March 23, 2011 Leave a comment
The days are getting longer, temperatures are warming, and I even spotted some little green buds on the trees in my yard this past weekend. To some of you, this means one thing—summer road trip season is nearly upon us! Many Americans venture out on the roads each summer by piling the family into the minivan or wagon à la Clark Griswold and exploring our nation’s treasures, from beaches and forests to national monuments and national parks. There’s a whole world out there and plenty to see, but sometimes it can be difficult to pick your route and narrow down the sites to visit. And sometimes you are looking for a different kind of road trip…
Eric Peterson and his Ramble books, including Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A .(978-1-933108-08-8), Ramble Colorado (978-1-933108-19-3), Ramble Texas (978-1-933108-28-5), and Ramble California (978-1-933108-20-9), could be just the resources to turn to as you start planning your next offbeat rolling adventure. In these “wanderer’s guides to the offbeat, overlooked, and outrageous,” Peterson leads readers to the wild and wacky road stops, restaurants, motels, and cafés that one might miss using a standard travel book. Peterson, a Denver-based seasoned and highly entertaining travel writer, captures the must-sees across the US and shares quirky tales that will make you feel different when you take trips in the future. Fulcrum recently caught up with Eric, and he shared memories of his first road trip, his process for writing the Ramble series books, and advice for newbie road-trippers.
You say that you’ve been traveling since you were first born—what is your first or most humorous road trip memory from childhood?
Eric: My family took a lot of Chevy Chase–style cross-country vacations when I was a kid. The first road trip memory I have is a grappling with Paul Bunyan’s boots a toddler in Bemidji, Minnesota. I came up to his big toe. My most humorous road trip memory involved an April Fool’s Day joke: my sister Arin roused me from bed in New York City by announcing the presence of a frog in the shower. I was about eight at the time, and nothing got me going quite like a frog.
How did the idea come about for the Ramble series?
Eric: I was working for a mass-market guidebook, inspecting hotels and motels in the Pacific Northwest, when it struck me that I never stayed at the places I inspected, but of course I was attracted to the nearest roadside oddities that weren’t covered in that particular guidebook. The lack of a point of view in some travel books also struck me as backward, because traveling is such a personal—and definitively human—experience. So I cobbled together a concept of a first-person guidebook focused on the bizarre and unusual. That was about a decade before Ramble: A Field Guide to the U.S.A. was published.
What kind of research did you have to do for the books, and how did you happen to find all these wacky places across the US?
Eric: I always start out with as many library books on the state in question as I can carry home, a state map, and a bunch of little circular stickers so I can mark places I want to check out. Next comes thousands and thousands of miles of driving, biking, walking, and stumbling to all manner of offbeat attractions. But the best research always happens unexpectedly on the road, when I accidentally discover something I had no idea even existed.
What is the most outrageous place you have rambled to?
Eric: That’s a tough one. Places that come to mind include (but are not limited to) the top of High Dune in the Great Sand Dunes (Colorado), the bottom of Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley (California), a barstool at the Meet Rack (Tucson, Arizona), and Gibsonton, Florida, long a winter haven for sideshow performers and carnies. The whole town is just a little off.
As someone who has road-tripped and traveled professionally for many years, what advice do you have for families or individuals looking to embark on their first road trip?
Eric: Exit the interstate and explore the back roads. Park the car and lace up your boots. And take your time getting home.
Do you have a dream state or geographic area that you’d like to write about for a next book in the Ramble series?
Eric: I’d love to cover New York, then maybe Minnesota and Tennessee. Or Europe. Europe would be a lot of fun.