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How I Found Renewed Inspiration Along 2400 Miles of Highway and a Handful of Roadside Attractions

Anthony Gaenzle in Winslow Arizona

In business and in life, we all find ourselves stuck in a rut from time to time. 

Our creative juices stop flowing, new ideas hide, unreachable in the dark corners of our minds, and we struggle in life and in business. 

I recently found myself in such a place. Between packing for a move, working to grow Gaenzle Marketing, running a marketing publication, and generally keeping up with life, my creativity hit a wall. 

My family and I were up against the clock, packing wasn’t going well, and we had a long flight looming ahead. And later, I had an even longer drive ahead of me. 

I barely had time to breathe. Somehow I managed to keep things rolling along smoothly, but inside, my creative battery was running low. I needed a recharge. 

That recharge came in the unlikely form of a 32-hour drive across 2400 miles through the middle of the United States. 

How Driving 2400 Miles Changed My Perspective

After helping my family settle into our new location, I flew back to pick up our car with a long drive across 10 states in front of me. 

Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly hyped up about the drive ahead. 

Stuck in a car, just me and our little, old, blind dog Kaya. As I settled into the driver’s seat, I could tell Kaya was equally unexcited about the drive. 

Image: Meet Kaya, our 15-year-old dog (and my travel buddy)

She plopped down her head on the pillow and let out a groan. “I feel ya” I said out loud, realizing I’d look crazy talking to a dog if anyone saw me. 

The drive was going to be miserable, or at least that’s what I thought. 

The first leg of the journey lived up to the expectations of misery and boredom. Driving through Pennsylvania, West Virginia,  and Ohio, places I had seen over and over again, I quickly lost hope. Then, I hit Indiana, and that’s when things took a turn for the better. 


I stumbled upon a billboard that piqued my curiosity and shifted my perspective. 

It was a billboard advertising the gym where the classic Gene Hackman film Hoosiers was filmed. 

Image: Gene Hackman cutout on the “Hickory Huskers” bus in the classic film “Hoosiers”

It was located in a little place called Knightstown. My foot, plastered to the gas pedal, stubbornly fought to keep the pedal to the floor and continue rolling down the road, but the creative in me knew I needed to do something drastic to change the complexion of the drive. Otherwise, I would struggle to make it through even one more state.

So, I swerved across traffic (not really – it was more of a slow, signal-driven, cautious turn) and headed off the exit into Indiana basketball folklore. 

Image: Trophy case inside the “Hoosier Gym” with props from the film

As a former film industry professional and self-proclaimed film buff, I would soon realize I made a wise decision. 

When I arrived at the gym, I sat on the original bus from the film, I toured the gym, which was fully preserved just like it was in the film, and I even caught a few minutes of a basketball game that was going on, which made the experience feel super-authentic. 

Image: Wide shot of the outside of “Hoosier Gym”.

This was the start of what turned out to be a fun, enlightening experience. An experience that would teach me multiple lessons and provide the inspiration to get back in the creative groove.

Image: Inside the perfectly preserved gym

Takes Risks and Don’t be Afraid to Stray From the Plan

With that one impulsive move, I learned something. Sometimes, the straight path isn’t always the right path. Sometimes you have to take risks, and you need to be open to exploration. 

Whether you’re a business owner, blogger, freelancer, or anything in between, don’t be afraid to take risks. 

Turn off that exit and check out a basketball museum, start a new business, launch a website, learn a new skill, leave the comfort of that 9-5 job. 

Change is good. Flexibility is good. Shake things up from time to time. Otherwise, life and business get stagnant, and that’s never a good thing. 

Growing your brand with digital marketing

Finding Creative Inspiration

After the unexpectedly uplifting experience at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, I made it a point to research more sight-seeing opportunities along the way. 

The next stop I had planned was the St. Louis Arch, but by the time I arrived, it was too late to drive up and sneak a close up view of the iconic landmark. I did get a good view from the highway, and it was inspiring to see, but it was on to the next thing. 

So, as I pulled into the hotel that first night, disappointed I missed the opportunity to see the Arch up close, I knew I had to get better organized. 

Image: St. Louis Arch at night from the highway

Rather than let the disappointment of missing that second sight-seeing opportunity derail my journey, I shifted focus and got prepared. 

I realized that sometimes things don’t work out as planned. When that happens, you can’t let it get you down. Missed opportunities abound in life and business. The key is to move forward and not beat yourself up. 

Figure out went wrong, and start working on a plan to ensure it never happens again. the next time an opportunity presents itself, you’ll be prepared. 

