April 25, 2018

Job Description: Shotgun Rider

As I was growing up, I was intrigued by the American West.  I enjoyed watching Wagon Train, Rawhide, Laramie, Bonanza, The Virginian and The Big Valley on TV when I was little - and nobody could bring more class to a western than The Duke, John Wayne.  I’ve read Louis L’Amour’s western novels since I was a kid and he’s still one of my all-time favorite authors.  I love the depth of his descriptive writing, but also his thoughtful observations on a variety of topics that I have somehow been able to apply to my life no matter what my age:  “The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.  Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.” 

I’m intrigued by the landscape of the American West and by its people – their history, their occupations, their daily lives.  While we think nothing of hopping on a plane to cross the country, travel for the settlers of old was difficult and sometimes impossible.  Back in the mid-1800’s to the early 1900’s, stagecoaches were used to transport people, mail, messages and valuables across a rough and undeveloped land.  Did you know that the coaches traveled in stages, from station to station and that’s how the word “stagecoach” came about?  I didn’t either!  But, I digress.  The ride on a stagecoach was not a comfortable one and stagecoach travel was often dangerous due to marauding natives and thieving bandits.  A stagecoach driver was in command of 4 to 6 horses and handling the team took all of his concentration.  So, a “shotgun messenger” often rode along on top of the stage, alert to dangers of both the natural and human varieties and ready to protect both passengers and cargo.  The term “shotgun rider” was not really used in society until sometime in the 1900’s, probably well after the last stagecoaches were replaced by trains and automobiles.  But the phrase has stuck and many of us in this day and age are still familiar with the term “shotgun rider.”  If you don’t believe me, just check out Shotgun Rules (link HERE).  Our son still calls “shotgun” to this day on the rare occasions that he rides with Alan and me.  (Hey, my dear boy, be sure you read Rule #3.1.  Enough said.  Love, Mom.)

Because Alan and I have always been road trippers, the term “shotgun rider” has been with us for years.  It was during one of our three cross country trips last year (two for personal business; one for an extended vacation) that Alan’s sister, Irene, asked what it was that I did all day while Alan was driving the truck and towing the travel trailer.  You might think that she was asking to be funny but she was not.  Irene and her husband, Tom, are travelers extraordinaire but they travel internationally much more frequently than domestically and they don’t road trip like Alan and I do.  So, the question was a legitimate one and it got me to wondering exactly how did I fill up all those hours on a 500 to 600 mile day?  I thought I would share the results of my contemplation with you.  After all, I don’t want you to think that I sit around eating bon-bons all day!

On the road . . . it's a familiar place to us

You might recall from a previous post that Alan prefers to drive which is fine with me.  Besides, we both know I couldn’t do his job well and we both know he wouldn’t have the patience to handle the shotgun seat.  I’m pretty sure that, when the thieving bandits were riding hard to outflank us, he’d be fiddling with the GPS unit and we’d be ambushed.  And, heaven knows, if I’m driving there’s no way we’d outrun the hooligans.  So, we’re both content with our jobs.  Alan’s job description is easy.  Driver:  (1) ensure that the truck and travel trailer are in roadworthy condition; (2) drive the truck as safely as possible to ensure no loss of life or limb; (3) take the initial turn at the gas pump so that the shotgun rider can go to the restroom first.  There.  Done.  Easy-peasy.  Now, as for the shotgun rider’s duties and responsibilities, here they are in no particular order . . .

The shotgun rider handles photo journalism duties.  Instead of a shotgun, I ride with my trusty Canon camera handy and shoot everything in sight.  (Let that be a warning to the marauding natives and thieving bandits.)  I love taking photos of those long, empty stretches of highway in front of us; I can’t resist cloud formations or beautiful views; I record the many bizarre items we’ve seen being transported along the highways; and I document our progress by taking pics of some of the overhead directional signs as we go by.  (I can’t tell you how many times Alan has seen me make a last minute scramble for the camera as we’re fast approaching a directional sign and asked, “You got that?!”  Yup.  I’m just that good.) 

A long, lonesome highway

The shotgun rider texts folks back home to let them know where we are and that all is well.  That way they can travel vicariously with us by following our progress from home if they’d like or, at least, know that we’re safe and what our location is. I don’t think the kids care too much, but the siblings who are the executors of our wills seem to be appreciative. 


The shotgun rider handles administrative chores.  When bills need to be paid on the road and business or personal emails need to be answered, I’m the person who takes care of it.  I’m also the one who will head to the campground offices to register, keep track of our expenses, and make the grocery lists.

Onions! Or, as we call them at our house, onjuns!

