Road Dispatches: Columnist Prepares to Explore Our Country From Behind the Wheel

It seems to me that New England is a very personable region in our great, but obscure, country. There is the Midwest, the South, the West Coast, but few have the history and ambiance of our states.

There's Maine, the land first to greet the sun every morn. Every summer people travel north — away from the equator! — to enjoy the warm beaches and cool waters. New Hampshire's tax-free nature makes it attractive to many consumers; equally appealing is its "Live Free or Die!" philosophy. The quaint hamlets, fall foliage, and maple syrup of Vermont are world-famous in New England.

And, of course, there is Massachusetts, on whose shores the country was born. Who has not been on the ground where the Pilgrims first landed in the New World, have seen the turning points of our history re-enacted in Lexington and Concord, or have walked the shores of Thoreau's otherwise nondescript Walden?

Compare all the above to what little we know of other states. Wisconsin has cheese; Kentucky, blue grass. Surely there's more to this country than that?

Then I start thinking about the wonders of our country. Every year, millions of tourists visit historical sites such as Mount Rushmore, the Alamo, the Civil Rights Memorial, and attractions, both natural and otherwise, such as Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park. There are the cities whose names we all somehow seem to know: San Diego, Detroit, San Antonio, Des Moines.

There are roads which connect this country's every region, state, city, and place. From the choices we've made since Columbus' days to Route 66, they can be traced across hundreds of years and thousands of miles. Suddenly, the yearn to explore these paths beckons to me, and head out on a trip that will take me who knows where for who knows how long.

My brother Steve and I clean out the van, then decide what to pack for our pilgrimage. A week's worth of laundry, and plenty of quarters. Sleeping bags: poor weather will force us to sleep in the van, or in a cheap hotel; a nice night will find us in a camping ground or Nebraskan cornfield. Music enough to drive each other crazy, I with Garth Brooks and he, the Spice Girls. Maps, coupons, and phone numbers of geographically-distant cousins. Left at home to collect dust will be anything resembling a video game.

For the next several weeks, we'll be exploring both my country and yours – but not by highway, as billboards and exit signs are not my definition of beauty. I want to see with my own eyes what makes our tourist attractions so awesome, and why so many people visit them in the words of their custodians. I want to visit not only metropolises, but towns and villages as well. How blue is the grass of Kentucky, or how white the peaks of Colorado? Is there really a Smallville, Kansas? Are there other Leominsters and Fitchburgs out there, in name or atmosphere? Are there still towns where people sleep with doors unlocked?

And so it is that I make this journey, not only to discover America, but in the hope that, somewhere along the road, it'll find me.

Next Week ->

This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2002 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission. Original Publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 05-Jun-98