Off Track Planet's Travel Guide to 'Merica! for the Young, Sexy, and Broke


By Off Track Planet

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The experts at Off Track Planet bring you a roadtripping guide to ‘Merica. This guide includes all the information you’ll need to take on the great nation of ‘Merica, a country filled with rich culture, museums, shopping, sightseeing, partying, art and music, festivals, nightlife, and more.

This edgy reference book will include information on fashion, climate, health and safety, budgeting, and where to stay, as well as show you how to navigate every mode of transportation from buses to Uber; explore the finest art museums to the most tagged urban beauty; discover bodegas, delis, corner stores, and tasting menus around the country; visit weird landmarks; take cheap must-do tours; and crash anywhere from a hostel to a couch. Complete with pre-departure suggestions, OTP Tips and Fun Facts, as well as illustrated maps and 200+ full-color photos, this comprehensive travel guide is equally as entertaining as it is informative.



At once a place of pride and shame, the South has spawned many a stereotype, and some of them still hold true. Here, people love their guns, bacon, and Republican politics. The birthplace of country, jazz, blues, and BBQ, the South is a place of good manners, where charm trumps all. Not everything fits neatly into the South geographically, with Miami out doing its own crazy thing and Austin keeping things weird. Get tipsy on the Bourbon Trail, visit a megachurch, and don’t forget to scream “NASCAR!” at the top of your lungs.




The scenic connection between the North and the Southeast, the Appalachian Trail isn’t a day-trip trek. This thing will bring out your inner beast with each of its five million steps. A 2,175-mile journey from Georgia to Maine, through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire, the trail crosses five national parks and incredible mountain ranges, with campsites set up along the way to rest your adventurous soul. These five must-have adventures really squeeze the most out of this vast and varied terrain.


Getting smacked around in foamy white water is about as thrilling as it gets. The rushing Linville Gorge is ideal for whitewater rafting and drops more than the beat on Saturday night, throwing you into the liquid abyss. It starts at Babel Tower and ends at Conley Cove, and while it’s only 3.8 miles long, it’s a solid Class V the whole way through. People often exaggerate its length because it takes about six hours to complete and none of them want to admit they were moving at a snail’s pace. There’s no shame in the game here; this thing is tough.


The Smoky Mountains, named for their distinctive fog caps, lie on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Getting into the Smokies, you’ll have access to the park’s insane hiking trails, some of which will take you into the spray of its many waterfalls. You can walk behind the Grotto, watch the cascading falls of the rushing Ramsey Cascades, and hike up to the chimney tops for 360-degree views. You can set up camp in the backcountry near Mount LeConte and watch a spectacular sunset at Myrtle Point. Wildflowers and bears are abundant.

OTP Tip: Although it sounds super-shoddy, the Craggy Gardens are a spectacle of fairy-tale wonder you must experience on foot.


Fun Fact

Ruby Falls in Tennessee is the deepest underground waterfall in all the land.


Clingmans Dome, with an observation tower that looks like a flying saucer, is the highest point in the Smokies and Tennessee. The weather runs cool during the winter, when the trees get all iced over, but the trails are closed then, which means you’ll have to ski in. From the top, you’ll see spruce and fir forests and, when the weather’s right, the short, steep hikes are a challenging way to get around.


Along the Cumberland Plateau, between Georgia and Tennessee, you can try your hand at defying gravity by hang-gliding around like a bird catching wind. The conditions for gliding here are ideal and, on most days, you only need to run three to four steps off the ridge before you’re airborne. The mountains are broad, and flying above them feels like swimming in a sea of sky. The park employees will hold your hand (more like spoon you from behind), if you’re a novice pilot, with training sessions. Tandem flights and all equipment, including some awesome gliders, are available for sale if you’re the Chuck Norris of hang-gliding.


Fun Fact

Check out the abandoned launchpad in Highfield-Cascade, Maryland, created by flight enthusiasts and deemed too dangerous to launch from. People come here to contemplate and tag the shit out of the ridge.


