My name is Michael Harding, and I have been in love with the American landscape for as long as I can remember. As a child growing up in Washington DC, my desire to travel was fueled by one too many trips to the Smithsonian or the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I used to sit in my room and dream about travelling to places that at the time seemed as far away as the moon, places with exotic sounding names like Cheyenne and Santa Fe and Savannah. At 12, I bought a National Parks Passport and my list grew with places like Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Canyon. My time in the Boy Scouts brought out a love of the great outdoors that was undeniable. When I was out camping or hiking or canoeing I felt like I could breath better than I ever could in the city.
I studied Wildlife Science and minored in American History at Penn State, and armed with those degrees I set out to make my dreams come true. At 24, I interviewed for a tour guide position based out of Los Angeles and soon found myself on a plane headed west and as far away from home as I’d ever been. That morning I was saying good-bye to my family in DC, and that evening I watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean from the end of the Santa Monica Pier. I was on my way.
For the next seven years, I guided multi-week adventure camping tours of North America. I traveled to all 50 states and 11 provinces of Canada. As I crisscrossed the continent from Key West to Fairbanks and San Diego to Nova Scotia, I found my passion for travelling growing instead of deteriorating. With every mile I found myself wanting to see more and more.
After seven wonderful years, I felt myself needing a break or a change of direction for a while. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina I felt myself drawn to a city I loved in an effort to help it get back on its feet. New Orleans is one of those pieces of the American quilt that just isn't found anywhere else. I got my teaching credentials and taught for two years at Francis Gregory Elementary School in Gentilly (Go Gators!). After two long and challenging years there, my feet began to itch, and I took my new career and ran with it... all the way to Japan. I spent two years teaching in public schools in rural Japan before returning to this side of the world and heading to the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.
In the islands, I found a job working with Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of the infamous Jacques Cousteau) in a program to help educate people about the coral reef and the environment. I enjoyed living on island time, but that old familiar pull started to call me back home. Back to North America. Back to the highway.
I returned to my old tour company and ran three long and wonderful seasons guiding tours to every corner of the country. I found myself as happy and content as ever, and while I wouldn't trade my other experiences for the world, I knew I was finally home.
About this Journey
The idea for this trip came about one day when I was driving from Nashville to Memphis, a trip I had made many times before. On this particular occasion I found myself wondering what was down all those exit ramps. Over the years, I have had the amazing good fortune to travel extensively to so many places, and get paid to do it. But there never seemed to be enough time to see and do all of the things I wanted to. We always hit the major landmarks and tourist spots, and I like to think I got people off the beaten track whenever possible, but it was never enough. I was always on somebody else's timetable and somebody else's itinerary.
So the idea here is to slow down, go at my own pace and in my own time. See the things I want to see, talk to people, enjoy a meal or a sunset cocktail and not feel rushed to get to the next place. I would like to spend at least a month in each state exploring big cities and small towns, natural places and national landmarks. I want to explore the unique characteristics of each state and find out what makes it tick. I want to meet the people, listen to the music, taste the food, hear the stories, see the sites and see what America is like, right now, in our time.
But this journey isn't just about me. I want you to come along for the ride. Pull up a seat, prop your feet up on the dashboard and lean back. Roll your window down and feel the cool breeze. Breath deep and buckle up and come with me as I travel down the highways and byways, back roads and dirt roads that connect the stories of this country like the threads in a great patchwork quilt. It's going to be a heck of a ride!
About This Site
This trip and this site feel very right to me, like everything I've ever worked for and worked towards coming together in one place. Here is where I want to share my journey with you in as many ways as I can. I want to use it to write about the places I visit and the stories I find. I hope to share the images I capture, the sounds and smells and tastes that make up America. In a phrase, I want to capture a snapshot of America in our time. I hope you will enjoy where we go and what we get up to as much as I do.
My intent is to provide content for you, not click-bait. Anyone can sit around and crank out blog posts about packing lists and "must-see" places. I could do that sitting right here without ever leaving home. The blogosphere is full of those things, and they have their place, but that place is not here. My goal isn't to get hits, it's to share stories and photos with you so you can feel like you are right here next to me. So that you have something to look forward to, some good news to counteract whatever else is happening out there. I want you to feel comfortable coming here often to see what I'm up to and where I've been lately. I want you to share in the journey, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears that make up any real road trip.
While I am the one on the road, this is our journey. Anything helps. Do you have a story you think I'd like to cover or a friend or relative I should have on my podcast? Is your town worth a stop or do you have some other recommendation? Do you make the best apple pie in America? Do you have a place to park for the night or want to buy me a meal or a beer? Please contact me and let me know. Like I said, anything helps. This is my blog, but it is our story.
I have some wonderful influences in this endeavor, most of whom I have admired for a very long time. As a kid I used to love listening to Paul Harvey on the radio. I would tune in wherever possible to hear News and Comment or even better The Rest of the Story. On TV, I was a huge fan of Charles Kuralt and his On The Road segments which I still watch all the time on DVD. Books like The Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon and Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck have been read and reread numerous times. More recently, the amazing photography of Edward Curtis and the recording of Alan Lomax coupled with the drive and hunger to explore of both men have been hugely inspirational in getting this off the ground. Anthony Bourdain has forever changed the travel show genre and made it infinitely more interesting. I hope I can do justice to these great travelers in printing their names here. I'm sure going to try.
I would love to stay and chat, I feel so excited I could talk all day but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep...