This week’s featured Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 contributor is a mountain-scaling, photo-snapping, science-and-travel-writing vagabond who once lived in an off-the-grid solar “Earthship” in rural New Mexico: Mary Caperton Morton. Her stories have been published in EARTH Magazine, Smithsonian, and Climbing, to name a few. Check out her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
When did you first hit the road?
I started traveling the summer before my senior year of college, the day I adopted a death row dog from a local shelter. At just over a year of age, “Bowie” had already been through three homes, exasperating each owner with his irrepressible hyperactivity and appetite for destruction. A friend who worked at the shelter, who knew I had a soft spot for border collies, convinced me to go see him. Of course, it was love at first sight.
Bowie wasn’t a bad dog. He was absolutely wired, but also saccharine sweet and whip smart and in desperate need of hours of exercise a day. So we started going for a walk every morning, afternoon and evening.
In a matter of weeks we had canvassed every sidewalk in my city and I had discovered places and people and shops and spots I never knew existed. In no time Bowie and I were looking for new ground to cover so we started taking hiking trips every weekend. Day hikes quickly turned into weekend backpacking adventures and soon I was the lead trip organizer for my college’s Outdoors Club. Bowie was quickly made the mascot. The following summer, to celebrate graduation, Bowie and I hiked 100 miles on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia and then hit the road, heading west.
A good dog is the best road trip partner anybody could ask for. In addition to being quiet, agreeable and endlessly enthusiastic, they force you to get out of the car several times a day and take a walk. Planes, trains and automobiles are fine ways to get somewhere, but I prefer to see the world on foot. It’s the original way to travel and still the best. Since that first road trip, Bowie and I have hiked thousands of miles in 46 states – we’re missing Nebraska, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska – and have lived in six states on both coasts: Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico and Montana. Bowie is now a Zen-calm traveling dog who has seen more of this country than most people ever will. He’s a lucky dog, but I consider myself the luckier. He’s the one who got me on my feet, out the door and into the world. I doubt I would have taken those first steps without Bowie and the first steps are always the hardest. Once you start traveling, you don’t ever want to stop.
Name one place that should top everyone’s travel dream list, be it a nation or a landmark or a village.
Everybody should road trip across the United States, from coast to coast, at least once. Say what you will about this country, politically, ethically, or spiritually, but geographically, America is an amazing place. Take at least two weeks to cross, stick to the back roads and small towns, explore the parks, sleep under the stars, and take a walk someplace new everyday. By the time you cross the big rivers and long deserts and tall mountains and reach the other shining sea you’ll have a renewed sense of this country as a place to be proud of, not just an intangible idea.
What travel resources do you always consult when planning a journey?
My all-time most indispensable travel resource is my National Geographic Adventure Atlas. It’s a road tripper’s dream: easy to read, virtually indestructible and chock full of information about what to see and do off America’s beaten paths. In addition to charting the best scenic routes (always take the scenic route!) the Adventure Atlas has detailed National Park maps and marks trails, campgrounds, roadside attractions like the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Oregon and quirky museums like the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming. I love it because I don’t have to spend precious free time doing lots of research and planning; I can just grab my atlas and hit the road.
What advice can you offer to women with itchy feet?
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive or exotic. You don’t have to buy a plane ticket and head to some far away place. All you need to travel is time and a good pair of shoes. Start by taking an hour-long walk everyday and see where that takes you. Once you start you won’t want to stop.