focus more on quality purchases on the front end, especially the vehicle doing the towing: “I would live and die by that.”
Left: Tim's feet with a mountain view, Right: (from left to right) Ross, Josh, Tim, and Matt smile outside the Chevy Suburban
Even so, the rewards are equally great. For a generation constantly accused of living through their phones, life on the road is like going for the cure. These days, Ross catches himself critiquing the brakes in his dad's car. Tim's certain he could handle any situation with technical aplomb. If mistakes are life's greatest teacher, RVing is a master class in improvisation. Especially when you're a newbie.
But all in all, both men agree, that no plan was indeed the best plan—a journey driven by chance encounters, day-to-day decisions, and blockbuster memories. Tim says, “I like to think that we found more direction in our lives after going through that whole experience. Sometimes it feels like a fever dream. Like, damn, we actually did that.” They both joke that now they're ten times more prepared to survive the apocalypse. Another coast-to-coast trip. Or anything else that lies on the road ahead.