When it came time for me to make my move to San Francisco in the summer of 2018, my friend Clarence and I decided to make a road trip of it from Nashville. Seeing as it was the middle of summer and to avoid the heat, we decided to take the northern route, traveling through St Louis, Kansas City, Sioux Falls, Big Wind, Jackson Hole, Salt Lake City and Reno.
We didn’t really have any expectations or set plans, except that we wanted to make the drive in around 12 days. But it ended up being an eye-opening experience and something that all USAmericans should do once in their life. So I thought I’d share some of the highlights and things that we learned along the way.
1.To be an American is a broad definition
Throughout the trip, we met a diverse array of people: teens who raced cars in South Dakota, a Cambodian family in Iowa who had an amazing restaurant, Indian yoga instructor and her parents who were federal government tax workers in Nashville, and many more – all of whom were good people and wanted the same things in life, in one form or another. Everyone was friendly and we had great conversations wherever we went, with people naturally curious about what we were doing and where we were heading.
We also experienced the national pride communities across the country have in our armed forces, with memorials and cemeteries for those who fought and died for the United States. It made me hope that all Americans, whether born here or newly immigrated, will respect those who lost their lives for what we have today, freedom.
2.It is a melting pot of culinary diversity!
From bison burgers in Wyoming to the best barbecue in Kansas City and homemade pies in Sioux Falls, we ate great food wherever we went. There’s also such an eclectic variety of Asian foods across the United States (we ate at a Mongolian barbecue and Cambodian food), together with Mediterranean cuisine. As immigrants move to affordable parts of the country, many are opening up restaurants and Middle America is flourishing with new and exciting food from around the world. That sure beats eating hamburgers every day!
3. Middle America reflects the current economic trend
While we saw retail shops shutting down across the country, fitness centers and new retail concept destinations are mushrooming in their place and bringing communities together. We could see the impact of tourism in many of the towns we visited, particularly in Paducah, Kentucky where its historic old town, railroad heritage and distilleries have become a big draw for visitors. Paducah is a place visited by local tourists in neighboring towns and states. While we may think tourism is flying to France, how about flying to Paducah!
4. Wellness is a trend across the country
Aside from the fitness centers everywhere, we saw hundreds of people doing yoga at St. Louis Cardinals’ stadium and health-conscious food stores everywhere. The national parks were also packed with people hiking, biking and camping, illustrating that wellness is not just a coastal trend. We were excited to see the healthy side of America coming out to play!
5. Everyone should visit our Native American communities
We discovered that Native Americans have a deep connection with their land and feel neglected in many ways by the current government. There’s a big divide between white people and America’s indigenous tribes who feel as though they have been robbed of their land and labeled drunkards. Drinking only became a problem when economic expansion occurred and the Native Americans were left without work.
6. Wyoming is majestic
As you cross from the prairies of South Dakota into the barren cowboy country along the border, Wyoming strikes the soul like no other state. It’s immediately clear that this is a completely different land, filled with farms, wildlife, and western culture. The fresh air clears your lungs and the sunsets are absolutely stunning. There is so much to explore in Wyoming and you could spend weeks alone here.
7. The storms of Iowa are real!
Dorothy wasn’t kidding. We left Kansas City with a new rooftop tent from REI and were on our way to Sioux Falls when a devastating storm hit. The weather report said that tornadoes were circling around us and along the road we felt a “thump”. I pulled over three miles later to get gas and alas…no more rooftop tent. We drove back down the highway to find it on the side of the road, luckily with no signs that it had hit another car. REI was soooo great, giving us a full refund without even asking us to send the tent back. I love REI.
8. Some of our favorite stops were….
Montrose’s art district in South Dakota, the Badlands National Park and Teton National Park, the bison herd of Yellowstone Park, the salt flats of Wendover Utah, the caves along the border between South Dakota and Utah, the small towns of Wyoming, Jackson Hole, and Mount Rushmore.
9. The national parks are vast and beautiful
The Midwest and Northwest have some incredible national parks that should be preserved for future generations. Some are becoming highly trafficked and I fear that if the tourist numbers aren’t controlled, it may destroy not only the nature but the experience of being there.
10. It takes time to drive from Nashville to San Francisco
With around 5-6 hours of driving every day, we had little time to stop and experience all that there is along the way. What took us two weeks could easily have lasted a month if could have explored all there is to offer.