Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Apparently wanderlust is not unique to me. I know that seems pretty obvious, and it is, but I have been intrigued by the number of people who have expressed the same dream albeit in more period correct modes of travel. The people I admire most were those who, at the end of their careers, wanted to see the country just to have done it. These were not people paid to reach the limits of geography like the team of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; rather they were driven as I am by personal discovery.
The first is the father of our country. My friend Mike Ingelido sent me this note: “I just finished reading a book about Washington and the other “Founders”. In it, I found a passage that Washington wrote about what he wanted to do after he finished his second term as President. It reminded me of you.”
“I have it in contemplation…to make a tour thro’ all Eastern States – thence into Canada – thence up the St. Lawrence, & thro’ the Lakes to Detroit – thence to lake Michigan by Land or water – thence thro’ the western Country, by the river Illinois, to the river Mississippi, and down the same to New Orleans – thence thro’ the two Carolinas home – A great tour this, you will say – probably it may take place nowhere but in imagination, tho’ it is my wish in the latter end of April of next year…”
If we remember that the United States at the end of George Washington’s second term included but the original 13 states, the trip he describes was very similar in scale to the one I am attempting. It was in fact to the four corners of the land that had been explored at that time. In fact, not much was known about anything west of the Mississippi River, so his wish to travel from Detroit down to New Orleans was near the limit of prudence at that time and at his age. Again, that is very similar to me.
The thoughts of Washington inspired me to reconnect with three more contemporary wanderers, John Steinbeck, Charles Kuralt and William Least Heat Moon. Each of these men took long trips around the USA and then wrote about their respective trips in best-selling books. Having read all three, and having no designs on writing a best seller myself, I thought I would at least summarize the similarities and the distinctions I see to my own sojourn to points across America.
Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” comes close to the trip I am making in that he chose to strike out on his own without any real plan other than to circumnavigate the 48. There are some differences. He went in a camper truck, although he spent many, if not most, nights in hotels and motels. He had Charley for company. I will be just me. There are also some similarities. His route was, much like my original plan, a perimeter loop that went counterclockwise across the northern states, down the west coast, then east through the southern tier of states and back home to New York, covering about 10,000 miles.
His book starts by describing his lifelong wanderlust and his preparations to rediscover the country he felt he had lost touch with after living in New York City and traveling in Europe for 20 years, recalling his fearless, even reckless, state of mind and his courage in undertaking a long, arduous and ambitious cross-country road trip by himself. Steinbeck knew he was dying and wanted to see his country one last time. I, on the other hand, (though almost twenty years older than he was when he traveled) am merely getting old and can see the time when an adventure like this will no longer be possible so I intend to grab this opportunity while I am still fit to take it. The spirit to go is much the same as Steinbeck, though.
Charles Kuralt, in his book “A Life on the Road,” had a far different motivation; His work as a reporter required him to travel for story assignments and after chasing news stories for a number of years he had grown weary of deadlines. He would barely get a taste of an interesting place before being assigned a new story with a new deadline. He proposed to CBS that they outfit a Travco Motorhome and let him go look for extraordinary stories of ordinary America where there was no competition for a scoop or for a deadline. For over 20 years he literally wandered the backroads of the USA, just stopping wherever he pleased, usually finding an interesting story to report in his “On the Road” segments. Much as I will be doing, he avoided interstates favoring the nation’s back roads. He provided the inspirational context for my trip when he said, “Interstate highways allow you to drive coast to coast, without seeing anything.”
He went on to say that he had a voice in his head speaking wisdom. “The voice said you haven’t a world of time left to do all those things you promised yourself you’d do someday. For now, your lungs are still strong enough to let you walk through a mountain meadow and your legs will still support you in the current of a trout stream. You have plenty of curiosity left, and energy and love of life. You have at least one long trip in you yet. If that’s what you really want you’d better be about it.” Isn’t that speaking precisely to me as I contemplate this adventure?
Hi, I’m Ross and I’m a tripoholic. I love driving especially in my old cars and then writing about the adventure that always follows. I’m old enough to know better but that doesn’t stop me. If you like stories of the road, every word true no matter how far fetched it may seem, then grab a beer or a cup of coffee and join me!
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The last of my muses, William Least Heat Moon, took an extended road trip around the United States, sticking to only the “Blue Highways.” Not just the name of his book, it is also a term he coined to refer to small, out-of-the-way backroads connecting rural America which were drawn in blue on the older style Rand McNally road atlas. Now those roads are red or gray in my 2021 Rand McNally atlas but the meaning is still the same. After separating from his wife and losing his job as a teacher, he embarked on a three-month tour of the USA to contemplate and soul-search. It is really the story of a journey in two parts. It is, literally, a trip on the road while simultaneously a voyage of self-discovery. While he is clearly looking within himself he states “To seek the high concord, a man looks not deeper within – he reaches farther out.” The lessons are not lost on me.
My trip, on the road, whether the highway is marked blue, red or gray, and without Charley, will simply be an adventure, a stretch and an exploration and to do something somewhat grand; sort of one last great act of defiance in the face of aging which is inevitable for all of us. I hope the mere going will inspire others to stretch in their own sphere of interest whatever that may be.