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Loudoun alum keeping ‘The Spirit of ‘39’ alive

Lauren Herbine sitting in the middle of the Loneliest Road in Nevada. Instagram/@Spiritof39
Loudoun native Lauren Herbine has taken to the open road this summer to recreate a cross-country road trip her grandfather took 78 years ago.

In 1939, Herbine’s grandfather, Bill Browne, and six of his friends went on a road trip from New Jersey to California and back. The seven men traveled west in a fixed-up school bus along the Lincoln Highway and back home along Route 66. Before the trip they had only journeyed as far as New York City, with the exception of one friend who had visited Nova Scotia.

Browne's travels were documented in the book, “The Spirit of 39.”

Herbine said she had always wanted to recreate her grandfather’s trip, but never thought she would have the opportunity. Then she received the push she needed to take the adventure when she was given money by William and Mary’s Monroe Scholar program for research.

The Monroe Scholar program gives money to students so they can complete research they would not otherwise be able to accomplish in the classroom. Herbine, a Loudoun Academy of Science graduate, is using her road trip to compare the cultural and historical differences between the Lincoln Highway 78 years ago to today.

Herbine said her main point of reference for her research is “The Spirit of 39,” which tells the story from Browne’s perspective on his cross-country adventure. Herbine has used the book to outline the route she is driving to and from California. Herbine estimates the round trip will take her roughly three and a half weeks to complete and through about 20 states.

Like Browne and his friends, Herbine said her and a friend, Erica Schneider, have been taking the trip by “the seat of their pants.”

“We didn't book any campground or hotels ahead of time,” Herbine said. “Each day we just look at the map and go, ‘Oh there's a campground here, let's go there.’”

Herbine, again like her grandfather, has also had to drive without air conditioning, which broke on her first day of driving.

“When we were in the midwestern states it was hard,” Herbine side. “Mid-90s, sunny every day. I got strep at the very beginning of the trip, which I got medication for in Chicago, but there was a couple days I was sick in the car with no AC -- so that was very difficult.”

Despite being sick for the first few days of the drive, Herbine said the adrenaline of the trip got her through it.

Herbine said she has been enjoying the adventure. While there are slow gravel roads along the Lincoln Highway, Herbine has gotten to see the Rocky Mountains and wildflowers along the North Platte River.

“It's been fun. It's been surprising,” Herbine said. “I guess, you know, you see a lot of picture of the places we've been, but not really until you drive through it do you really get a sense of a place.”

Though Browne passed away at age 87 in 2010, Herbine said she thinks he would be happy to see her recreate his trip.

“All my relatives had told me he'd be really proud,” Herbine said. “I think he had a great sense of adventure through his whole life, so I think he'd be happy he got to pass that on to some of his grandkids.”

You can follow Herbine’s trip on Instagram @Spiritof39.

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia or on Facebook @journalistAmeliaHeymann.


I’m struggling with the use of a research program to take a vacation.  It seems like an incredible misuse of the funds.

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