The Appalachian Trail is long, rocky, and rough, but it was meant to be hiked, and hike it you must. If you’re looking to set some endurance records and know what you’re doing out in the wilderness, hiking the entire trail will be a long, arduous, unforgettable journey that about twelve thousand people have done since its completion in 1937. It takes five to seven months, the optimal start time is mid- to late spring, people go mostly south to north, and the midway point is Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Towns are four to five days apart so this will either be super-exciting to you or you’ll die of starvation. The trail was built for “thru-hikers,” so you can leave the tent at home because there are strategically placed shelters about eight miles apart. You’ll have to dig a hole to poop in (although some shelters have toilets). If you’re the overly ambitious type, you can do a round-trip, but then you’ll have to write a book about it.


Shot for shot, Kentucky is the holy land of bourbon. Sippin’ on the stuff is good and dandy, but you don’t know BO until you’ve staggered along the Bourbon Trail. Grab your bike and line your gut with steel; we’re setting off on a tour of the best brown liquid ’Merica has to offer.


Evan Williams opened the first distillery in 1783 along the Ohio River in Louisville. Shortly thereafter, lots of folks tried their hand at deepening the flavor of plain ol’ whiskey by aging it in barrels. Eventually, booze-lovers settled in Louisville, Bardstown, and Frankfort to brew their bourbon tax-free. Kentucky was just a wee baby then and only officially became a state in 1792, with Bourbon County established in 1785. Officially named “bourbon” in 1840, it became America’s national spirit by 1964 and rules for what can be classified as bourbon were established.


Corn’s the big deal. Corn is native to ’Merica and therefore distinguishes this particular type of whiskey from similar booze, like scotch from Scotland. The mixture must be 51 percent corn to be considered bourbon and the rest is made up from a proprietary blend of grains. The mash mixture must be aged in charred new oak barrels, and to be called “straight bourbon,” it must be aged for a minimum of two years. Kentuckians are convinced that their water is the best (due to its low iron content) and they swear it contributes to the taste of the final product. Bourbon-making takes patience, a process that fits with the slow pace of life in this part of the South.


Fun Fact

Sour mash is a fermentation process similar to sourdough bread making, where yeast is added to the by-products of whiskey production as a fermentation agent. This mixture is then added to new batches of whiskey to sour them, creating a complex flavor profile as it ages.


An expansive area of land that has been busy with bourbon since the beginnings of ’Merica, the best way to go is by motorcycle or bike. The trail is full of gorgeous green rolling hills, and the main attraction is hanging out and learning about bourbon from proud Kentuckians. This isn’t like Vegas, where you stumble from place to place because some distilleries are up to seventy miles apart; it is like Disneyland, though, with lots of interactive experiences.

Cost at the distilleries varies from $5 to $40, and the tours are about an hour and a half each. Unless you plan to make drinking bourbon a full-time job for a day, bet on staying in Kentucky for three to four days, if only to sleep off the bourbon brain. There are a total of nine distilleries and if you pick up a “passport” at the visitor’s center and hit them all, you’ll get a free T-shirt! Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find.

Heaven Hill Distillery

This distillery is a must-hit for history. Elijah Craig, a traveling Baptist preacher and entrepreneur, is known to some as the inventor of bourbon, but so many distillers were making the spirit at the same time in the same way that it’s hard to give him all the credit. That’s not to say that Elijah’s firewater, found at Heaven Hill, isn’t some of the best in the world. But Craig’s isn’t the only attraction here.

Pappy Van Winkle began producing his Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon right before Prohibition at the now shuttered Stitzel Weller distillery, and no dumb federal law was going to stop the old dude (who kept making the good juice until he was eighty-nine). His distillery had a “medicinal whiskey” license, much like cannabis dispensaries in California in the dark days of weed. When the place was shuttered, the bottles were distributed to Buffalo Trace (off the trail in Frankfort) and Heaven Hill distilleries.

