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Wandering

Having returned this morning, I feel fully US'ed out. I've drunk enough coffee to fuel a small republic for a year, eaten burgers, climbed mountains, watched trashy television, sat-out tornado warnings, been burnt by the sun and had a drenching from thunderstorms. It's been a pretty immersive experience and fully worthwhile - but more importantly, I've driven about 2000 miles from Washington D.C. to Fort Worth, Texas, a drive that's been pretty insightful.



As I said before I left, I had preconceptions about the United States and it's people. I didn't elaborate much at the time, but if I'm honest about it, most of my preconceptions weren't good ones. I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it's my experiences of those I've met when I've travelled in the past, perhaps it's the media, perhaps it's international opinion - I don't know‚ but a preconception is a preconception and the whole point of this visit was to challenge it. The drive allowed me to take in the scenery, talk to people, film a snippet or two and manage those preconceptions - and I'll say it now, the drive was quite enjoyable.

To have an enjoyable drive, you need the right car. This pretty much fitted the bill.



What you see above is my vehicle of choice for the fortnight, a Chrysler Crossfire. I wanted to travel the US in a convertible vehicle - many a traveller will tell you that it's the only way to do it - and they're right. The additional expense over a regular vehicle was worth it. In fact, the car became an ice-breaker for many a conversation. With a stunning degree of regularity, strangers would refer to the "cute car" I was driving - and the conversation would start. That said, the British and American versions of cute are a whole spectrum apart. Using the average American mindset, a 3.2 litre sports-car car is indeed cute - but in Britain, one would be typecast as some sort of daisy-trampling eco-hater. I guess all things are relative when fuel is only £1.75 a gallon and you're using to driving five-litre trucks. Luckily, change appears to be on the horizon and fuel economy is actually starting to be discussed. Perhaps the infamous "credit-crunch" has the odd positive effect.

Over the course of my next few articles, I'll use the challenges I was set to elaborate on the experience further. They're a pretty mixed bunch and hopefully I've caught enough media along the way to give you an idea of what I'm on about. I'm not going to give away as to whether my original opinion was the right one or not, because if I did that it would defeat the object - and I'm hoping that you'll keep reading to the end.

The first part (of five) to follow shortly.
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Proceed To Departure

With any luck tomorrow, I should be on a flight to the US - so I guess it's best if I explain what'll be going on.

Firstly, I will continue to blog my progress across The States, although I won't be able to immediately publish it. On my return, you'll get a post every couple of days, which in essence will be like a little story, pictures included. I'm sure that'll keep you entertained for a while.

However, what I will do along the way is upload pictures to Flickr. Ok, I admit, my "picture a day" project went totally titsup back in about February, but it's a nice quick and easy way to give you a quick (and possibly vague) idea of what I'm up to.

Of course, there is another reason for this - a friend recently suggested that should I disappear without trace whilst on holiday, at least giving some photographic clues of where I am may give the police some assistance in trying to find my gunshot riddled body. Call it photographic breadcrumbs, if you will - just keep looking for new posts after the 5th of February.

The journey will proceed according to the route that I've previously outlined in "The Plan". The last couple days are undecided, but I will give an indication as to where I'm going once I've made up my mind.

There we go. I'm all packed. I've got plenty of pants, my passport and a fistful of dollars - who needs anything else? My next full post will be in just over two weeks.
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The Plan

It's always good to have a plan. Hell, 1,500 mile road-trips don't just plan themselves - so here's mine.

I aim to go through at least three national-parks (Shenandoah, Great Smoky Mountains and Hot Springs) and across a good few states (District Of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas). I've also left about four or five days to spare - just in case anything interesting I'd not thought of comes along. Here's the map of my journey....



My visit to Hot Springs is my way of paying a small bit of homage to the Japanese trip that wasn't.

The American Automobile Association say that this journey is about 1,475 miles, but I still haven't entirely made up my mind about what I want to do between Little Rock and Dallas, so that might increase just a bit. I did plan going to Cadillac Ranch, but unfortunately, it adds about 700 miles to my trip - and there's limits on how far I'm prepared to drive. In the meantime, here's my to do list of "challenges", varying in difficulty.

