Nathan Pettijohn’s record of an adventure in an RV celebrates open spaces through its easygoing narration.
Nathan Pettijohn’s forthright travel narrative Travels with Hafa gathers linked, chronological sketches and essays about travel across the Western United States.
On the heels of a romantic breakup, Pettijohn set out with his German shepherd, Hafa, in an RV for three weeks to learn more about himself. Titled sections that range from two to a few pages each cover the logistical details of the trip; brushes with colorful locals; meetings with friends and family; and the pleasures of spontaneity in the wild. Encountered hazards, including whiteout conditions and an exchange with local police, enliven the story.
Brief sketches cover unplanned trip highlights, as with a stop at a Montana attraction, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas, and time in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, with a great huckleberry shake and burger. Such sparse forays capture the happenstance nature of the road trip, suggesting that willingness to take detours results in rewards.
Comments about movies that Pettijohn watched along the way form a quirky running thread, as do sporadic mentions of his ex-girlfriend. Descriptions of friends and people encountered are shared in fleeting recaps of brief conversations. Intriguing hints about the boondocking lifestyle recede into the backdrop; small-town coziness is a feature of many stops.
When the book lingers over compelling landscapes and describes Hafa, the writing is rich with implications about finding joy outdoors. But some of the book’s turns of phrase are imprecise or too familiar: a suburb is described as having “a middle-class sort of vibe,” while a bar patron is remembered as “a burly, manly man.” A stop in Salem, Oregon, results in a tangent through which Pettijohn expresses dismay about how people overuse their phones and are dependent on social media.
Because this practical record often stays within the confines of the trip, it contains few personal reflections. Its initial chapters cover Pettijohn’s preparations, from choosing his mode of transportation to planning a loose itinerary and packing; this matter-of-fact minutia slows the pace of the story. The book’s later record of necessities, from fueling up to selecting RV campsites and encountering RV-related problems, is realistic but repetitive, distracting focus from what made each stop salient.
A motivational epilogue, written during the COVID quarantine, emphasizes how important it is to not postpone “bucket list” dreams, though Pettijohn admits that his trip, which was meant to be a reset, ended up being less transformative than planned.
Expressing optimism about exploring, Nathan Pettijohn’s record of an adventure in an RV, Travels with Hafa, celebrates open spaces through its easygoing narration.
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