The road trip occupies an almost mythical place in American culture. Anthologized in countless movies, books, poems, and other media, it captures something of what America seems to want to be: an ever-expanding dream, carried forth by rugged individualists. In a place that sees itself as a promised land of opportunity, the road trip epitomizes the idea that there is always something new just over the horizon.
A new map dives into that concept, plotting out some of the most famous road trips in American literature.
The map comes from Atlas Obscura — a travel-y site about the world’s most interesting places — and you can view the interactive version here. It includes the route taken by Jack Kerouac in On The Road, the two-wheeled adventure from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and numerous other famous drives.
It also sheds some light on the way road trip mythology evolved. Note, for example, how many road trips converged on San Francisco. That makes sense given San Francisco’s past as a counter culture hub, but given the way the city has evolved (into a hyper-expensive tech mecca) I suspect it occupies a diminished place in the road trips of the 21st Century.
Which is to say the concept of the American road trip shares some of its ethos with San Francisco at a certain time and place. There are plenty of other examples — Route 66, for one, which today only sort of exists — that offer not just potential trips for today’s travelers, but also lessons on American history.
It is, then, a guide both to the road and the mythopoeia of the road.
— Jim Dalrymple II