1) Visit an Indian reservation.
2) Not get shot.
3) Capture a video-clip of a tumbleweed flying by. (Does that even really happen?)
4) Wear a bad cowboy hat. It's been suggested that I change hat every time I change state.
5) Go to a country bar and select something awful from the jukebox.
6) Find a bear, preferably shitting in the woods.
7) Fire a gun.
8) Eat grits, no matter how disgusting they appear to be.
9) Photograph the most obese individual I can find.
10) Attend an evangelist's church service.
11) Go to a strip-club. (Nice juxtaposition, huh? I nearly fell off my chair when my partner suggested that one)
12) Photograph an Elvis look-alike.

As you can see, my list has changed a little bit from its predecessor, but is a more realistic set of tasks to do based upon where I'm travelling through. I did try to rent a convertible for the journey, but unfortuantely, not a single car-hire company seems to have any in stock - which was a shame, but I'll try my luck again when I reach the vehicle pick-up desk.

In the meantime, if you've got any additional ideas for challenges, feel free to post a comment.
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Road-Trip

Having consoled myself with the fact that I'm probably unable to afford Japan this year, I figured I'd try and look at some suitable alternatives - namely a similar style of holiday (i.e. bumbling around a large-ish country for a few weeks), but hopefully in a way that creates less of a dent on my wallet. I settled on a ticket to the US. Just the air-travel and travel-pass aspects of it alone work out to be about half the price of their Japanese equivalents.

The US has always been a curiosity to me. I wouldn't exactly be what you call an American-lover, but I just want to go and see what things are like. Yes, I'm US-curious. With a country of such size, I figure that you've got a whole pile of diversity there. Just a quick look on my favourite piece of world-browsing software informs me that there's about a 15 degree temperature difference alone between the north and the south - and this is before we even get to talk about architecture, people, culture or food. Yep, there's got to be something there to keep me interested.

So, I've booked myself a flight. I'll fly into Washington DC (east coast) and come home from Dallas (down south, Texas) two weeks later. In a straight line, it's about 1,300 miles, but you didn't seriously expect me to go in a straight line, did you?


Wiggly: The route above (purple line) is 1,328 miles. My route will be a bit longer.

When I started planning and reading up, this was my initial list of stuff I wanted to do whilst away.

1) Find an Amish community in Ohio. (Hey, Diary Of The Dead did something good).
2) Go to a national-park in Arkansas.
3) Have pancakes for breakfast.
4) Go on a Greyhound bus.
5) Do the touristy thing on Capitol Hill, Washington.
6) Go into a bar in Tennessee and hear some country-music. (I hate country music, but it's got to be done)
7) Visit a town/city on the south-east coast and go to the beach.
8) Drive down one of those very long roads that seem to disappear into the distance, just like in photos.

..and no doubt I shall think of more.

As to how I'm going to go across the country, well, I've got three options - take the train, use the Greyhound network or hire a car. To be honest, the price isn't much different between the three methods, so I've decided on the car - this will allow me some more flexibility, freedom and the ability to do some of the things on the above list. The rail network doesn't get much in the way of glowing recommendations (it seems that freight takes priority over passenger traffic in most cases and the infrastructure is poor) and I do appear to limiting myself quite a bit by buying a Greyhound pass. Nope, in this case it has to be driven.

I'm looking forward to the whole thing and will be away for the last week of April and the first week of May. In the meantime, if you've got any tips on driving in the US, or things you consider to be quintessential activities that you should do whilst away, I'd be happy to hear 'em.

Footnote: Shit - I bought a B.A. ticket from Heathrow. Was this such a good idea?

Update (3/4): Some more stuff for the list (thanks for the suggestions)

9) Visit an Indian/Native-American reservation.
10) Drive an old Ford-Mustang.
11) Visit Graceland in Memphis.
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