Hi! We’re Anna and Carl, and for all of 2016 we are traveling across the USA (a week per state, plus DC) as US Anywhere.
After years of working deskjobs, we were becoming restless- itching for an adventure to free us from routine and spark our imaginations. A year-long road trip is a pretty extreme move, but we’re embracing the “go big or go home” mentality of our travels with everything we’ve got. We’re out to explore and capture the beauty of the United States while searching for strange and hidden gems in between.
Here are a few highlights from our first few weeks on the road. By working our way slowly towards the southeast, we passed through Wisconsin, Illinois and Tennessee.
People called us crazy for starting in Wisconsin, and at times, we thought they were right. It was freezing cold; full of blustery snow and ice. But because of this harsh weather, we found some truly gorgeous landscapes and adorable businesses to duck into.
People typically visit Door County in the summer- despite being located on a peninsula in Lake Michigan it feels like a community of New England coastal towns. Even though the peninsula was blanketed in snow, it was as charming as could be. We loved exploring the quaint small towns by day and camping in Peninsula State Park by night. The coffee at Bearded Heart in Bailey’s Harbor and the pizza at Wild Tomato were to die for.
The Don Q Inn was built as an attraction in the 80’s- the hotel boasts several themed “fantasuites”, an airplane, a hearth surrounded by old beauty chairs, and more knick-knacks than you can imagine. It was just as quirky and amazing as we’d hoped.
We stayed in the Northern Lights Suite, complete with igloo and polar bear murals on every wall. Other rooms include a spaceship, a cave, a castle, under-the-sea; the list goes on. This hotel would be worth a stop just to see, but we’d recommend staying the night for the full experience.
We then passed through Illinois, the flat, midwestern stalwart that’s home to the country’s third biggest city, Chicago. Though we spent a few days in Chicago, the true highlights were to be found after we left the city and drove deeper into the state.
This national forest takes up nearly the entire tip of Southern Illinois. Although it rained most of the time we were there, the trees and terrain were wild and rocky compared to the flatness of most of the state. Towering pines, winding trails and misty fog made us feel like we’d dropped into a fairy tale. It was a magical place and we hope to get back there one day, preferably when it isn’t raining!
Smack in the middle of this unsuspecting small town is a shrine to Superman, cartoonish and luminous. It’s definitely worth a look into the neighboring Superman museum, which boasts the world’s largest collection of the hero’s paraphernalia. If you happen to be passing through this area, Metropolis is a detour worth making.
Next up was Tennessee. We made the tough decision to skip Memphis after realizing that we’d been moving too fast and needed some time to catch up with ourselves. Now that our itinerary was more manageable- we went through Nashville first, wound through Knoxville in the center and landed finally at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Nashville is famous for it’s music, food culture and up-and-coming development. We had some difficulties due to traffic and weather, but after all was said and done, the hot chicken at Hattie B’s, the denim shop Imogene + Willie, the gallery wall and printing press at Hatch Show Print, and a book stock-up at Parnassus Books were all a joy.
Knoxville was a good surprise. We weren’t expecting much from this mid-sized town, which was likely the key to uncovering its hidden powers at delighting us. A visit to the iconic Sunsphere is a must, as is a stroll downtown amongst the historic but newly revitalized buildings. A meal at Tupelo Honey will give you a taste of the south (complete with biscuit and blueberry jam- yes, please!) Stop at Rala to stock up on letterpress cards, gifts and enamel pins to keep your #pingame strong. Finally, grab a nightcap at the Time Warp Tea Room, a coffee shop styled like a biker bar.
We were anxious to get to the Great Smoky Mountains, not only to see our first real mountains thus far on our trip but also to see the USA’s most-visited National Park. Though the mountains were spectacular, our timing was not- we stopped in Pigeon Forge just shy of the massive winter storm that hit the East Coast and caused historic snowfall. This meant we were stuck at the base of the mountains for the foreseeable future.
Though this wasn’t ideal, Pigeon Forge is as quirky as Metropolis or the Don Q. Dollywood is located here, and though it was closed for the season, much of the surrounding area and attractions were not. We enjoyed Pigeon Forge while hunkering down in the trailer on snowy nights. We got one brief chance to get into the mountains before it snowed again and what little we saw of the park was breathtaking. We hope to return to the Smokies one day- but for now, we'll keep heading south!
About US Anywhere
US Anywhere is a year-long, cross-country documentary project by newlyweds Carl and Anna. They are taking the 52 weeks of 2016 and are using them to travel the country and make short films about all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C.). The project will seek to illuminate the states and the hugely diverse urban and natural landscapes of the US. They hope to inspire others to dream, travel, explore, and connect with the United States.