While on the road, or in between trips, it’s great to read about other people’s journeys. It’s especially interesting to read about places where you have been or plan to go as they were long ago. And of course, it’s good to do it inexpensively. Most of the accounts listed below are available as free Google e-books. Just click on the title.
- 985 and later The American Journeys website has a collection of the stories of early travellers to what became known as the Americas, beginning with Eric the Red’s voyages in Iceland and Greenland.
- 1748-1765 Early Western Travels, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, includes the travel journals of Pennsylvania German trader-diplomat Conrad Weiser and other colonists to the lands that lay west of the narrow strip of British colonies along the Atlantic coast of what is now the U.S. All the travellers had their agendas and biases, but their stories are a window into the past nonetheless. Or maybe all the more.
- 1750s Christopher Gist’s Journals Gist was an agent for the Ohio Company who was sent into the territory claimed by Virginia in the 1750’s to explore the area and provide information to allow the company to decide which parts to develop. He had to do it secretly so as not to alert the native people living there about what he was up to. Interesting reading while driving Route 70 and 76 through western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
- 1897 Afloat on the Ohio Reuben Gold Thwaites, who edited many early travel journals, took his wife and young son along with a friend on a journey down the Ohio River in a small sailboat. Having read the stories of so many previous travelers, Thwaites was aware of what the river had been like 100 years earlier and how much things had changed. Already the region had been transformed by Indian Removal, huge numbers of new settlers, and intensive agricultural, mining, lumbering, and industrial development.
- 1914 Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty Poet Vachel Lindsay walked across the country, reciting poetry in exchange for food and shelter. He seems to have been on what is now US 50 or thereabouts.
- 1916 A Handy Guide for Beggars Lindsay in Florida, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Many of the people he encountered still lived in one room log cabins and Pennsylvania was in the midst of an oil boom.
- 1922 Tramping with a Poet in the Rockies describes the adventures of Lindsay and his friend Stephen Graham in Glacier National Park, far off the beaten track. It’s amazing that they survived and by modern camping protocol, what they got away with.
- 1957 On the Road This link goes to a You Tube version of an audio recording of Kerouac reading excerpts from his book, soon to be a movie. Kerouac’s legend tends to drown out what he was trying to say, so it’s good to hear him in person.
- 1982 Blue Highways William Least Heat Moon’s story of his trip around the country on back roads is still in copyright and thus not free. But you can buy the Kindle version and read it on your Kindle, or your Mac if you download the free Kindle for Mac app or on your phone if you download the Kindle phone app. Or you could just get the book. A book is great on a bus, since it doesn’t require charging! By 1982, even back roads had changed so much since Vachel Lindsay’s time that they scarcely seem to be describing the same country. And the changes didn’t stop in 1982.