What I most enjoyed when I read Karl Ove Knausgaard’s two–part travelogue in the New York Times Magazine was that he traveled predominantly by land, crossing parts of North America less often emphasized, and, for him, hitherto unknown. It got me thinking about wilderness again and fed into my growing excitement for the trip Cooper and I were planning to the far reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at the end of last summer. Knausgaard ends up traversing Michigan and Wisconsin to get to Minnesota and North Dakota, strongholds of Norwegian-American history, while the segment he most anticipates—New England to Pennsylvania—has to be cancelled due to an absurd delay at the start of the trip. I was surprised to learn that this Norwegian has such strong visions of Maine and Vermont, in contrast to his experience driving through Northern Michigan: “an America I hadn’t known existed, that I had never seen in pictures or heard anyone mention.”
His expedition begins on the coast of Newfoundland in early January, not the time of year you’d necessarily pick to visit upper North America. He visits the archaeological site of L’Anse aux Meadows, where the Vikings landed and settled in what they named Vinland, where they stayed several years and then left. Their marks on the land were buried, allowing Europeans to repeat their discovery of America hundreds of years later.
Knausgaard stands on the plain in the late afternoon and sees “the vast expanse of ice, the dark blue ocean beyond, beneath the pale blue sky, the islands in the distance, sheer cliffs rearing up from the water.” Everything still, silent. “A thousand years is no time at all […] I had no difficulty imagining a Viking ship approaching land.” He looks up at the skies in Newfoundland and all over the Midwest and sees glittering stars; he pulls over on the side of the highway to stare up at them. He rides through the north woods of the Great Lakes states for two days before the trees give way to endless prairies.
I want to do that, too. A great American road trip to experience the full breadth of the continent, except there are too many places to visit all in one go. There are the two coasts, mountains in the east and in the west, valleys and canyons and forests and farms. Continue reading “North with a Capital N”