A Classic American Road Trip

In 2002, Ian McGaughey took a five-week, 12,500-mile solo road trip around the United States. He carried a camera, microphone and a tent, and created the one-hour documentary “Looking At America.”

“It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” McGaughey said years later, “though I don’t think I’ve slept in a tent since.”

McGaughey packed along a Sony PD-150 camcorder and 40 hours of blank digital videotape (of which he used 36) to shoot the road, the scenery (including about a dozen or more national parks) and to talk to the people he encountered.

Ian McGaughey meets Greg in South Dakota
Meeting Greg in Aurora Center, South Dakota

“Every person I met was kind, friendly and welcoming. Every single one,” he said. “There I was, some guy rolling into town from New York holding a video camera saying, ‘Hey, what’s on your mind?’ The responses I received were honest, and in many cases eye-opening.”

With the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 less than a year old, McGaughey found his story framed by the event. “It was the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and September 11 was still dominating the national mindset,” McGaughey said. “One of my favorite aspects of the video is how some pretty plain-spoken people shared some very poignant thoughts about the event and how it shaped the country.”

Ian McGaughey view of Yosemite
A view across Yosemite National Park at sundown

Shooting the video while traveling along presented some challenges. “I wanted to get shots of my car going down the road in various locations around the country, showing the changing topography,” McGaughey said. “I’d pull off the side of the road, set up the camera on a tripod, then hop in the car to backtrack and drive by. Crazy stuff.”

And what does he want viewers to take away from watching “Looking At America”? “I think I came away with two major impressions from the trip,” McGaughey said. “One is how beautiful so much of the country is, and two—the kind, welcoming nature of the people I encountered along the way. There were people with different ideas on how the country should be, for sure, but each of them to a person took time to welcome a stranger to their town. That is something I’ll never forget, and I’m happy I can share it with viewers.”