The Longest Road – Florida to Alaska

The Longest Road by Philip CaputoFeeling nostalgic this morning as I read rave reviews about a new road book in the NY Times…

Two years ago we converted our Honda CRV into a camper van and drove round-trip from Washington State to Maryland. Taking a northern route out and southern path home. Read about our adventures here:  US Cross Country Road Trip.

Back to the new book:  “The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean” by Philip Caputo. Mr. Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his book chronicles his trip in an Airstream trailer from one corner of North America to the other, asking everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large. From his publisher:

“Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.”

Recently, Mr. Caputo traveled to Missouri for a conversation with one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers, William Least Heat-Moon, the author of “Blue Highways” and “PrairyErth (A Deep Map).” Heat-Moon’s latest book is “Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road”, a collection of short essays taken from 30-plus years of travel. They had a wide-ranging conversation, covering their many years of travel. The New York Times published a condensed and edited version:  To See America, Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.

Here is a taste of their conversation:

CAPUTO: One of the things that’s impressed me about traveling in this country — and I’ve done a lot of world traveling, as you have, too — is not only the size of the country but the variety of the landscape, which is like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else. I mean you can be in Arizona or New Mexico and think you’re in North Africa, and not terribly far away it might look like the Swiss Alps, and someplace else — say, the Dakotas — looks like Ukraine.

HEAT-MOON: American topography is so incredibly diverse. If you’re traveling by auto, the windshield becomes a kind of movie. And we’re going to go out on the road, and we’re going to meet people who don’t think the way we do. And listen to someone who doesn’t think the way we do, we may learn something that could be useful, as well as something downright interesting.

CAPUTO: Yeah, I think one of the things I got out of this particular journey was running into people who will change your perspective, who will change the way you looked at things. And sometimes I think not just for the moment either, but permanently. And I think you’re right, that the country is big enough and varied enough, not only in its geographical landscape but its social landscape, that if I do travel to northwest Washington from southeast Georgia, or vice versa, I’m not going to run into somebody who thinks exactly the way I do and sees the world the same as I do.

Time to hit the road… well, maybe not until the house renovation is a little further along…

Ireland in September

Photos from Bruni's Article: To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home (collage courtesy of NY Times)

Those of us who read the New York Times know Frank Bruni as an Op-Ed columnist; I had forgotten he was the restaurant critic of The Times from June 2004 to August 2009. Enjoy this thoughtful salute to his mother and musings on Ireland as he travels the country by car…

I went in mid-September, and I went mostly, truth be told, because it promised spectacular scenery, bountiful seafood and an infinity of pubs, which my traveling partner, Tom, was especially excited about. We covered as much of the country as we could in a week’s time, dipping into Cork as well as Dublin, logging over 700 road miles, lounging beside a lake in the southwest and ambling along a creek in the northwest.

But I also went for a sort of communion with, and investigation of, Mom, who died almost 16 years ago. It was like an adult version of that classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” except that I wasn’t a lost bird asking a kitten, a dog, a boat. I was a grown man asking a country.

Link to the full article…  To Ireland, a Son’s Journey Home

Ireland has assumed a central place in poetry readers minds, due to Nobel Prize-winning poets, W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney, and 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner, Paul Muldoon. Doing a little research for this article brought forth Dennis O’Driscoll. Well known in Ireland and Britain, it seems he is not widely read in the U.S. but considered by some one of the most interesting poets writing in English. I leave you with the first section of his poem – Weather Permitting.

Weather Permitting
by Dennis O’Driscoll

The August day you wake to takes you by surprise.
Its bitterness. Black sullen clouds. Brackish downpour.
A drift-net of wetness enmeshes the rented cottage,
towels and children’s swimwear sodden on the line.

Dry-gulleted drains gulp down neat rain.
Drops bounce from a leaking gutter with hard,
uncompromising slaps: and, like resignation
in the face of death, you contemplate winter

with something close to tenderness, the sprint
from fuel shed to back door, the leisurely
ascent of peat smoke, even the suburban haze
of boiler flues when thermostats are set.

You warm to those thoughts as you sit there,
brainstorming ways to keep the family amused,
plans abandoned for barefoot games on dry sand.
Handcraft shops? Slot-machine arcades? Hotel grills?

In truth – manipulating toast crumbs backwards,
forwards at the unsteady table’s edge – you’d prefer
to return to your bed as if with some mild
ailment, pampered by duvet, whiskey, cloves.

