After Deryn Copeland ’15 and her boyfriend, JP Dineen ’15, graduated last May, they saved all summer for a crosscountry trip. They didn’t have a specific plan in mind, other than one thing: they booked tickets from Portland to Alaska, so they knew they had to be in Portland by a certain date.
They took off across the country in Dineen’s renovated company van and made a name for themselves online, despite having limited internet access.
Copeland, who had taken a class with Professor Leah Nielsen in the English department, was inspired to start a blog from the road: storiesfromthevan.wordpress.com. “Leah really made me feel like my writing mattered, and it would matter to other people, and that’s where the whole idea came from,” she says.
“I had no intention of writing a blog,” Dineen chimes in.
Although the two had some initial difficulties—mainly a lack of reliable internet connection—Copeland and Dineen used their blog and social media channels to share their travels with friends and family.
Soon, they began gaining followers outside of their personal networks, including fellow travel writers.
Their blog attracted about 70 to 80 followers. Copeland often wrote blog posts during longer drives and then would post them if they reached a campsite that had Wi-Fi. “It made me feel like my story mattered,” she says.
All together, the trip took two months and a few weeks. The pair left on Aug. 6, 2015, and returned in time for Westfield State’s Homecoming on Oct. 17. They saw the Midwest, Alaska, the Canadian border, California, Arizona, Las Vegas, Colorado, Alabama, and Lake Michigan.
“It definitely changed my perspective of the United States,” says Copeland. “It showed me how diverse our landscapes are. The diversity of our country really hit home.”
Dineen’s father, who’d done a lot of his own national traveling, had heard stories, but it was incredible for him to put experience next to his dad’s retellings. “It seemed like every time I called my dad, he’d know where I was,” says Dineen. “He knew where I was when I felt like nobody in the world had seen that place.”
Copeland continued working on the blog after the pair returned home, so she could fill in the gaps when they didn’t have time to write posts. “If you don’t write about those memories soon, you’ll forget them,” Dineen constantly reminded her.