Up until 15 years or so ago, my experience of the US – like that of many other Europeans – had been limited to the East and West coasts; more specifically New York City and San Francisco-Highway 1-Los Angeles. In 2005 however, my wife Carole and I decided to expand our horizons, both metaphorically and literally, by embarking on a month-long American roadtrip.
We knew we wanted to follow in the footsteps of the American nation and track the sun west, so initially considered but ultimately rejected as ‘too obvious’ the Route 66 option. What we wanted to experience was the the country at its grandest, its rolling plains and jagged, snow-capped mountains, its primaeval forests and majestic rivers, its light, its skies, its majesty. We wanted to experience America at a local level too, its two lane highways, its bars, microbreweries and diners, and what we were to learn to call its ‘mom & pop’ motels.
So, after poring over maps and taking advice from the forum at the RoadTrip America website, we booked outbound flights to Chicago, return flights from Seattle, hotel reservations for two nights at either end of the trip, and set out on an adventure that would change our lives.
Over the course of those four weeks in July 2005, we followed a 4500 mile route that delivered everything we’d hoped for and more: the indescribable wonder of Yellowstone; the breathtaking grandeur of Glacier National Park; the Giant Redwoods of California; the rugged coast of Oregon; and the devastating power of Mount St. Helens in Washington. South Dakota in particular delivered on our other goal: we were captivated by its people as well as its places. But nothing quite surpassed the sense of excitement, wonder and anticipation we experienced on Day One, standing at the west-facing window on the 94th floor of Chicago’s John Hancock Tower, looking out over the Windy City and far beyond, and imagining what those weeks and miles might hold in store.
So powerful was this sensation and so wonderful the reality that it has drawn us back to the USA every year since, even on occasion, when budgets permit, twice a year. It is hardly an exaggeration to describe it as an obsession.
Since then we’ve driven most of Route 66, large parts of the Lincoln Highway, the whole of the Blue Ridge Parkway, parts of the Great River Road, and virtually the whole of the Natchez Trace. We’ve followed the westward route forged by Lewis & Clark, trod the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail, and marvelled at the wonders of the Beartooth Highway, Utah’s ‘Hogback’, and the west coast’s Highway 101. We’ve eaten lobster on Cape Cod, prairie oysters in Texas, and buffalo in Montana, and floated on the waters of the Missouri, Colorado and Rio Grande.