"When you're driving this thing, it's like you're flying—while still on the ground," Will Freeman says of the Morgan 3 Wheeler he drove across 48 states this summer, traveling 18,000 miles across in 80 days. Along the way, the Iowa professor and track and field coach opted for Mom-and-Pop restaurants and lodgings while gathering stories from Americans of all walks of life for his second nonfiction book. "This trip wasn't about the destination," Freeman explains. "It was about what happens along the way."
Three Wheels and Miles To Go
According to Freeman, the iconic, 100-year-old 3 wheeler is a people magnet, which made it easy to find interviewees on his (largely) solo journey.
"This is a smile machine, that's what I'm finding," he said while on the road in June. "People come up to it, and they're all smiling. If they have kids with them, I put the kids in there so they can take pictures pretending to drive it. It just makes people feel good, and to me that's great." Freeman chose the vintage vehicle for this trip to help spark conversations, but also because he wanted to get back to basics.
"Vehicles are typically built by robots, but this thing is absolutely, one hundred percent handmade, and that's the way it's always been with Morgan vehicles," he says. "It shakes and it's got no electric anything on it. It's pure, basic transportation, just like it was 100 years ago when they made it. At the same time, it's the neatest, most fun experience you can get behind the wheel of a vehicle."
Traveling puts history in a different context, and you just don't get that through a textbook. It's a whole different learning experience. That's what the open road gets you.
So how does it feel to fly down the highway on three wheels? "You're connected with the road, you're connected with what's going on around you," Morgan says. "It's like an immersion in the road. You don't feel that when you're inside the bubble of an air-conditioned car with music playing. This is different."
The open road has long beckoned to Freeman, whose previous book, The Quest, details a cross-country motorcycle trip with his then 12-year-old son. "We all have an explorer spirit," he says.
Once you get older and locked into your nine-to-five job, you only get to experience it—if you're lucky—maybe one or two weeks a year on a vacation somewhere. Then, because you're so short on time, it's like, 'Let's get there are quick as we can!' This was different. It was not about the destination; it was about what happened along the way.
Freeman might have been traveling solo, but he was never alone. He had a thousand hits on his website and blog each day, and a team of his students from Grinnell College worked steadily on his bookings and other travel details. And, of course, there were the many new friends he made along the way. The iconic vintage vehicle made for an unforgettable adventure.
It's exciting to meet all different kinds of people. Every day you learn something new, and the best day is the next one.
While on the road, Freeman avoided chain restaurants and hotels, favoring smaller, diners, and lodgings. He also made a point of visiting both historical and spiritual American sites, like the Taos pueblo.
For the journey, Freeman wore a classic Overland B-3 Bomber jacket, modeled after the coats WWII pilots wore at high altitudes. "Being in this vehicle," says Freeman, "made me feel like I was in the fuselage of a very old aircraft, but with updated mechanicals. And Overland's flight jacket was the perfect jacket for it. That's what people were wearing back when this vehicle was originally made—bomber jackets, goggles, leather flight helmets." Freeman also wore an Overland Stetson hat to shield his eyes from the sun, along with a pair of driving gloves to soften his grip.
"I was really fortunate, because Overland was one of the first companies to get on board with this trip," said Freeman. "They gave me confidence. After that, when people saw they were on board, we were able to get other sponsors. I think the trip really resonated with the Overland family. It was just the perfect match."