Julian Levy is keenly aware he isn’t the first recent college grad to check the brakes and fluids on the nine-year-old family Toyota, then set off in search of America. Like so many before him, the idea of an extended road trip in that glimmering between school and “life as a contributing member of society” (his words) has long had a hold on Levy’s imagination.
But as he and road companion Nils Anderson, a recent grad of Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus College, set off this week in the red Matrix, nicknamed “The Raspberry,” their trip isn’t solely a footloose interlude. To push a road analogy, let’s call it a bridge with one stanchion in his UVM years and another grounded in the life he hopes to create in those contributing member of society decades on the other side.
True for many aspects of Levy’s life, the backstory of this journey is rooted in his love of being active and outdoors. The Essex, Vermont native spent his first three semesters of college at Temple University before coming to terms with just how far North Philadelphia was from the places he really wanted to be. Back in Vermont at his state university, enrolled in the parks, recreation, and tourism major in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, Levy quickly found his way to the UVM Outing Club and its Wilderness Instructor Leadership Development program.
His academic experience and co-curricular pursuits have both shaped Levy, he says. David Kaufman’s class on entrepreneurship has fit well with his independent nature, and the OC experience has continued to build the sense of confidence and self-reliance he’s found in National Outdoor Leadership experiences and a semester of study abroad based in Belem, Brazil at the mouth of the Amazon River. (Levy met his like-minded travel partner Anderson during that semester.)
“I’ve never been one who likes to follow a path,” Levy says. “Not only in a metaphorical sense, but also literally. If I’m walking through the woods, I just like to go off the trail. You see a lot more; you learn a lot more.”
A call to the Outing Club offices one day from Rail Riders, an outdoor clothing company, provided the initial spark that started to turn Levy and Anderson’s post-graduation ramble into something more purposeful. Rail Riders, which primarily makes clothing for sailing, was looking to reach a younger demographic for a new production line and sought to connect with UVM OC students to wear their clothes and spread the word via photos and video.
The idea percolated for a time until Levy landed on connecting it with his travels. Things moved rapidly from there. Rail Riders was on board with clothing and some financial support. Levy and Anderson branded their trip as “Coastal Connections” and got busy creating an itinerary, a Facebook page, a video promoting the project, a blog, essentially gearing up for an on-the-road internship in guerilla marketing and the brave newish world of social media promotion.
The loop they’ve mapped is an ambitious one—13,685 miles—essentially running the bases around the entire nation from Mt. Desert Island, Maine, to Key West to Los Angeles to Seattle and then some. Their plans include both bright lights and backpacking, but Levy stresses the trip is as much about the people they’ll meet as the things they’ll see.
Thinking broadly, he and Anderson are eager to earn a firsthand sense of the mindset and tenor of the nation, particularly among young people. Thinking professionally, Levy hopes to scope out places he might want to live, start to build a career network, and further define his goals. Thinking like a social media marketer, if some Facebook followers notice that he and Nils look styling in their Rail Riders gear… well, all good.
Though Julian Levy formally graduated in December, he plans to be back in Burlington by May 19 to robe up and walk at UVM commencement on the Green, several months and many miles away.