While sitting at a gas station in rural Louisiana we were approached by a man getting gas. He was curious about two raggedly looking white people were hanging out in the parking lot next to two fully loaded bicycles (we don’t always stand out for being white, but in this town we did). He asked us what we were doing and where we had been. When we told him the places we had been in Louisiana he commented that we had seen more of the state than he had, and he had lived in that area his whole life. This was not an uncommon sentiment, in fact, we had said the same thing before to people visiting our previous “home towns”.
It was common for me to remark on this when I lived in tourist traps like DC and Los Angeles. I never really explored my town unless people were visiting me. Instead, I would spend years in the same city and go to the same places each weekend. The same bars, the same bike routes, the same restaurants, varying only occasionally but not really going much beyond my neighborhood. I never explored my own towns until I was leaving.
It is a shame. Many of the places I lived had amazing sites and experiences just outside my comfort zone. DC is a prime example. You can take a bike trail from DC to Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize that route existed until I left. There was even free camping along much of the route. There were cool little towns with quirky coffee shops and restaurants. I could have abandoned the terrible swamp town that is DC and been in small town Maryland within a few miles along the bike trail, but I never did that.
When we settle into a new town after the bike ride (probably Baton Rouge at this point) I want to make a point of exploring more. You can find a lot of hidden gems just by opening Google Maps and typing in “camping”, or you can use ReserveAmerica.com to find local campsites. Then, when you find a campsite just plug in biking directions from where you are and take off. Just about anyone can find a campground 30 miles from their home and make a weekend trip out of it. You leave Saturday morning, liesurely bike 30 miles with your gear in a backpack, and then camp. On Sunday you reverse the trip.
I’m sure there are other things to do besides camping. Most cities have museums, tours, botanical gardens, and parks to explore. Or you can find rivers to raft, intramural leagues to join, or vineyards to visit. Every town we visit has amazing things to do, and every town we visit is someone’s “home town”. I wish I would have realized the potential of my home towns before I left.