On the Road

My husband and I love road trips. There is nothing like the road to heighten the senses and open the mind. Conversations flow as we cruise along the pathways of backroads taking in the whole scene. Vagabond and author Ed Buryn noted that Americans are the quintessential nomads. With this nomadic urge inside our blood, it is no wonder that Americans love road trips.

We are fortunate to live in such a beautiful place with great driving roads literally just outside of our driveways. During the warmer months of the year for short distance trips, we favor cruising in our restored 1975 Triumph TR6 (convertible of course) which we named Luna. We seek out those curving, twisting roads that seem to scream freedom and escape. We always feel free of worries, gypsies of the road, when we’re driving.

Over the years, Harry and I have collected a number of road trip stories. One of our first longer distance journeys together was a ski trip to New Hampshire, wherein we decided to take the ride in the middle of a major blizzard. My husband’s magnificent driving skills were put to the test as he fearlessly guided our old Chevy Corsica over the curving and unplowed roads of the Sawyer Highway and the Kancamangus Highway through the White Mountains…in the middle of the night. We arrived safely to uncrowded, fresh-powder-sweet slopes, since most people were smart enough to stay home during the 24″ storm.

If you are new to road tripping, I would suggest Fodor’s How to Take a Road Trip. This is an excellent little guide with tips on how to make the most of a road trip. Reading this won’t prevent spontaneity, but it will prevent you from making classic mistakes like not bringing any food and finding yourselves in a low blood sugar desperation food hunt in the middle of nowhere.

The essential road trip novel is, of course, On the Road by Jack Keroauc. This classic masterpiece of semi-biographical fiction follows Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they travel on the road in 1950s America. The Beat Generation is born.

Air Conditioned Nightmare by Henry Miller takes you on a road trip across America one decade earlier in the 1940s. As the title suggests, Miller doesn’t have the brightest outlook on what he finds upon his forced return to the U.S. because of the outbreak of war in Europe. Back in 1945, Miller wrote that “nowhere else in the world is the divorce between man and nature so complete”.

In Roads by Pulitzer Prize winning author Larry McMurtry, his journey takes him through America at the end of the century. He writes, “three passions have dominated my more than sixty years of mostly happy life: books, women and the road.” McMurty takes on a solitary trip across the country to “have the nomad in me survive a little longer”.

Disregarding the fear that isolates Americans from one another and embracing the abandoning freedom of Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie, Elijah Wald decides to road trip across the country as a hitchhiker in Riding With Strangers. Library Journal writes, “A just-right combination of travelogue, culture peek, and hitching tips, the author, a veteran of 40 years of hitchhiking, says that his experience refutes the scare messages served up to the public for the past 30 years. He reminds readers that Americans are getting stereotyped as violent and paranoid…and it is a relief to be reminded how many of us are helpful and friendly, ready to interrupt our daily rounds at the solicitation of a random wanderer”.

For a strange trip, try Driving Mr. Albert: a Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain by Michael Paterniti. Yes, Paterniti literally drove across America with Einstein’s brain preserved in formaldehyde in a plastic bowl inside a duffel bag stored in the trunk of his Buick Skylark. When pathologist Thomas Harvey performed the autopsy on Einstein in 1955, he stole his brain. Publisher’s Weekly writes, “Driving a Buick Skylark across the country with an addled octogenarian and an organ may not seem like the ripest material for a story… however, the journey becomes a transcendent and hilarious exploration of heady themes like obsession, love and science.”

Just after graduating from high school, my husband and his (now our) dear friend took a road trip to visit important Civil War sites along the East Coast. He has many fond memories of the trip, including waking up in his ’71 Volkswagen Microbus in the middle of a Civil War reenactment at Antietam.  If you are considering a similar road trip, The Complete Civil War Road Trip Guide by Michael Weeks will guide you on your journey.

But wait, let us not forget road trip films! There are so many great films to choose from: I offer only a short list of a few favorites.

Travel at high speeds with the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Carrie (Sally Field) in Smokey and the Bandit as they run from the law.

Experience the counterculture cross country motorcycle ride with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.

Traveling with the whole family? Jump in that green station wagon with the Griswold Family in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Unexpected friends are often met on the road like in Planes, Trains and Automobiles starring John Candy and Steve Martin.

Two Native American boys travel from Idaho to Arizona and discover so much about themselves and the world along the way in Smoke Signals.

Happy Traveling!

~Ann Marie

Ann Marie is the Library Director of the Oliver Wolcott Library and can often be found in the navigator seat of a 2007 MINI Cooper JCW go-kart as it prowls the twisties of the Berkshires.

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