The Road to Enlightenment

A couple of ago, Mike Marriner and Nate Gebhard took to the road to find their path in life. Frustrated with what seemed like the lockstep approach to colleges and careers, the Southern California residents boarded an RV and took a 15,000-mile road trip to film interviews with luminaries from various professions. So read on and learn more about these collegians on the road to enlightenment.

Their goal: Find out what made successful people happy, so young people could learn how to find their own route to professional fulfillment. In so doing, Marriner and Gebhard launched a movement, dubbed Roadtrip Nation (RTN), complete with a new book and PBS series.

For them, the journey has become the destination. The two founders are now handing the keys to enlightenment — not to mention three neon-green RVs — to the next batch of road-trippers.

The nine new road-trippers — one team each from the West Coast, East Coast, and Midwest — were chosen from 100 finalists who applied through their college career centers.

A trio of three-person teams hits the road Thursday to pick the brains of notables such as the late Hugh Hefner of Playboy fame, Sanjay Gupta of CNN, and Theodore Sorensen, John F. Kennedy’s speechwriter. The three teams will take separate routes and meet back in New York from Aug. 1 to 6.

The group has moved into a three-story house in Laguna Beach, Calif., that serves as headquarters for Roadtrip Productions, the production company component of RTN that creates its books and documentaries. State Farm just re-upped its commitment as a primary sponsor to RTN for another three years, Starbucks will be showcasing RTN’s new self-published book (Destination Unknown, $18.85 at, and a new eight-part weekly series is currently airing on PBS affiliates in 70 markets.

Gloria Pantoja and the rest of her Sacramento State University-based team learned they were chosen to take the wheel of one of the RVs in May and had two months to plan their trip and schedule their interviews. The Roadtrip philosophy is just the thing to counteract the pressures of society, she says.

“It’s ‘Get out there, make money so you can live well,’ ” says Pantoja, 21, a senior business marketing major. “But what about ‘Do what you enjoy, what is it you love, how do you want to make a difference in this world?’ These aren’t things that are necessarily expressed as much.

Through three years of life on the road — dealing with everything from unreliable RVs and showers in Kinko’s bathrooms, to countless skeptics and naysayers, to kids who want nothing more from them than a free green trucker hat — the love of the road remains for Marriner and Gebhard.

“Being on the road and filming is the best part of the project,” Marriner says. “Being on the road to promote is a necessary part of it, and that’s hard. How many times can you keep telling the story over again? It just gets tiring. But I never get tired of being in these interviews.”

These days, Marriner and Gebhard serve solely behind the scenes as cameramen and producers, preferring to let each new group of road-trippers become the face of the movement. After all, Roadtrip Nation is about the students and the raw, honest inquisitiveness they bring, says Marriner.

“The light has kind of already gone off for me; my nickel’s dropped,” he says. “Our experience worked for us. But these students are lost, they’re in the same position as we were before we hit the road.”

He adds: “Plus, I don’t have to shave every day.”