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The Road Trippers

July 15, 2005—From Pennsylvania to the Redwood Forest and back again, four IUP students and a friend spent Spring Break driving nearly 8,000 miles around the U.S. with one goal in mind: to see and experience as much of the country as possible.

The Student Experience

Jason Kambitsis, Nicholas Karas, and James Baginski, all IUP senior Geography majors at IUP, William Carmella, IUP senior Political Science/Accounting major, and Joe Kinter, a senior Economics major at Penn State, got the idea for the trip when they were tacking up a map of Europe. The map showed the itinerary of a trip Karas, Kinter, and Kambitsis took during last year’s spring break.

“We were looking at the map and thought, ‘Let’s do the same thing here,’” said Karas.

The Road Trippers

Left to right: Jason Kambitsis, Nick Karas, Joe Kinter, James Baginski, William Carmella

“Everybody told us before we went, ‘You will not make it. This can’t happen, and it won’t happen,’” Karas said. “The only support we had was [Geography professor] Kevin Patrick, who said, ‘This trip can’t be done, but the five of you can make it.’”

“I know how they travel,” Patrick said. “I’ve heard of their trips before. Some of them have driven to Philadelphia and back in one night for a cheese steak. ... With that in mind, and knowing the way they pound the pavement, I knew they could do it.”

Leaving Indiana on the night of March 3, in a car borrowed from a family member, the five set off for Knoxville, Tenn., to see the Sunsphere that had been the centerpiece of the 1982 World’s Fair. They arrived about 4 a.m. on March 4, located the landmark, and continued south to New Orleans.

Sampling boiled crawfish

Sampling boiled crawfish

Taking back roads in order to see as much as possible, the group reached New Orleans. Around 1 the next morning, they headed west to Texas.

Detouring through Oklahoma, they arrived March 6 at Santa Fe, N.M. They drove through several national parks and eventually on to one of the few must-see destinations they’d previously identified—the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon, they continued on to Las Vegas, where they engaged in “eating, gambling, and losing money.” After a stop in Death Valley, they arrived in California on March 7, drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, and had lunch at Big Sur.

Surfing the dunes

Surfing the dunes

Having reached the Pacific Ocean, the men felt they had proved the doubters wrong. They celebrated by diving into the ocean. “We said, ‘Okay, if we’re going to prove we made it, we’re going in,’” Baginski said.

Although the Pacific was their “We made it” point, the travelers continued north to San Francisco on March 8, where they saw the Golden Gate Bridge and several wineries. From there, they drove north through the Redwood Forest, waking up in eastern Washington on March 9.

March 10 was spent traversing Idaho and Montana; stops were made in Iowa on March 11 and Chicago on March 12. The group arrived back in Indiana on March 13.

From eating crawfish in Louisiana to hot dogs in Chicago, the travelers tried to taste as much of each region as possible. “Every place we went, we wanted to understand it,” Kambitsis said.

For Karas, adapting to ever-changing surroundings was all in a day’s work. “The essence of the geographer is to be able to leave and not know where he’s going to be but still be able to play off that culture and land,” he said.


Seals basking on a Pacific beach

Karas plans to take over his family’s Indiana Italian restaurant, Nap’s Cucina Mia, after his December graduation. For Baginski, who graduated in May and is working at Yellowstone National Park, the trip was a pointer to what he hopes to study in graduate school.

“I’m looking into city design—interstate and highway systems,” he said. Highways are something he should know something about.

Heading home

Ashley Gurbal is a senior journalism major from Clearfield, Pa., and is a staff writer at the Indiana Gazette. This story is adapted from one that originally appeared in the April 24 edition of the Gazette. Gurbal is currently on internship at the Altoona Mirror.