This is a little story I wrote for a travel writing competition recently. It’s a great example of the experiences I live for when on the road, whether as a guide or on my own time.

I didn’t win the competition but it was a great opportunity to exercise my writing skills. I want to do much more of this kind of writing… watch this space!

Finding Kowalski

“This radio station was named Kowalski, in honour of the last American hero to whom speed means freedom of the soul. The question is not when’s he gonna stop, but who is gonna stop him.” – Super Soul

I stood stretching in the searing Nevada sun, gazing at the dusty shell of the Goldfield Hotel and wondering why it seemed so familiar. We were three hours north of Las Vegas and had parked our RV in the not-quite-a ghost town of Goldfield. 325 more miles to Burning Man and it was slow going, as we were traveling in convoy with the Bus People – friends crawling along in their ancient house bus. The dilapidated buildings scattered about the town begged to be explored while we waited for the Bus People.
A vintage ladder truck sat rotting outside the closed fire station museum. Farther along there was a plaque commemorating the Gans vs Nelson bout of 1906 which lasted an incredible 42 rounds. It didn’t name the winner. Empty since 1952, the hulking Goldfield High School was now boarded up, fenced off, and falling down, offering a hint of the town’s booming past.

Wandering back, I realised how I knew the Goldfield Hotel. This was the site of the radio station in the classic 1971 road movie Vanishing Point. Blind DJ Super Soul was narrating the main character Kowalski’s mad dash from Denver to San Francisco in his now legendary white 1970 Dodge Challenger. Super Soul provided police movements to Kowalski on the air, along with the searing soul soundtrack that fuelled Kowalski’s ride. We had parked on the spot where angry locals skidded their truck to a stop before smashing the station windows and beating the DJ into silence.

Many movies of the era were set in the dry southwest, and played the characters against The Establishment. These movies showed that although the Summer of Love had failed and The Man was winning, the wild west was still a place for free spirits and dream chasers.

Years earlier in New Zealand, Vanishing Point was the movie that made me fall in love with the vast highways of the American Southwest. People visiting New Zealand often ask why I would ever want to leave. The answer is simple. We are compelled to want what we don’t have, and there is a stark beauty in the desert that can’t be found amongst the lush green landscapes of home. The sight of the Goldfield Hotel reawakened my dreams of The Road.

I’ve since returned to the Southwest several times and always feel the same urge to turn up the music, and like Kowalski – Just Keep Driving.

Originally published at: