On the American road with Paul Theroux

Road Trips, Travel Writers & Books — By on October 28, 2009 at 7:15 am

Are you a fan of the American travel writer Paul Theroux? Do you like road trips? Then you may appreciate this article from Smithsonian Magazine, written by Theroux and titled “Taking the Great American Road Trip.” Theroux writes about taking a cross-country road trip recently for the first time in his life, which is somewhat surprising for a person who has journeyed across Africa and taken long train journeys through Asia and the Americas. But perhaps because of this travel background, Theroux brings an unusual perspective to his newest trip, that of an individual who has seen the world and is now discovering more of his home country.

Here, he introduces his journey:

The mixed blessing of America is that anyone with a car can go anywhere. The visible expression of our freedom is that we are a country without roadblocks. And a driver’s license is our identity. My dream, from way back—from high school, when I first heard the name Kerouac—was of driving across the United States. The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination.

Travel is mostly about dreams—dreaming of landscapes or cities, imagining yourself in them, murmuring the bewitching place names, and then finding a way to make the dream come true. The dream can also be one that involves hardship, slogging through a forest, paddling down a river, confronting suspicious people, living in a hostile place, testing your adaptability, hoping for some sort of revelation. All my traveling life, 40 years of peregrinating Africa, Asia, South America and Oceania, I have thought constantly of home—and especially of the America I had never seen. “I discovered I did not know my own country,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, explaining why he hit the road at age 58.

And, later on, contemplates some of the similarities between the U.S. and some other parts of the world that he has visited:

In my life, I had sought out other parts of the world—Patagonia, Assam, the Yangtze; I had not realized that the dramatic desert I had imagined Patagonia to be was visible on my way from Sedona to Santa Fe, that the rolling hills of West Virginia were reminiscent of Assam and that my sight of the Mississippi recalled other great rivers. I’m glad I saw the rest of the world before I drove across America. I have traveled so often in other countries and am so accustomed to other landscapes, I sometimes felt on my trip that I was seeing America, coast to coast, with the eyes of a foreigner, feeling overwhelmed, humbled and grateful.

The whole article may be long for the web, but it’s a good magazine piece and an interesting look at America from a celebrated travel writer.

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1 Comment

  1. Lyra says:

    I love theroux, and his son Louis is great too. Their work is always fascinating and draws you in like nothing else. Paul has only made me want to do the US road trip even more than I already did…

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