Travel Writing Awards Entry

By Lesley Williams

Have you ever been to America and had that suspicious sense that there is more to it than Disney, the Empire State Building or Fisherman’s Wharf?

After a couple of years of fairly standard holidays in the States, if you like it, risk it – and take a road trip. Whilst not to be recommended for families – and probably not an adventure to share with friends (if you want to keep them) this is the way to realise your own dreams and create your own reality.

Imagine. The California option. Starting off in San Francisco, eating gumbo out of sourdough bowls, driving down Highway 1, through LA and over to Las Vegas. The Tennessee option. Nashville and the Grand Old Opry to Gatlinburg and Dollywood; taking in a NASCAR race along the way. Back over to Memphis for Graceland and Beale and down to New Orleans. Or perhaps the Washington alternative with an Indigo Girls concert at the Wolftrap Stadium, then, driving to Georgetown and cruising through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia? Think about it – the possibilities are endless. My first trips were triggered by songs and I have to thank Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor and Mark Cohn to name but a few who have given the inspiration for a road trip. Experiencing the ‘Mississippi Delta shining like a national guitar’ (thanks Paul) and to be ‘stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again’ (Bob) is incredible. Even the songs that aren’t in your head at the beginning become stars of the event. It is impossible to ride a riverboat without the riffs of Proud Mary playing and try going to New Orleans without looking for the House of the Rising Sun.

How do you do it – and what are the pitfalls?

First you need a goal. Initially it is enough just to have a dream. Your dream may not be music – but it will be there. There are certain things that become legendary to each of us about America. To drink a tequila sunrise at the Keys, walk on Beale or visit the birthplace of Wyatt Earp. Any of these dreams give the initial focus for a trip. Once you have that focus you can build your trip around your dream. Put a pin in your map to mark the dream and you are there. The internet is a fantastic resource. Once identified, research around you marker. Soon you have found an itinerary that takes you to places you didn’t know existed. It is incredibly easy to book your flights, transatlantic and internal by through the internet – as well as your car – and your tickets- for sport or concerts along the way. However, beware. Along with weaving your dreams a recommended resource is a piece of landscape A4 with Day 1 to Day 21 carefully filled in with all details, plus very close attention to realistic mileage targets and goals. This will ensure that the dream does not turn into a nightmare. Without structure you may never meet that flight or you could find yourself driving down from Yosemite in pitch darkness with no edges to the cliff face and a very real chance of meeting your maker much before you planned!

On occasion you will book into fleapits which look OK but harbour roaches and other demons you would rather not know about. Tired, exhausted and with night upon you it will be necessary to ignore the dodgy electricity, the cracks in the tiles and the uneasy feeling some of the rooms are rented to less than desirable residents. When your planned stop at Eden turns out to be a scary place, drive on, it’s your dream for the making. But, keep calm – it’s par for the course and will be more than compensated for by snorkelling off the Keys or finding that little railroad in the back of beyond with the diner where the waitress really means ‘have a nice day’ and offers to show you round the town.

All you need is a partnership that includes at least one confident driver and one who will happily tackle long straight lonely roads. The partnership also needs a good planner with internet sense and dogged determination. That plus good humour and a sense of adventure and you are home and dry.

When you land, book a hotel room near the airport to chill before you launch into your adventure. Get straight to the first Wal Mart and buy their special edition of the Rand McNally touring map. $5 well spent. Stick to the highways and byways. Avoid the dreaded interstates. Most of all create your own travelogue – and enjoy!