Feature

This week’s dream:

An 11,000-mile American odyssey

Over a period of 11 weeks, I drove my battered 1989 Volvo 240DL station wagon almost 11,000 miles, said Matt Gross in The New York Times. I bought it on Craigslist.com for $1,600, spent another $1,104 on repairs, and then off I went on a journey that took Vivian (the car’s name) and me across 26 states. Vivian required several visits to mechanics’ shops along the way and sometimes ignored my pleas to move. She had a tendency to come down with a severe case of vapor lock in remote places like, say, a desert. Still, we had an unforgettable time together. My plan called for me to depart from New York and head south. The Carolinas, I discovered, are becoming “increasingly Latino,” though Alabama is still “barbecuemad and football-frenzied.” Turning north, I ambled through Kentucky’s bourbon country, spent some time in a Wisconsin commune, then zipped west across Iowa to South Dakota’s Black Hills and Indian reservations. Making a sharp left turn, I passed through the Great Plains, stopping in Oklahoma City’s Vietnamese enclave and visiting with the “weird (and wine-loving) people in Texas Hill Country.” After skimming along the Mexican border, I made my way northward again, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana before reaching Seattle, my final destination. Many things surprised me during my cross-country tour, but “the fact that I could eat cheap, great food along the way did not.” I dined well on huge burgers, mountains of barbecue, and plenty of fruit, averaging $20.98 a day on meals and avoiding junk food and drink. I also cut costs by sleeping at the homes of friends and kind strangers, as well as at the occasional “boring chain motel,” at an average cost of $31.21 a night. I was especially impressed by the beauty and remoteness of the deserts of Oregon. One night I drove into the Alvord Desert, set up a tent, and contemplated the vast night sky and surrounding mountains. Probably never again will I feel “as far from the everyday bustle of American life, its pressure and responsibilities.”Contact: travel.nytimes.com/map/travel/ frugal-traveler/2007

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