While a good book is, in itself, a fantastic adventure, the beauty of the open road and trails less-traveled beckon. So we’ve compiled a list of adventure ideas based on classic American tales of travel, exploration, and embracing the call of the wild.
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
Kerouac’s “On the Road” became an instant classic — a combined handbook and bible for the young and restless. An homage to living fast and driving faster, the novel chronicles Kerouac and Neal Cassady’s doppelgangers, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, as they galavant across the United States.
To follow their route, grab an old Cadillac, start in Manhattan, and set your sights on Mexico City. To remain faithful to the route of the book, pass through Washington D.C. Lexington, Virginia; Ashland, Kentucky; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Missouri; Denver, Colorado; San Antonio, Texas; and Monterrey, Mexico along the way. It’s a journey of nearly 4,000 miles — so spread out the (roughly) 60 hours of driving over a comfortable week or two.
“America Day by Day” by Simone De Beauvoir
“Breakfast in the corner drugstore is a celebration. Orange juice, toast, cafe au lait — an unadulterated pleasure. Sitting on my revolving stool, I participate in a moment of American life.”
While De Beauvoir’s book is not a “light read,” it is a fascinating and digestible glimpse into the America that existed 70? years ago, as seen through the eyes of the famous French philosopher. Based on her notes from an exhaustive four-month tour of the States in 1947, this book follows De Beauvoir as she traverses the country and comments on her preconceptions of the nation that clash with the reality that unfolds before her. Included in the text are her impressions of American character, gender issues, and the recurring idea of true “authenticity,” as well as her own musings on race and racism, and how they play out in American culture.
A fascinating read, this novel encourages enthusiasts to take a leaf out of De Beauvoir’s book and see the country for themselves. The author traveled through New York, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Virginia, Ohio, Chicago, California, New Mexico, California, Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida on buses and trains. Today, there are several train routes that ferry passengers across the width or length of the United States, if, like De Beauvoir, you prefer daydreaming, window-watching, and journaling to driving the open road.
“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson
“Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot … The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know.”
After spending 20 years in Great Britain, Bill Bryson returned to the United States and settled in New Hampshire with his family. While that seems like a nondescript way to begin a book, Bryson also decided that walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail would be a good reintroduction to his home country. So he and a friend, Stephen Katz, depart on an epic hiking trip, which runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s a must-read for any hiker that aspires to tackle the Appalachian Trail (AT), for those who believe in conservation, and for readers who just like to laugh.
While the AT is a great challenge for avid hikers and those who can take a significant amount of time off, Bryson’s route is also driveable. To follow his footsteps, begin at the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, continue on to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, through Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, into Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, across the Delaware Water Gap in Pennsylvania, and through the Green Mountains of Vermont to reach Mount Katahdin in Maine. It’s quite the journey, whether you traverse it on foot or by car!
“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed
“How wild it was, to let it be.”
The popularity of Cheryl Strayed’s adventure memoir “Wild” cannot be overstated. The book sparked a major movie release, a spike in internet searches for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the formation of veritable communities dedicated to Strayed’s writings and adventures. Though Strayed’s story of solo exploration along the PCT was one of the most moving, it certainly wasn’t the first. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 (though it wasn’t fully completed until 1993), the PCT stretches 2,659 miles (4,279 kilometers) from Mexico to Canada and boasts scenery that many consider the best of the West.
Feeling inspired? There are plenty of tips for planning your own PCT trek, but be aware that a thru-hike can take anywhere from four to six months and proper planning is absolutely essential. We’re also going to suggest that you don’t take a page out of Cheryl’s book when it comes to footwear — get your hiking boots fitted properly.Your toenails will thank you!
“Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck
“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”
At the advent of his novel, Steinbeck admits that he “did not know his own country,” that his understanding of the U.S. was limited to its large, coastal cities — New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago. He decided to depart on a driving trip of the States via the country’s two lane highways with a light-brown French poodle named Charley, who he called a “mind-reading dog.” While pet-owners are bound to exaggerate praises of their animals, Steinbeck strongly believed in Charley’s ability to act as a diplomat between himself, an author, and the strangers he encountered along their journey.
If you’re a fan of this American classic, plan a trip with your own pooch and follow Steinbeck’s journey, though be warned that the author was on the road for a total of 12 weeks! He started in Sag Harbor, New York, and drove on to Massachusetts, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia, until finally returning to New York City.
“Into the Wild” by John Krakauer
“The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.”
It’s easy to be captivated by the journey of Christopher McCandless retold by John Krakauer in his 1997 book, “Into the Wild.” In 1992, McCandless, eschewing the comforts afforded by modernity and money, embarked on a two-year backpacking trip across the Alaskan wilderness.
He later perished from starvation in the Fairbanks City Transit bus he called home. Tragic ending aside, his route has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for similarly idealistic dreamers.
To follow this hitchhiker’s route to Alaska, start in Lake Mead in Boulder City, Nevada; continue on to Lake Tahoe in California and the Cascade Range of Washington; back to Needles, California; on to Topock, Arizona; through Morelos Dam, Baja California; up through Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona; over to Las Vegas, Nevada; and then finally make the long trek up to Alaska. After completing the journey, don’t attempt to brave the hell and high water of the aptly named Savage River, which has claimed the lives of many ‘pilgrims,” to reach McCandless’s final resting place (his “Magic Bus” still lies on Stampede Road). Instead, relish your time in Alaska’s beautiful wilderness and reflect on your own journey.
“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel
“A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films.”
This 2014 novel’s post-apocalyptic tone sets it apart from the others on our list. But this piece of literature by St. John Mandel is worth mentioning because of its fascinating depiction of a post-collapse civilization in the Great Lakes area of the United States. While the novel’s characters travel around the region, the book also documents the passage of time, the intricate threads that connect five of its main characters, and the importance of natural and artistic beauty.
Enthusiasts of this fantastically crafted novel may consider retracing the route of Station Eleven’s traveling theater troupe. Follow the novel’s course from its opening scene in Toronto to the state of Illinois, where several characters visit Severn City. Visit Chicago and continue on to the scenic towns around Lake Michigan — Mandel’s characters visited St. Deborah by the Water, a town perched on the banks of the great lake. While a winter road trip between these northern locations may be plagued by snow, a summer escape is bound to yield open roads, unfolding views, lakeside lounging, and a glimpse into the mysterious world of “Station Eleven.”