The Deep South

I got the idea for this trip from my older sister and her friends back when I was in junior high. They would talk about taking a similar route around the United States, and I would overhear their conversations. For whatever reasons their plans never manifested, and the whole thing just sat in the back of my mind.

In my sophomore year of college I got an idea for a novel, following the adventures of the main character as she wandered around the United States (hiding from her past, unable to go home, that sort of thing). I wrote small bits of the story whenever I got inspired, but never really focused any effort on it.

My senior year I was suddenly filled with inspiration for the novel, and made a conscious effort to sit down and write more. There was one particular section of the story I felt sure was best placed in the Deep South, where things would be hot and sticky and rural and racist. But as I sat down to write, I had nothing. I couldn’t picture any details. Everything looked generic. I realized that my hot sticky rural racist South was based entirely on movies and books. I was setting my story in someone else’s novel.

It’s been pointed out to me before that being in the southeastern United States in July is going to be miserable. That is, generally, the point. If I want to write about that misery I’m going to have to experience for myself. I’ve been accused before of being too autobiographical in my writing, which to me is a silly accusation. Every writer is writing her own story. Every writer is writing the relationships and settings and characters that she has seen inside herself and in the world around her. Some just disguise it better than others. In my experience, the more you disguise it the more like your real life it ends up being anyway, but that’s a story for another time.

My point is, the Deep South is on my must see list so I can see and feel and taste what it’s like to be there. Unfortunately being there is the only thing on the list.

Deep South MapAs I mentioned before, I’ve been keeping track of possible U.S. attractions in Evernote. When I go to my notes on Mississippi and Alabama, all I’ve got on the list of possible places to see is the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, and I’m not even sure I want to go there. These two states stand as a single, solid block of “I’m sure I’ll find something.”

I can’t help but wonder what this is implying. Is it that I don’t know anyone who has visited either of these states? Or is it just that they don’t have any good news to report? I know I want to spend some time on the Mississippi river, so that’s a start. But what then? On all my maps thus far I take a straight path from New Orleans to Jacksonville. While I’m sure the gulf coast is nice, it seems an awful long way to go just to stay on the edge the whole time.

Perhaps I should just do what my main character does: head towards Alabama and get myself into trouble.  I don’t know if it worked for her, I haven’t written that yet. But I suppose that’s true for both of us.

Getting Stuck in Oregon

For the last three years, Evernote has been my friend. Knowing my trip was on the horizon, I made note of every interesting thing I heard about. I’d see a weird tourist attraction on Reddit, and I’d write it down. I’d hear about a historical battleground, and I’d write it down. I’d see a facebook post saying that a particular city was interesting, and I’d write it down.
Evernote on Oregon

I made a note for each state. It was nice being able to gather every idea without needing to check if it was anywhere near my planned route. I was in a constant state of brainstorm. I would figure it all out later.

Now is later.

I opened up my notes on Oregon, thinking that would be a good and easy place to start. There wasn’t much worth seeing in Oregon except the coast as far as I was concerned; it was just the quickest route to California. But about a month ago I came across National Geographic’s Ultimate Road Trips, and had saved links to the two Oregon trips. I opened the article in one tab and a google map in the other and started checking out their proposed routes. The National Geographic trips started to sound pretty interesting, and I began adding other attractions from the rest of my notes. There’s a theater festival in Ashland, one of the world’s best beaches in Bandon according to who or whatever told me that at some point in the last three years.

And that’s how a six hour snooze-fest down I-5 became a 14 hour zig-zag through two national forests.

At first, this was a point of stress. If I could find 14 hours worth of driving in Oregon alone, I was never going to make it across the United States. There was just so much to see, and more importantly so much to miss. Four months wouldn’t be enough time to see the country. I needed years.

I’d read from several others who have gone on similar trips that I shouldn’t over-plan, but going out on such a grand adventure without a plan terrifies me. I like to know where I’m headed, and I hate to waste opportunities. What if I miss something really great because I didn’t plan ahead? But Oregon showed me that I was thinking about it all wrong. The truth is that any opportunities I miss will be because I was already off seeing some other wonderful place.

So thank you Oregon. You proved that there are too many fantastic things to see out there. I can’t possibly miss them all.