Taking The Back Roads

Taking The Back Roads


In the hustle of the holiday season, too often our prime goal is to make a mad dash to the finish line of opening presents. But as we rush off to friends and family in other parts of the land, we may be missing out on part of the beauty of the experience.

This is why we’ve been such big fans of Wildsam field guides and its founder’s quest to uncover the less common and the colorful. Taylor Bruce makes sure each series puts a premium on discovery and distinctness, resisting the urge to gravitate toward a city’s newest, most promoted attractions — unless they’ve earned it.

Through essays, hand-drawn maps, artist illustrations and interviews with interesting locals, these guides spur curiosity and inspiration. Which is why we asked Taylor to share with us a reflection on how we might introduce wonder into our holiday travel this year:

Like many of you, this Christmas I’ll be driving home. SUV packed to the brim, hitting the Texas road by six a.m. to be in my Georgia hometown after nightfall. Those long hours in mind, the efficient route would be Eisenhower’s smooth ribbon of American interstates. Plowing down I-35 north, I-40 east, I-75 south, heavily caffeinated and numb to the never-ending dashes in the road.

Sound familiar? Me, too – I’m already bored.

Ten years ago, I picked up a book called Blue Highways. The cover had an art deco vibe and the writer’s name (William Least Heat-Moon) shot a flare into my imagination. Published in 1983, the book documents the author’s yearlong road trip through small-town America. The writing is pitch perfect – the writer, fearlessly curious. ‘On the old highway maps of America,’ the book begins, ‘the main routes were red and the back roads were blue….The old roads return to the sky some of its color, and it’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is strongest, when the open road is beckoning.’

Whenever I travel, whether roaming cross-country without a shred of a plan or when I’m walking along Broad Street in my hometown, I think of Blue Highways. I think of how William Least Heat-Moon spent over a year going off-script, taking the proverbial back roads, meeting the waitress and the artist, the old preacher and the guy strumming his guitar for coins. He more than met them; you sense that he was listening to their lives.  

At Wildsam, our credo is a line from a Steinbeck novel. ‘The world was peopled with wonders.’ While I enjoy speed and productivity as much as the next guy, those two things often rob us of Steinbeck’s sentiment: that the world was peopled with wonders. That around every corner is a chance to choose the ‘old roads,’ whether that’s in a car or in a conversation, to live curiously and embrace what’s uncommon.

As you prepare for this holiday season, consider that the word ‘vacation’ comes from the Latin ‘vacare,’ which means to be unoccupied or empty. It’s hard to be surprised with delight when we don’t have any capacity for the unforeseen. Taking the unfamiliar routes, meeting people out there, sharing our stories – this is a transformative way of not only traveling, but living an overflowing life.

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