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Trip Background

I didn’t seek out parallel living – it found me.  In the fall of 2015, my wife Alyse, daughter Julia and I had just purchased our first house in Manchester, NH.  One warm afternoon at home I was showing Julia my new handheld GPS and happened to glimpse the coordinates of our 1/10 acre backyard.  Latitude 43 point zero. Zero. Zero.  I did a triple take, ambled to and fro a few times like a recently-freed asylum resident, then came inside and confirmed on Google Maps.  We lived exactly on the 43rd parallel...

Now what is the significance of this, you ask?  Well, to anyone but a geography geek like myself, absolutely nothing.  Your average American lives her whole life without once contemplating her coordinates.  However, as my wife would say to me with a pitying glance and reassuring pat on the shoulder, "you're not the average American."


Another year of pondering, and my task became clear: to be (presumably) the first person to drive the 43rd parallel across North America.  Now before the purists smugly point out that this is impossible (unless you have a military-grade tank to scale 12,000-foot mountains and cross millions of acres of private land), I’d kindly ask for a bit of flexibility.  The trip would keep to the 43rd within reason, but I would be allowed to deviate by up to one degree of latitude north or south (42 to 44).  This would prove necessary, especially out west when roads (or at least reasonably straight ones) became as scarce as New Hampshire snowbanks in late April.


Why bother at all, you ask?  You're missing so many of the USA's iconic sites by restricting yourself to one straight(ish) line.  Well, that's precisely the point.  Anyone can map out (or, more realistically, have his GPS map out) a road trip and deviate to hit prime tourist targets.  My approach would, on some level, prove that there are worthwhile sights and people to encounter, no matter what line one takes.  There are some incredible landscapes within a degree of the 43rd that you’ll discover too if interest (or boredom) tempts you to read on...


The format of my story is simple: profiles of 43 communities, natural and manmade features across the 11 states and one province split by the 43rd parallel.  They range from mundane landscape staples (i.e. billboards), to crumb-speck towns of 500 and rust belt strongholds such as Buffalo and Milwaukee.  Given the realities of limited budget and vacation time, I was not able to linger in the places I visited (travel speed dating, if you will).  Of all the locales, I had only ever visited three of them before; hopefully a fresh perspective will appeal to those with little interest in travel, as well as introduce seasoned travelers to more secluded places (Northwest Iowa, anyone?)


Perhaps my experiences will inspire you to embark on your own journey, whether crossing a straight horizon or on twisted, crumbling mountain roads.


One thing I’ve learned in my own travels is despite the apparent straightness of the road ahead, we always must be prepared to encounter some unforeseen bends...


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