The shotgun rider is in charge of the bear spray.  Bear spray rides with us in the truck when we’re on the road and in the trailer when we stop for the night.  Alan has about 11 inches and more than 100 pounds on me.  I need the bear spray more than he does.  He can take care of himself.

Love this view!

The shotgun rider is in charge of research on the road.  In other words, any time during a conversation that somebody says, “I wonder . . . ,” I’m the one who ends up looking up the answer online.

And these clouds!

The shotgun rider scouts out the best route.  When we traveled cross country for personal business in late October of last year, we were concerned about early winter weather hampering our travels, so I spent a good deal of time checking weather reports for the states and cities along the route in front of us.  I adjusted our route based on any projected interference from Mother Nature which, on that trip, included dropping south into Colorado to avoid high winds in Wyoming and crossing the Rockies early one morning to stay one step ahead of the snow.  Like the scouts of the Old West, this shotgun rider works hard to keep our wagon out of danger and traveling along the safest route possible.

How about this view and these clouds?!

The shotgun rider navigates.  In our rig, this means knowing where we’re headed, keeping an eye on the time and the miles we’ve traveled so that I can anticipate gas and meal stops, and checking the Road Atlas to be sure that “Samantha” (who lives in our GPS unit) is sending us the way we actually want to go.  If you have to ask why I double check, then you must not have a GPS unit.  Our former GPS guy, “John,” once had us make four consecutive right turns taking us in a complete circle or, I should say, square. I do not trust them and have been known to raise my voice with them.  Because I have spent countless (and I do mean countless) hours researching and planning the trip that we’re on, I know exactly where we’re going.  And because I’m often working with Google Maps or MapQuest, I have a picture in my head of what our day’s travel will look like.  But Alan doesn’t.  He’s content knowing the final destination for the day and bypassing any unnecessary details.  So, it’s up to me to keep the GPS unit up-to-date and know where we are and where we’re going at all times.

Luke is the Assistant Shotgun Rider

The shotgun rider is in charge of music, books, games and snacks.  Since Alan has the more important and the more tiring job, I’ll manage the radio stations and playlists, read trivia questions and dole out snacks and drinks, if needed, in between stops. One of the habits we picked up when traveling cross country with the kids was taking along a book or two that I could read aloud at times during the day.  “The Abernathy Boys” was a big hit, as were a couple of mysteries by Sue Henry – especially those involving RVer Maxie McNabb and her miniature dachshund, “Stretch.”  When it has been just the two of us traveling, Alan and I have both enjoyed the Harry Bosch detective series by one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly.  Sure, we could get an audio book and I know that works well for a lot of people.  But I’ve read aloud since the kids were very young so I’m quite used to it and, this way, we can easily stop and talk about our theories as to who the bad guys are without fumbling with the audio controls.  Plus, Alan gets a little extra entertainment when I run across a word I don’t know and can't pronounce.

Filling up at the Flying J

The shotgun rider finds the cheapest gas, the best eats and the most scenic stops.  Even though we have access to the internet via the hotspot in our truck and our GPS unit can pull up a list of restaurants or gas stations, we always travel with a well-worn copy of “The Next Exit,” a book that details all the services at every single exit of every single interstate in the country.  I can easily look ahead for a Pilot or Flying J so that we know we can save 5 cents per gallon on gas and have enough swing room at the pumps for the truck and trailer.  I’ll use it to time a stop so that we hit a Culver’s for frozen custard at the hottest part of a summer day.  Plus, and perhaps most importantly, it helps me identify just how long we have to wait for the first cup of McDonald’s coffee when we hit the road early in the morning.  (America may run on Dunkin’ but we’ve always marched to the beat of a different drummer.)  While I really do use and appreciate our electronic resources, I still love the feel of a book in my hands and I enjoy the challenge of searching for the best exits to stop at.  I’ll also keep the Road Atlas handy, using it to spot rest areas and State Parks along the way so that we can get out and enjoy the views and stretch our legs.  Knowing what services and activities are available to us and finding our favorites is a big part of the job.

Oh, YUM!

The shotgun rider annoys the driver, sings too loudly to the music and tells the driver to slow down way too often.  None of this is true, but Alan made me say it.  Well, maybe some of it is true.  But that’s all I’m going to say.

Do you prefer to drive or ride shotgun?  Do you have any good shotgun stories to share?  Please feel free to use the comment section below to chime in.  And thanks for stopping by!


  1. I'm with you ... love a real book in my hands. I much prefer using the "Next Exit" book than trying to get my iPhone to upload.

    1. My only fear is that someday Alan is going to have to slam on the brakes and we're going to get beaned by one of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by, Ingrid!


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