The Road Unknown


Molly Heintze

Over the summer Sean O’Connor drove across the country with his dad.

By Katie Mullaney, Pascack Valley High School

As Pascack Valley junior, Sean O’Connor, pulled out of his driveway on the morning of June 23, he looked out onto his street, nervously wondering where he would be by the end of the night.

For their summer vacation, O’Connor and his dad took a two week road trip across the country, traveling over 9,000 miles. Nothing was planned except for the days of their departure and return. The weeks in between were to be decided along the way.

“I was so excited to go on this journey and see parts of America I’ve never seen before,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor and his dad had an idea about certain locations that they wanted to go to, such as Nashville and the Grand Canyon, but when and how they would get there was unclear.

The morning of the departure day, O’Connor and his dad packed the last things into their newly renovated van, filled up on gas, and went to Hillsdale ShopRite before heading onto the Garden State Parkway South.

For nearly three months before their trip, O’Connor and his dad worked on renovating a cargo van into an RV-like vehicle with built in beds, full electricity, and water sources.

On a past trip in Ireland, O’Connor met surfers from France who were camped out on the beach down the road from his grandparents house. They taught them about the van life, O’Connor said.

O’Connor mentioned how worried he was about the limited space of the 151 square foot van but was surprised at how much space they ended up having. He could not believe how comfortable the van was.

This trip acted as a bachelor party for O’Connor’s dad, who recently got married.

“We were never close when I was younger, so we are just starting a new relationship,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor’s dad has always been a big camper and has gone on multiple motorcycle trips across the East Coast, but traveling to the West Coast was a new experience for both father and son.

Someday, O’Connor’s dad hopes to help Sean and his future grandson renovate a van and do the same trip.

O’Connor’s favorite location they traveled to was Zion National Park. They stayed there for three days, giving him and his dad many opportunities to explore the steep, red cliffs.

The day before they arrived at Zion, they embarked on a long hike down the Grand Canyon. Although exhausted, O’Connor would not let this get in the way of his adventuring. When he arrived at Zion, the first thing he did was go to the visitor’s center to get a map of the area with suggestions of what to do.

After doing some hiking to a hidden swimming pool with waterfalls, O’Connor visited a nearby town called Springdale, Utah.

He explains how most of the major National Parks have their own little towns for visitors to enjoy.

“We walked around the town and got some amazing turkey tacos before the big hike the next day,” O’Connor said.

The big hike, known as The Narrows, entailed a nine mile walk up a river and over waterfalls. During this trip, they did not know what to expect or how long they would be walking for,  a reoccurring theme with the O’Connors.

O’Connor tells his personal account of traveling through the Narrows.

                                                                                                                                Sean O’Connor’s personal account of traveling through the Narrows in Zion National Park.

Once they reached the west, they stayed there for a few days and then endured a 16 hour drive home that spanned over two days.

The day after O’Connor got home from his road trip, he went on a plane to Ireland to visit his family for four weeks. He has been traveling to Ireland every summer for as long as he can remember, always learning about his Irish heritage.

Three years ago, O’Connor started taking pictures when he was in Ireland and he has not stopped. On this road trip, he took many different pictures, from motion shots of ocean hitting rocks at Aughacasla Beach in County Kerry, Ireland to the bright stars at Bryce Canyon in Utah.

Some of O’Connor’s vacation pictures are posted in the hallway by the PV photography room.

O’Connor plans on going on another road trip next summer, but this time on his own. He is thinking of traveling north rather than west to places such as Nova Scotia and Maine. However, he is still open to other ideas.

“We kept the van so I am going to take it and go most of the summer next year, and I’m just going to wing it again,” he said.

If he were to go west again, he would love to travel back to some of the National Parks to go on more hikes, such as Angel’s Landing in Zion.

“After this trip, I can see that people in today’s world have different ideas about how to live a full life. Some people think that all they need is money… filling closet after closet full of stuff they will never use,” O’Connor said. “These things will not make them happy. Others view a good life as the experiences they’ve had and don’t need many things to make them happy.”


This story was originally published on The Smoke Signal on October 17, 2018.