Redneck Wanderlust

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Wendy Hodge

By WENDY HODGE

This time of year, social media is full of vacation pictures … selfies in front of historic landmarks, family group shots at amusement park entrances and ocean views from beach chairs. And I am feeling that familiar pull to travel, to explore, to GO!

I am lucky enough to say that I have seen the Eiffel Tower at midnight. I’ve posed in front of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben in London. I’ve gazed at the Caribbean Sea from a hammock under a palm tree on Grand Cayman Island. I’ve ridden an open-air train through the French Alps and eaten Swiss chocolate in Geneva. And I treasure those memories.

But right now, if I were asked what would be on my bucket list to see on this amazing planet, I find myself longing to explore the less exalted, more humble and frankly quirky sights that are unique to the US-of-A. I’d love to go to Italy and Ireland, but you can’t get there in a Toyota Camry or on a Greyhound bus. And that’s what my soul needs right about now — a long, slow car ride with the windows down and some ’80s tunes cranked up.

It’s a redneck wanderlust I’m feeling, and here’s where you would find me if I had six months of paid vacation and a small fortune to cover the gas …

First stop would be the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s both a museum and a store. Lost luggage from all over the country ends up here. You can take pictures of the giant collection, and you can buy a piece to use on your own journey. I would find a lovingly battered steam trunk in which to pile an assortment of books and enough snacks to get me from here to yonder.

In honor of my dad, I would have to swing by the Duct Tape Festival in Ohio. My dad was convinced that he could repair the lop-sided shed in the backyard (and possibly build a small airplane) if only he had one more roll of duct tape. Parades and costumes are made entirely of the tape made at the local “Duck Tape” plant. Who knew it came in so many colors??

The Cow Chip Throw in Wisconsin would be … fun? If not fun, at least memorable. Contestants attempt to throw a dried cow chip farther down the field than the contestant before them. The record is 248 feet. No gloves allowed, so wash your hands before eating from the fried chicken booth.

Speaking of chickens … Mike the Headless Chicken Festival in Colorado sounds like a hoot. In 1945, a rooster named Mike had his head cut off by a farmer. But Mike refused to die. He managed to live for 18 months (I can’t even begin to guess how such a thing would be accomplished) … and a festival was born. In honor of Mike, the chicken who wouldn’t give up, folks gather to display their prize chickens and play an intense game of disc golf. And yes, attendees eat several thousand pounds of chicken. Go figure.

Pocahontas County Road Kill Festival in West Virginia is on my list. Dozens of booths are set up and grills are lit at daybreak. The aroma of possum, squirrel, deer and rabbit fill the morning air. If you get there early enough, you can even get a platter of gator and crow. I’m told that’s a delicacy, but I wouldn’t know from personal experience. Chicken is also on the menu.

North Carolina boasts a National Hollerin’ Festival. This might not be the most relaxing event to attend, but you’ve gotta admire someone who can holler and sing the national anthem at the same time. Competitors stand at opposite ends of a great big field and communicate with each other the old-fashioned way … one holler at a time. And then everybody eats. Chicken, probably.

In Maine, there is The Dance Mile Marathon. Hundreds of people, dressed inexplicably in tutus and Mardi Gras beads, boogie their way the entire 5,280 feet to the “finish line.” They’re not in a hurry. No one is running. It’s a slow stroll/dance to a T-shirt and a buffet lunch … Featuring chicken.

Georgia has a plethora of food-based festivals: The Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville, a Grilled Cheese Festival in Atlanta and a Chicken Livers and Gizzards Festival in Broxton are just the beginning of the list. Strangely enough, on the online menus for these festivals (poultry-themed or not), chicken is always available.

It’s not just the festivals that I have on my travel list. It’s all the fascinating roadside attractions that make America so … well … fascinating.

Carhenge in Nebraska is a replica of Stonehenge made entirely of old cars. I hear you can have the same mystical/spiritual experience staring at a ring of Oldsmobiles that you get in the presence of ancient two-ton stone markers on the other side of the world.

For a less other-worldly sight, The Corn Palace in South Dakota features a usable “palace” made entirely of ears of corn. If it gets hot enough, does popcorn fill the air?

If you’re in a record-breaking mood, America does not disappoint. In Ohio, you can enter a building that is actually a basket — the World’s Largest Basket Building. The World’s Tallest Thermometer, at 134 feet tall, stands in California’s Death Valley. The World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle towers 170 feet over a small town in Illinois. The World’s Largest Garden Gnome in upstate New York is over 13 feet tall and holds a bouquet of local flowers in his over-sized hand. The World’s Largest Fish Statue sits in Wisconsin. Four stories tall and 143 feet long, with an observation deck emerging from the fish’s mouth, it’s a fisherman’s dream catch. It’s not a bass, but it’s a sight I think my Tim would appreciate. 

A stay at the Dog Bark Park Inn in Idaho is required. This is a 30-foot, beagle-shaped, two-bedroom hotel that has a visitor center in case you aren’t spending the night. One of the more majestic roadside attractions is The Wild Horse Monuments in Washington state featuring 15 life-sized horse statues galloping across a ridge and overlooking the Columbia River.

To round out the trip, I would have to visit St. Paul, Minnesota, where the World’s Largest Braille Book sculpture sits in a garden. If your hands were large enough to read the raised dots on the page, you’d find it’s a Walt Whitman poem engraved there. I think Walt would approve.

If you can’t find me at work or in my garden, don’t fret … I am most likely on a back road somewhere snapping pictures of something tall and oddly shaped in a field … eating fried chicken.

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