Sláinte mhaith (good health)

Bicycling Across the United States

Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming
Chief Joseph scenic highway, Wyoming

Thoughtful reflections on his recent cross-country bike ride across the United States from New York Times writer, Bruce Weber

Among other things, my path through the nation has made me far more conscious and appreciative of the nation. I’m not just speaking of the scenic highlights, though the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, Glacier National Park in Montana, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park in Minnesota, and the Great Allegheny Passage, where the fall colors were on vivid, spectacular display, are enough to make a patriot out of a cynic.

This was an American journey by a New Yorker who became more American as he went along. By virtue of absorbing almost 4,000 miles of thrilling landscape, inch by inch, I learned more about topography and how it figures in the identities of thousands of localities and millions of Americans than I had ever understood.

Is there any way for a cyclist, especially one from a vertical metropolis, not to be awestruck by northern Montana? It took me two weeks to cross its vast expanse, from the dauntingly magisterial Rockies in the west to the endless, wind-whipped flatland of the east, where the towns are dots on the highway dozens of miles apart, pulsing on the prairie like blips on a colossal oscilloscope.

Link to the full article…  A Man, a Bike and 4,100 Miles

Weber’s musings remind me of our recent cross-country journey by car. Like Weber my husband and I were 57 years old and having experiences that sometimes reminded us of that. Yet like him we moved through those times and felt the reward of having done so.

To read about our trip check out the home article where you will find links to all our posts…  US Cross Country Road Trip

Crossing the North Cascades

Early morning light at the Orcas ferry landing

Up and out early this morning. Catching the 7:15 am ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes. Today we begin our cross country journey after months, weeks, then days of preparation. We are on the ferry, the car packed with everything we need for five weeks of travel… it’s full. I eye the Westfalia in front of us just a little longingly.

Jay strikes up a conversation with the woman who has rented the Westfalia Van and learns that her husband has a company, Canadian High Tops. A lover of Volkswagen vans, he provides conversion High Tops for VW vans for the years 1980 – 1991.

Driving through the Skagit Valley to Sedro Woolley we begin the scenic mountain drive known as the North Cascades Highway (Route 20). The drive begins through small towns and farmland with the green-blue Skagit River flanking the road. Near Rockport we see a sign for fresh organic blueberries and soon we are pulling into Cascadian Farm. A 28-acre certified organic farm since 1972, this farm was a pioneer in converting conventional farms to organic. Many of us are familiar with their jams but when we walk into the roadside store we go straight for the refrigerator filled with pints of blueberries. Gorgeous, organic and just picked they last about 10 minutes in the car.

Cascadian Farm store on the North Cascade Highway
Cascadian farm organic blueberries

The scenic drive continues through the mountains and ends in Winthrop, WA – a town known for the American Old West design of  its buildings. Our pit stop is in Twisp, another 9 miles along on Route 20. At the Glover Street Market we find some lovely organic greens to go with our tuna-egg salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the park.

US Cross Country Road Trip

A funny thing happened on the way to the wedding… we decided to convert our Honda CRV into a camper van and drive from Washington State to Maryland. We are fortunate to have some liberty with how much time we take. Initially, we were thinking a month, but as we begin to plan, five weeks seems more reasonable. To plot our round-trip route we are using an application of Google maps – My places.


View Cross Country Wedding Trip in a larger map

Our travels will be a mix of Interstate and back road driving, and we are searching for our copy of Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. First published in 1982, this is the story of the author’s journey in an old van, to see the real United States driving only the lesser roads (marked on the map in blue). Jay remembers enjoying the interviews of characters he met along the road. And describes the book being about the journey versus the destination – the idea that as we slow down we see more.

Here are some other books that cross country travelers have enjoyed:

Hearing that we will be touring South Dakota, visiting both Badlands National Park and Bear Butte State Park, a  good friend of ours, Robin, suggested we read The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick.

Jay will be posting soon on How to Convert a Honda CRV into a Camper Van… In the meantime, let us know what books you would recommend… audio book suggestions are welcome as well.

Please follow us on our journey. See “Stay In Touch” on the right sidebar and sign up to get our posts for free via email, RSS, or Twitter. Here are links to blog posts from the journey, as they happen:

Crossing the North Cascades

Dinner in Spokane, WA

Historic Wallace, Idaho

Butte, Montanta

Yellowstone National Park

Beartooth Hwy to Chief Joseph Scenic Hwy in NW Wyoming

Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota

Bear Butte in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Pit Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota

The New Landscape in Iowa

Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY too

Martin Luther King and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials

Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Fiestas de Santa Fe: The Burning of Zozobra