In 1970 two young men from Kansas just out of college say the hell with it and do that thing you said you were going to do: they go on the crazy road trip. Photojournalist Steve Ewert and his hometown friend, writer Dick Russell undertake the journey as part of a “get out and see the world” time of wandering. They start in Europe and work their way across the Mediterranean. At points, they endure terrible hardships and meet people both amazing and awful. They ultimately learn more about themselves than they do about the world, and they learn plenty about the world. Scott Peterson’s Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity documents their African odyssey where they wind up hitchhiking 2700 miles across the Sahara.
“…they endure terrible hardships and meet people both amazing and awful.“
Carrying some clothes, a Nikon camera, and a Smith Corona typewriter, the two imagine themselves as updates on Kerouac. Back home in Kansas, Vietnam is the big news. Russell and Ewert are young and disillusioned with America and set out to see and document the world and also find a way to join “the revolution,” an abstract for them that is perhaps more about their age and inexperience than it is their politics. They look for a revolution in the Black Panther organization in Algiers, and in encounters with Timothy Leary, who is there at the time. They come away disappointed from both, having learned it’s more about marketing than political passion.
“…the worst moments of their lives, which become the best stories of their lives. “
The anxiety of the trip for new travelers and extended close quarters causes their burgeoning relationship to be extremely strained. Steve got engaged just before leaving for the trip and begins to worry his girlfriend will not wait for him. Along the way, they are forced by circumstances to deal with each other and the world in the worst moments of their lives, which become the best stories of their lives.
We see ourselves as separate from our environment, vehicles on the road of life, a romantic notion but the truth is that each of us is an extension of the place and people we come from. We are never as independent as we’d like to believe. Few are the real citizens of the world and culture shock reveals this essential truth. Ewert and Russell are ill-equipped emotionally for the trip, but they grow up in the desert. Returning home they will be changed forever, and yet somehow, more definitely Kansan than when they left.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.“
–T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”
On VOD now. More about the film here.
Hitchhiking to the Edge of Sanity (2017) Written and directed by Scott Petersen.
7 out of 10