Go west, young soul… and write a book

Cheryl Strayed killed time at a casino near a Reno bus station at 4am; Jack Kerouac went down the mountain between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Benson, Arizona, “with the clutch in and the motor off to save gas”; Bill Bryson drove through Virginia’s gumdrop hills, with a sky “full of those big fluffy clouds you always see in nautical paintings”, and found towns called Snowflake, Horse Pasture and Charity.

These are just a handful of the more than 1 500 locations charted in a comprehensive, interactive map of American literature’s most iconic journeys, created by self-declared “freak for the American road trip” Richard Kreitner, in collaboration with developer Steven Melendez and hosted online by Atlas Obscura.

“We’re at a time where so many Americans will go to see southeast Asia before Kentucky or Arkansas. That’s a real shame,” says Kreitner. He’s charted every location mentioned in 12 books after travelling around the country and “obsessively reading” many of the classics. He then spent the last year reading and rereading on the subway, manually compiling each of the entries.

To be included, a book needed to have “a narrative arc matching the chronological and geographical arc of the trip it chronicles. It needed to be nonfictional or, as in the case of On the Road, at least told in the first person”. The process, which Kreitner describes as “quixotic”, was a lengthy one, but it “wasn’t so difficult with a beer and a record on”, he says.

The project maps something slightly more subtle, too. Kreitner finds special resonance in locations about which different authors have written at different times. He likes the three descriptions of Crater Lake in Oregon, where Cheryl Strayed, William Least Heat-Moon and Robert Pirsig “address the contrast between the site’s sacredness to Native Americans and its status as just another tourist site to most Americans … You can ruminate about what those differences say about American travel, American writing, American history”.

The cross-country trip is still, he argues, quintessentially American. His visual representation of this cultural phenomenon also evokes a sense of freedom. Until the frontier closed in the 19th century, “[the road trip] was like a safety valve for American cities”, says Kreitner. “If anyone was restless, they’d just hit the road. ‘Go West, young man,’ was a classic phrase. That’s still true – even though there’s no technical frontier anymore, you can still pretend there is – that’s what wanderlust is.”

The books plotted are: Wild by Cheryl Strayed; F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Cruise of the Rolling Junk; Rolling Nowhere by Ted Conover; A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins; Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90 000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark by Robert Sullivan; The Lost Continent: Travels in small-town America by Bill Bryson; Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon; On the Road by Jack Kerouac; Roughing It by Mark Twain; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig; Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck; and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

High court declares Dudu Myeni delinquent

Disgraced former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni has been declared a delinquent director by the...

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members
Advertising

Press Releases

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

Openview, now powered by two million homes

The future of free-to-air satellite TV is celebrating having two million viewers by giving away two homes worth R2-million

Road to recovery for the tourism sector: The South African perspective

The best-case scenario is that South Africa's tourism sector’s recovery will only begin in earnest towards the end of this year

What Africa can learn from Cuba in combating the Covid-19 pandemic

Africa should abandon the neoliberal path to be able to deal with Covid-19 and other health system challenges likely to emerge in future

Coexisting with Covid-19: Saving lives and the economy in India

A staggered exit from the lockdown accompanied by stepped-up testing to cover every district is necessary for India right now

Covid-19: Eased lockdown and rule of law Webinar

If you are arrested and fined in lockdown, you do get a criminal record if you pay the admission of guilt fine

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday