Rick Holmes, an award-winning journalist and longtime GateHouse Media columnist, is on the road in search of the ties that bind Americans - and the forces that pull them apart. With all eyes on Washington, Rick reports from real places too often reduced to primary colors on an election map.
Two years ago, my wife and I went looking for America. We’ve covered a lot of territory since then, and we’re not done yet.
I’ve always felt it isn’t a real vacation unless I visit someplace I’ve never been. This road trip took me to all kinds of new places: Louisiana’s Cajun Country and the Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula; the deep woods of Northern Maine and the stark desert of West Texas. I’ve breathed the thin air in the alpine meadows of the Rockies and felt the hypnotic flatness of the Great Plains.
What you see on your journey depends on your window. My wife and I saw America mostly through the windshield of a Ford F-150, pulling a 24-foot travel trailer. RVing gives you the comfort of home, wherever you’ve landed. The ability to disconnect your camper, as opposed to carrying it on your back, allows you to take the truck on day trips, or even a weekend in the city.
RV travel steers you off the beaten path. Campgrounds are either government-run, with spacious sites in scenic locales, or private businesses, ranging from upper-end resorts to cramped parking lots on the edge of town. That meant our urban excursions were limited, while we got a pretty good look at places like Ashtabula, Ohio, and Del Rio, Texas, most tourists speed past.
Campgrounds are neighborly places, populated by two kinds of people: tourists in shiny RVs, generally pretty well off, and long-timers in rundown trailers, many of them just scraping by. It’s not a representative sample of Americans, but you won’t find that at an airport hotel or a fancy resort, either. We found just about everyone we met to be friendly, respectful of our privacy and eager to help.
We’ve seen some gorgeous views through the big window of our truck – the sun setting over the Mississippi; a super-moon rising off the Carolina coast; the red rocks in Colorado’s Garden of the Gods; the sparkling mist over Niagara Falls. Nothing rekindles love of country like exposure to its natural beauty.
You can see even more when you get out of your vehicle. We explored cypress swamps by kayak, crossed Puget Sound by ferry and hiked all over. We like to touch the land, smell the trees, sneak up on the birds and get up close to the wildflowers.
There’s the big window of our truck moving down the highway, but there’s also the little window on the phone in my pocket. We spent a few days off the grid, but I’m a newshound. I like to be plugged into the world.
Staying connected is a lot easier than it used to be. Most private campgrounds have Wi-Fi, often strong enough to stream movies, and many have cable TV. We got a deal on unlimited data just before hitting the road, and I signed up for a streaming service that let me catch Red Sox games thousands of miles from Fenway. Most of the time, we had ready access to news, email, Facebook, Twitter and all the other good and not-so-good things our phones can deliver.
The view through the big window is prettier and more interesting than the view through my little phone. The people I meet in person are more pleasant than some of the ones I run into online. They don’t talk about politics all the time, for one thing.
Unlike my phone apps, the truck’s window doesn’t work on algorithms designed to show you more and more of what it has decided you want to see. Around the next corner, you’re going to find a surprise, and it’s up to you to make sense of it. Oftentimes, what you see will go against the oversimplifications and stereotypes we get from neighbors and the media about people in other states. Through the windshield, you can see that states aren’t all red or all blue, nor are the people in them. Americans are multi-colored, multi-dimensional and a lot nicer than you see on TV.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” Mark Twain wrote. “Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
So, where are you going on your next road trip?
Don’t go where I went, but go someplace you’ve never been. Find your own American road. Ride it with open eyes and an open mind. I think you’ll come home, as I have, feeling better about your country and its people.
As for me, I’m pulling off the road for a bit. I’d like to stay in one place for awhile and put some distance on my travels. I’m sure I’ll want to get out there again before too long, and I hope you’ll be reading my reports on these same pages. Until then, happy trails.
-- Rick Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow his journey at www.rickholmes.net. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co, and follow him on Twitter @HolmesAndCo.