Arielle Crane and Erica Matlin are native New Yorkers and recent graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At 22, they conjured up the idea for – and set off on – the ‘Art of the Road’, a series of road trips throughout the United States, beginning with a trip through the South. With a strong penchant for adventure, they conquer each of their destinations by embracing the people and the cultures they encounter. You can follow their adventures at http://followthebrightsiders.wordpress.com and on Instagram @theartoftheroad.
There is something about the open road that is incredibly inspiring and we yearned for the sense of freedom it offered. As we learned over the course of our journey, though, the bigger picture lives off the road. Each person, each town, each city has a story, and it is within these stories that the beat of America exists.
The idea for our road trip came to us one year prior, when we studied in Seville, Spain and traveled through Europe for six months. On that trip, we both realized a couple of things: 1) neither one of us had seen much of our own country; and 2) we particularly enjoyed our travels when we put faith in locals to guide us through their city and then towards our next destination.
Time played a huge factor in our trip; we only had one month on the road. Instead of cramming as many states as possible into the little time we had, we decided to divide our travels into a series of road trips, beginning with the South. With our reflections from Europe, a short and flexible list of places we wanted to go, and our car, we set out to experience what we like to call the ‘Art of the Road’. The “art” became a compilation of the stories we heard and the sense of passion we felt from locals as they spoke about and showed us around their hometowns.
We started our trip from New York, heading straight to Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia before settling for the night in our friends’ Bed & Breakfast Inn in Saluda, North Carolina.
We spent our first full day zip-lining trough the blue Carolina skies in the Green River Gorge and getting to know the Taylor family, Georgia natives. The Taylors unknowingly shaped the first part of our trip by telling us about their summers spent at Folly Beach in South Carolina (a place they told us to visit as we made our trek down South). They also introduced us to family they have in Nashville.
“…the real adventure came from hearing the stories of the people we met and allowing those people to guide our route.”
As we traveled along, we enjoyed sharing our own stories with the people we met. What meant the most to us was when that trust was reciprocated and people told us their stories, showing us around their hometowns, inviting us to take the two empty seats at the bar next to them, or in the case of the Taylors, inviting us to feel like we were a part of their family for a day.
We left Saluda after 2 days and headed to Folly Beach, eager to reach the coastline and body surf the waves on ‘The Edge of America’. By the time we reached Charleston we had found our groove: we’d arrive in a city, find a place to stay (usually a B&B) and a solid breakfast at a local coffee shop, and then park the car to walk around, our eyes open to the nature and culture surrounding us, drawing our own map of the city. At Folly Beach, we had met a couple of guys from Charleston who promised to show us around their city that night. Thanks to them, we had our first taste of Southern-style cooking and experienced Charleston’s blossoming jazz scene with the band Thank God It’s Funky. After a long night out, we spent the day on a boat of new friends, enjoying hearing their perspectives on southern living. We fell into this great pattern of trusting our surroundings; that pattern took us through Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and then back to South Carolina, which became our favorite stomping ground.
Traversing the open road – knowing that the possibilities of where you might end up are endless – is a liberating journey. For us, the real adventure came from hearing the stories of the people we met and allowing those people to guide our route. Travel should be an immersive experience; one based on people and not a guidebook. Exploring the South via the word of locals was incredible and we can’t wait to connect the dots with the rest of America.
Words and photos: Arielle Crane & Erica Matlin