When I settled into the hotel, I spent about an hour researching sights to see along I-40, which runs parallel to and sometimes takes the place of famed Route 66. 

I put together a list, and I was determined to make the remaining 1400 miles epic. 

A Little Patience Goes a Long Way

After Missouri, the state of Oklahoma was up next. I have to say, I was a bit underwhelmed. I enjoyed the landscape, but aside from that, I didn’t come across a lot of places that made me want to pull the car over and explore. 

It wasn’t all bad, though. I did take a brief detour to cruise through a small town off of Route 66 called Miami. 

I didn’t see any palm trees, sandy beaches, or glamorous night clubs, after all, this was Miami, Oklahoma, not Florida. But, what I did see was some small town charm. 

Image: Coleman Theater in Miami, Oklahoma

Aside from that stop, there were a lot of cattle. I mean…a LOT of cattle. 

It took several hours to get through Oklahoma and into Texas, where I would ultimately find one of the more intriguing sites I saw along the way. 

Image: Route 66 road sign in Miami, Oklahoma

But, the waiting taught me another powerful lesson. Patience is key in all aspects of life. 

They say “Good things come to those who wait,” and whoever “they” is…they were right. 

If business isn’t going the way you planned, stay the course. It takes most businesses or blogs a few years to really get things moving. 

Success doesn’t come overnight. Sometimes you have to wait patiently for inspiration to kick in and drive you forward. 

Don’t get discouraged when things aren’t happening as quickly as you expected. Stay focused. Keep moving. Often, if you stay the course, success is right around the corner. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Get a Little Weird

As my trek through Oklahoma came to an end, I rolled into Texas with high expectations. While I was way north, and I wouldn’t see any of the major cities most visitors travel to when visiting the Lone Star State, I was pointed straight for Amarillo, and there was a site there I really wanted to check out. 

The Cadillac Ranch. Ever heard of it? 

The way I described it later was, “It was interesting, fun, weird, quirky, creepy, and a bit unsettling all wrapped up in one feeling.” 

Image: Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas

The artwork was created by a group called the Ant Farm and commissioned by Texas Millionaire Stanley Marsh in 1973. 

The ten Cadillacs (models ranging in years from 1948 to 1963) used in the work, buried front end down in the Texas soil, represented the Golden Age of the automobile.

From the start, visitors would leave their mark on the half-buried cars. The artists, along with Marsh, welcomed the “vandalism.” 

Graffiti, people stealing parts, paint scratching. The Cadillac Ranch today looks nothing like it did when it was commissioned, and it’s all the better for it. 

Visitors are still encouraged to leave their mark. I left my mark, as you can see in the photo below, and I encourage you to leave yours. It’ll likely be painted over in a few years’ time, but your legacy will remain, buried under the coats of spray paint, much like the cars are buried in the dirt.

Image: Leaving my mark on Cadillac Ranch

The lesson here? Think outside the box. Be open to chaos, a sprinkle of weirdness, and a little out of the ordinary thinking. 

This is where the realm of creativity resides. Strategy is critical, but when you sprinkle in a little weirdness, that’s when the magic happens. 

It also pays to get a little help from your friends. In the content marketing world, we call what happened to the cars at Cadillac Ranch user-generated content. Let your audience create content for you and spread the word. 

Video: Video down the line of the full row of Cadillac Ranch automobiles

Keep an Open Mind

Artwork or junk yard? You be the judge. But, whatever your opinion, I encourage you to keep an open mind. New ideas that don’t mesh with your way of thinking should be accepted and explored.

Still a bit confused by what I’d just seen, and with images of Cadillac Ranch burned into my brain, I ventured on into New Mexico. 

In all honesty, I had no idea what to expect. 

My goal was to drive to Santa Rosa and spend the night there. I was excited to try out a coffee shop that my brother-in-law recommended, but aside from that, I wasn’t sure where this part of the journey would take me. 

Despite the unknown road ahead, I kept an open mind, unsure what I would find, but excited for the surprises on the path in front of me. 

Always keep an open mind in business and in life. An open mind can create new opportunities, open doors, and kickstart new adventures. 

Always be open to new ideas and ways of thinking. Failing to do so stifles creativity, so keep your mind open and thrive

Don’t Forget Your Past

After having to stop at two rest stops to appease my whining dog, I was back on the road. I’d lost a bit of time along the way, so I wound up stopping short of Santa Rosa. Instead, I stayed in a town called Tucumcari. 

Tucumcari, back in the 50s and 60s, was a happening town. Route 66 ran right through the middle of it, and the town was thriving. 

