I enjoy reading about other people’s travels. Whether riding around the world on a motorcycle, crossing the continental United States by boat or car, or exploring the Canadian Rockies by train, I feel like I am part of the writer’s journey. I have especially enjoyed reading about automotive travels and adventures that occurred in the first part of the 20th century.
The 1907 Peking to Paris and the 1908 New York to Paris races were epic adventures actually experienced by only a handful of men, but the dozens of books written about each of them has inspired untold thousands of more modern day adventurers. Me being prime among them. I found an original, first edition, autographed by the winning driver, copy of the account of the 1907 Peking to Paris race written by an Italian newspaper man that traveled in the winning car, an Italia. In it he describes the hardships that those early racers had to endure and it really staggers me. There were no gas stations, motels and in a lot of cases, no roads! There was no GPS or, for that matter, maps. Bridges across rivers were a rarity, and when one was encountered, its structural integrity was always suspect. (In the 1997 re-running of the Peking to Paris, we crossed a bridge in Pakistan with two wheels of the race car on rebar, because the concrete had crumbled out!) There were several books written about the ‘97 Peking to Paris, one of which the author, Genny Obert incorporated the journal I kept on the trip. If you would like to find a copy, it is sold on Amazon, here.
In 1915, the San Francisco Columbian exposition drew many novice motorist to take up the challenge of driving across the United States. Roads were still the exception rather than the rule. I have collected several journals kept by people as their families made this trip. Imagine having to shoot rabbits along the road to cook for supper over an open fire!
In 1931, two teenage friends drove “From Sea to Sea in a Model T” and years later, one of their daughters gathered their photos and journals together into a book of the same name. In 1991, one of those young men, then 80 years old, attended the Model T Ford Club International tour we hosted in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I was able to hear first hand some of his adventures, and have read and re-read his book several times.
How much easier it is to travel today. I think one advantage is that you can find out what’s out there! The internet is the greatest tool ever designed to research destinations, hotels, restaurants and plan routes. Modern GPS systems allow you to look down the road, find places to eat or to stay and sights to see - instantly. Many also offer up to the minute traffic advisories and mine also has a function that would allow overlaying radar weather onto the display with the proper antenna. In travel, information is definitely you friend.
The state of roads and bridges has improved vastly (in the United States, anyway) in the past one hundred years. Once local and state governments realized the impact that good roods on commerce, and hence tax revenues, they began to build maintain and regulate roads and bridges. The federal government got involved with the interstate system in the 1950s, causing an exponential expansion in commerce and leisure travel. One of the original design criteria for the interstates was to have a straight and level stretch of road every five miles that would allow landing of military aircraft (ours, presumably) in time of war. I don’t know whether that requirement is still being met.
Finding gasoline is not the big drama it once was, either. It is rare to find an exit on an interstate highway without at least one gas station, usually several to choose from. An despite the seemingly high price of gasoline, we really have it relatively good compared to the rest of the world.
I don’t think that the destination be some exotic place to have the spirit of discovery and adventure. There are many parts of Alabama that I have not seen yet. I hope getting away from interstate highways, fast food and chain hotels will open up a glimpse of life the way it was if the past generation, a step back in time.
Travel itself has become somewhat boring. If I have to travel to the west coast, I get on an airplane, they close the door in Birmingham and open it again in California. Unless I happen to have a seat by the window, there is very little sense on the ground we are covering, I might as well have gotten on an elevator one one floor and gotten off on another! Of course this takes five hours, where to drive the same distance today would take five days, but 80 years ago it might have taken five weeks!