Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Great River Road -- on a Vespa!

Dear Jamie,

I am an European currently on a 12 month assignment to NY and before my assignment is over (November 2011), I would like to do a 2 to 3 weeks road trip through the US, with the objective of seeing the other America that I do not see in the Big Apple.

My plan is to buy a second hand Vespa scooter, and to sell it at the last point of the trip. The idea that I have is that famous Route 66 is now highly commercial and touristic, and therefore I was thinking about some alternatives that could give me his "real American" experience.

I would like to avoid as much as possible big highways, and remain in secondary roads passing through small villages, and with scenic views. I was considering now the Mississippi road. Would you have any advice for me, or any alternative suggestion?

Many thanks in advance for your kind help.



Hello Joao --

Thank you for writing in to Road Trip USA, and I really like the sound of your trip!

I hope you will take pictures of what you see, and take notes on what you think of the "other" America. I think, myself, that there are in fact many many "other" Americas, and that they often have a hard time seeing one another, even when they co-exist in the same places at the same times.

But then this is probably not unique to America, is it? I think most people see what they expect to see -- which is why travel is so important. Yes?

So, you must be brave, to contemplate cruising around middle America on a Vespa -- while listening to early 1960s Mod / Motown music?

The Great River Road should offer you exactly what you seek. If you want to see what Route 66 thinks it offers the world -- a glimpse into some "real" authentic America -- the Great River Road is a great place to start. In 2 or 3 weeks, you could ride the whole length, but will you start off from NYC? then maybe you could start by riding the oldest transcontinental highway in the USA, the Lincoln Highway (also known as US30), which still survives in long stretches across Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and Indiana and Illinois.

Then you could meet the Great River Road at a very "American" river town, Dubuque, Iowa, and start your cruise south from here.

An alternative route would be to follow the Ohio River valley south, past Louisville (which is a very cool city -- home of horse-racing's Kentucky Derby, and my favorite American, boxer Muhammed Ali!)

My favorite parts of the Great River Road are probably down in the South -- from Memphis down to New Orleans, with detours into the bayous of Cajun Country.

If you like to eat well, you'll be happy in Louisiana, for sure. And New Orleans is about as "European" a city you'll find in America -- very cosmopolitan for sure, but alas also very poor.

How's that for an answer? I hope it helps -- and I hope you have a great trip. Keep in touch, and let me know what you find!

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen

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