Image: Tepee Curios in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Fast-forward to today. 

The town is a shell of its former self. While enduring symbols of the its hay day still remain, when I-40 was built to make traveling across the country faster and more direct, towns like Tucumcari suffered. 

Image: One of many forgotten gas pump stops along Route 66 in Tucumcari

While looking to the future is essential for growth in both life and in business, we should never neglect the past along the way. 

Tucumcari has a beautiful past and a vivid story to tell. 

Image: Blue Swallow hotel in Tucumcari, New Mexico

Just as towns like this need love and need to be revitalized, the story of our brands and where we rose from need to be told. Our stories need to be embraced and appreciated, and they should not be forgotten and left behind. 

Websites get dusty and rundown, and they need some love. They need a redesign. Tucumcari is a town in need of a redesign. 

Work the history of your brand into your narrative. Embrace your past. Neglecting the past is never good. Just like we should be working to preserve the history and charm of towns like Tucumcari, you need to work to preserve the same for your brand.

As I moved on from Tucumcari, passed through Santa Rosa, and cruised on into Albuquerque, I headed straight for another venue steeped in the past.

Old Town is situated in the heart of the city, and it offers a charming contrast to the current state of Tucumcari. 

The town’s history has been sublimely preserved, adobe buildings, San Felipe de Neri Church (circa 1793), quaint coffee shops with old school video games (Old Town Ice Cream Parlor). This town grasped the value of embracing and preserving the past. 

You can learn a lot from how the city maintained this part of town through the years. Much like Old Town, maintaining your brand and its history will be key to your growth and to maintaining connections with your customers through the years. 

Embrace Nostalgia

Nothing brings you back more quickly to your childhood than a little nostalgia. There’s a lot to learn from the past, and there’s a lot to love as well.

Thinking my stops in New Mexico were at an end after Albuquerque, I was ready to make the transition into Arizona. Then, along came a billboard with photos of Humphrey Bogart and Doris Day.

The Billboard was for the El Rancho Hotel. Countless movie stars (here’s a list) from the 40s and 50s called this hotel home while filming Western movies in Gallup, New Mexico.

Image: The famed El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico

A little nostalgia goes a long way in marketing, and I was hooked. I watched the miles tick away until I arrived in Gallup. When I pulled up to the hotel, I was instantly swept back to the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The building was perfect, classic Hollywood. And to top it off, it was set against the backdrop of rock cliffs and shrubbery, desert, and dirt, the stereotypical setting for virtually every Western film ever made.

inside, the wooden decor was exquisite, all in on the Western vibe. The dual staircases wound up each side, walls lined with photos of actors and posters of old films. It was wonderful!

Image: Inside the lobby of the El Rancho Hotel

Oh…and I forgot to mention, it’s haunted on top of every other wonderful, alluring detail. Definitely check this out if you’re passing through Gallup. And stay there…if you dare.

Image: Hallway with posters of classic Western films and actors at the El Rancho Hotel

Sprinkle nostalgia into your marketing. Make sure it’s linked to the past of your target audience. Hook them in by pulling on their heartstrings.

It’s a Marathon (Not a Sprint ) With the Reward at the End

The final state on my cross-country journey was Arizona. By the time I reached the border, I was mentally and physically exhausted. 

Long hours behind the wheel, frequent stops to make sure Kaya was ok, and brief stints of sleep at hotels and historic roadside motels left me burned out and ready to collapse. 

But, as with running a business, success doesn’t happen overnight. The road is long and the reward is at the end for those who tough it out and drive (read: work) through the struggles. 

Throughout the majority of the 2400-mile trip, the awe-inspiring landscape across the middle of the US was a thing of beauty that I could only view from a distance as I flew past at 75 miles per hour. 

Instantly, that changed as I crossed over into Arizona. 

On the right side of the road was a rest stop pull off. It led to several shops in old wooden buildings. It was what was behind the shops, however, that grabbed my attention and renewed my energy level. 

Giant red rocks, towering over the highway, grooves worn deeply into the sides, welcoming me to the Grand Canyon State. 

Image: Roadside attraction just across the Arizona state border

I was in awe. I stood briefly to soak it all in, walked to the rock and felt the smooth, worn sides. I stared straight up, the rocks seeming to touch the clouds. 

It was honestly breathtaking. Feeling refreshed, I took one last, long look at the giant rock formations, and I hopped back in the car with Kaya to head on down the road. 

Next stop, Winslow, Arizona. Yes, that Winslow. “Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona. Such a fine sight to see.” The Eagles were right, it was a wonderful, iconic sight to see. 

Image: Standing on the corner mentioned in the lyrics of Take it Easy by the Eagles

Wanting to get back to my family, I only stayed long enough to listen to a few songs playing from the speakers of one of the corner stores and snap a few photos, but in the time I was there, I felt like I was a part of something bigger. 

You can feel the history in Winslow. Tens of thousands of people pass through the small town each year just to stop and take a photo of themselves standing on that famous corner. 

Image: Camera panning the intersection in the middle of downtown Winslow

If you ever find yourself there, stop for a moment, breathe deep and really experience the moment. “You may never be here again.” 

After doing some corner standing, I had one final stop. Flagstaff, up around 7,000 feet above sea level. 

If you just appeared out of nowhere in Flagstaff, you might think you were in New Hampshire or somewhere in Colorado. The environment couldn’t be more different than the rest of the state down below. 

There was even snow. Lots of it!

Between the welcoming committee of red rocks, rockin’ out to some Eagles in Winslow, and riding through the snowy mountains of Flagstaff, the journey rounded out in a spectacular way. 

Take your time, enjoy the ride as you grow your business. There’s no rush. If you stay the course and stay focused, and you don’t give up too early, success is often right around the corner. 

Keep On Moving and Stay Focused

If you find yourself launching a business, kicking off a new blog publication, or facing another type of daunting challenge, keep in mind that the journey may seem long and winding, but if you stay focused on the end goal, you’ll be met with amazing things. 

This is true in both life and in business. Learn to shift your mindset. Don’t focus too much on the end goal. Know it’s there awaiting your arrival, but enjoy all of the stops along the way. 

Life is too short to miss out on enjoying the ride. Set goals and have a vision for what success means for you. Then follow the path, but don’t be afraid to take detours and make last-minute decisions and changes along the way. 

Business success isn’t about just the end. It’s about how you got there and about enjoying the journey. If you fail to enjoy the journey, you’re likely to be one of the millions of businesses that throw in the towel too early when success is right around the corner. 

Enjoy the ride. And don’t forget to “Take it easy.” 

11 Responses

  1. What powerful lessons here. I love each of your analogies. This is one reason why I circle the globe continuously. Sure it pushes me out of my comfort zone every single day but being in new environments introduces you to a new way of thinking which skyrockets your creativity. Fun post!

    1. Thanks, Ryan. Definitely some travel and blogging inspiration sprinkled in from the talented mind behind Blogging From Paradise. 🙂 I may just start a new blog focused on traveling as we plan to do some sight-seeing around Arizona and the neighboring states.

        1. It gave me a ton of inspiration. I plan to turn this one post into many posts. That’s a great observsation, Ryan. Those anecdotes could each turn into posts of their own. Thanks!

  2. Awesome, nice to see you enjoyed your trip. More people should travel and look what is beside the highways.
    “Travel is more than seeing something new; it’s also about leaving behind something that’s old.”
    Enjoy your new you 🙂
    Thank you for writing about your experiences and insights and taking us with you on the trip 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Erika. Great to see you here! I love that quote. You really do change when you travel (typically for the better), and you leave behind something old. I hope you have a great rest of your week!

  3. Wow Anthony. I didny know your road trip was that long. I’ve been to Arizona a dozen times with an aunt living there and my eldest son now lives there too.
    I’ve always wanted to drive across country and will be doing it in April with my husband. After reading about your adventure I can’t wait to see what an adventure it will be.

    1. It’s such a great place. I’ve never been west of Louisiana (which is a great state itself), and it was definitely eye-opening to cross the country like this. Thanks!

  4. Did you know that Bobby Troup, the writer and singer of the song Route 66, lived in Lancaster for a time? His family operated Troup’s Music Store in Lancaster.

  5. Anthony, I absolutely loved reading this!! What a powerful and important journey this was. It sounds like you really loved it, and that is so wonderful. I also love the lessons you share here, tying in your travel experiences with lessons we can all learn about our businesses. How interesting that you wrote this, actually, because recently I decided to start travel writing again and now I’ve seen that you’ve written this travel piece. It’s more than a travel piece, though. This is really fraught with meaning and emotion. Beautifully written.

    Btw, I’ve lived in both Texas and New Mexico, many years ago, and I’m sure they’ve both changed so much. The only thing you mention here that I remember specifically is Albuquerque’s Old Town. They had a really good Mexican restaurant or two there. I hope you got to try one. 🙂

    I’m pretty sure I’m never going to forget this story. Amazing writing!!

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