I recently returned from a media/press tour in the historic resort town of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. It was raining when my flight landed at the General Mitchell International Airport, but the weather felt like spring in Southern California for the remainder of the trip. Victorian farmhouses, red barns, and silos dotted the green hillsides. The residents were friendly and the food was superb.
As always, the experience only intensified my wanderlust. Older Americans (bless them) may still embrace our country’s good old Protestant work ethic for its own sake, but younger generations have come to believe that labor gives people the right to regular, guilt-free intervals of leisure. For many of us, this includes travel—often to far-flung, tourist-free, or vanishing destinations. Unlike tourists, who need to be herded along by a longsuffering tour guide, we travelers define ourselves by our ability to find home in the unknown and to live like the local residents. We want to make memories that will last a lifetime in places that we’d love to revisit, and we don’t fancy waiting until we’re too old and decrepit to enjoy it.¹
For those of you who’d like to explore the world while you’re still young and healthy, I’d start planning and saving now. My personal goal, in addition to going on at least one local excursion a month, is to take at least one longer trip per year. Perhaps the following ideas will inspire a few of your own:
1. The Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing
The Triple Crown is the trifecta of American horseracing. The Kentucky Derby, or “The Run for the Roses,” is held the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes, or “The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans,” is held the third Saturday in May at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; and the Belmont Stakes, “The Run for the Carnations” or “The Test of the Champion,” is held the third Saturday after the Preakness (i.e., the first or third Saturday in June) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
To date, there have been thirteen Triple Crown champions since the Derby was inaugurated in 1875.² The most famous of these was Secretariat, or “Big Red,” whose record-breaking thirty-one-length win at the 1973 Belmont has gone down in American turfdom as one of the most memorable horse races of all time. If that’s not a good enough reason to spend a day at the races, they also give you an excuse to wear flamboyant hats; sing American folk ballads like “My Old Kentucky Home”; and sip Mint Juleps, Black-Eyed Susans, and whatever the Belmont considers drinkable these days.
2. The Hebrides
My most recent passion project involves visiting some of the wineries and distilleries that I’ve written about for Drink Me magazine. One way to pursue this project would be to take a travel writing road trip to the Bordeaux-cum-Prosecco-cum-Tuscany of America (see #3) or venture further afield to the untamed Hebrides.
The Hebrides form an archipelago, or cluster of islands, off the northwest coast of Scotland. The culture—which dates back to the Mesolithic era—includes Celtic, Norse, and British influences. The Callanish Stones on the Isle of Iona could predate the Great Pyramid of Giza by more than three hundred years, and there are still towns (primarily in the Outer Hebrides) where Scottish Gaelic is still spoken regularly. The area is known for its windswept Highlands, Harris Tweed, cèilidhs, crofts, peat, and singe malt whisky—most of which comes from the Isle of Islay, “The Queen of the Hebrides.”
Weather-wise, the best time to visit is May through June.
3. Napa Valley
California may not be the first or only state to be known for its viniculture, but the Judgment of Paris put Napa Valley on the map when a blind tasting by a panel of eleven judges (one American, one British, and nine French) rated California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon higher than Burgundy or Bordeaux in the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976—and the San Francisco Wine Tasting of 1978—and the French Culinary Institute Tasting of 1986—and the Wine Spectator Tasting the same year—and the 30th Anniversary tasting in 2006. To make matters more mortifying for the French, the British and American votes in the original tasting weren’t even counted. So, France’s dethronement as king of wine was entirely the fault of its own judges, one of whom emphatically declared that the 1973 Bâtard-Montrachet must be from California because “it had no nose.” “Ah, back to Paris!” another enthused as he sampled Freemark Abbey Chardonnay from Napa Valley.
The outcome so infuriated the French that Odette Kahn, who rated two American reds at first and second place, tried to get her ballot back to shield her scoring from posterity; but we earned an ally in the British judge, Steven Spurrier, who participated in the 1978 retasting and organized the rest. No doubt, his reaction would’ve been different if Britain was known for its wine and not for its rivalry with the French.
Peak season in Napa Valley corresponds with the grape harvest from September through October. Both the weather and the crowds take a dip the following month. March through May is also beautiful (and less busy), if you appreciate nature as well as wine.
4. New England and Other “Colonial American” States
The New England states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. All but Vermont were among the original thirteen colonies that signed our Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Massachusetts is known for the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony (est. 1620), who celebrated our first Thanksgiving; the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony (est. 1630); the Salem witch trials from 1692–1693; the Boston Massacre of 1770; the Boston Tea Party of 1773 (which helps to explain America’s coffee addiction); and the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 (most of which was fought on Breed’s Hill). It was during this battle that Colonel William Prescott, in an effort to conserve the Continental Army’s limited supply of ammunition, famously ordered, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” Though the shortage of ammunition ended in defeat, the battle boosted Colonial morale. After cutting down four hundred untrained militiamen, the superior British force took the field at the cost of one thousand troops.
Other East Coast sites include Pennsylvania, the “Birthplace of the United States”; New York, a perennial and international favorite; and the island of Nantucket, the former whaling capital of the world that appears in the great American classic, Moby Dick.
5. You tell me! What destination(s) would you recommend?
¹ No offense, but hobbling through the streets of Paris with a bad back or weak ankles isn’t exactly romantic.
² The races were inaugurated in reverse of the order in which they’re now run.