Words and photos by Seth Langbauer
Anyone who steps foot into “Carl” a 1998 Toyota Tacoma asks, “What’s with the whale?” They’re referring to a small wooden whale carved by my brother that’s taped on with old, barely sticky, climbers tape. The short story is that my brother got a wood carving set and turned out a bunch of animals (Whales were common because of their easy shape to carve and his lack of skill.) for Christmas presents. If, by chance the person is on the road with me, then they normally get the long story.
Three years ago I moved to Bozeman, MT to attend their school of photography and film. By the end of the year I had made plans to drop out, and hit the road to trail run and shoot. Towards the end of the year, my parents had gifted me the 1998 Tacoma; if they would have known I’d be living in it off and on for the next 3 years and counting they might have done differently. As school got out, I had plans of driving to Ventura, CA. I was going to work with the friend and mentor who sparked my interests in photography, and my brother was going to be joining me for the trip. Upon my brother’s arrival, he gave me a wooden whale. We strapped it to the dash and it’s been there since.
Quin and I thought we were in for an adventure, road tripping all the way to California. In reality the driving was easy. We made our stops and camped on the side of the road a few times. Every morning stepping back into the cab to see the whale perched on the dash. When we arrived in California, we were to drive to LA so Quin could catch a flight home. When we entered LA, the adventure began. Quin and I had grown up in a small town in Alaska, I’d been living in a small mountain town in Montana, we were not ready to drive in the city.
You can’t see out of the back of Carl because the topper has curtains, you can barley even hit 75. We were trying to do 90 on the highway in Los Angeles. Carl is an adventure mobile. Not a city car. Quin was relaying directions as he was trying to navigate us to the airport. I had both hands firmly gripped to the wheel, eyes darting mirror to mirror checking to see who’s lane I was in.
Eventually we made it to the airport. I dropped of Quin and returned to my truck alone. I sat for a while trying to get the courage to get back on the road. I had no navigator anymore. I’d surely be dead in a car wreck by the time I was done driving around the country adventuring, I thought.
I’ve driven for 30 hours straight through a blizzard in the dark, been from Canada to Colorado, lost on back roads with a blinking “E” (that E doesn’t work anymore, so now empty is just a surprise), and I always come limping back to Bozeman with the whale perched on my dash and Carl safe and sound. 50,000 miles of vagabonding and dirt bagging in Carl is the long story of the whale on the dashboard.