Woodford Reserve

You can’t have Jack Daniel’s on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because it’s in Tennessee and they call it “Tennessee whiskey.” They refuse to call it bourbon because they claim the distinguishing use of charcoal filtering sets their drink apart. Truth is, Woodford Reserve Distillery also puts its famous bourbon through a charcoal filter, so, really, Tennesseeans don’t know Jack, and the stuff here tastes quite similar.


Fun Fact

In 2013, a few idiots were busted for stealing seven to eight thousand cases of Pappy Van Winkle. They were also into sexting and bragging about how much money they were making.

Four Roses

This stuff is just plain ol’ delicious. We won’t bore you with more history, but Four Roses is aged in a single-story rack warehouse that the distillers claim is responsible for its subtle flavor.

More breath-souring bourbon can be found at Four Roses, Evan Williams, Wild Turkey, Town Branch, Maker’s Mark, Samuels, and your old college dorm best friend, Jim Beam. Many distilleries shut down during the hotter summer months, so do the trail in September when you’ll get full tours, and be there to honor National Bourbon Heritage Month.


Do the Derby Right

Kentucky is known for three things: bourbon, chicken, and the derby. While a deep understanding of horse racing isn’t necessary to do the derby right, the factors below are absolutely crucial to getting the most out of the race.


Big, obnoxious hats are a must. The bigger, more decked out in flowers and ribbons, the better. Back in 1875, the derby’s creator wanted to shift the perception of gamblin’ on horses from a low-life activity to a high-fashion event. He stuck his wife and her friends in a wagon and used their flashy hats to gain attention from the kind of people that liked (and could afford) big flashy hats. These days, the hats steal the show.




Served in a silver cup, this bourbon and mint drink has been the official beverage of the derby (and any hot day in Kentucky) since 1938. If your horse wins, consider blowing your earnings on a $1,000 julep, served in a gold cup with a silver straw.




There are thirteen races and twenty horses running on Derby Day. Pick your race (or the whole derby) and your favorite horse and walk up to the window with cash. Depending on how sure you are about your stallion, you can put money down on the horse winning an individual race, the whole derby, or “across” the finish line (which means if your horse places first, second, or third, you’ll be rolling in dough).




When you’re good and sloshed, your big hat slouching somewhere between your neck and your ankles, you’ll be reminded that you’re at a horse race by the bright red garland being draped onto the winning horse. This is when you check your ticket to see if you’re a millionaire.


NASCAR would never be the glorious, somewhat backward, spectacle it is without hooch. Stock cars were souped up in order to transport booze better and faster during Prohibition, and legend has it that when the dudes would drive their moonshine around, they’d race on the back roads, because why not? Bootleggers would outsmart and outdrive the law all the while getting in some good racing practice, with quick delivery on the hooch. Eventually, it became better organized, with crude tracks laid down to see who the fastest “runner” was. Bill France Sr. stepped in to put the rules down in Daytona Beach, Florida, and in 1947, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR!) was born, with Big Bill at the wheel.


NASCAR is basically a repository for displays of Southern masculinity, like the WWE, but with dangerous vehicles and high speeds, instead of spandex and fake head butts. And, fortunately, nobody really cares that deeply about NASCAR outside of the South. The spectacle is the aggression, “settling the score” story lines between races. If you’re going to go all NASCAR on people, you’ll want to know the key players and facts:

The Darlington Raceway in South Carolina was the first official track.

The Daytona 500 Sprint Cup Series is the super bowl of NASCAR. Same kind of drunks; different kind of game.

Junior Johnson (aka the “Last American Hero”) spent time in the Ohio slammer for operating a moonshine still, but then went right back to racing, winning fifty races before retiring in 1966. What’s old Johnson up to now? He owns a NASCAR racing team, makes pork products, and sells “Midnight Moon Moonshine.”

Lee Petty won the first ever race at the Daytona International Speedway by bitching his way to the top. Johnny Beauchamp was declared the unofficial winner when they came nose-to-nose at the finish line, but Petty refused to lose, and after three days of deliberation, he was named the winner. Persistence pays, kids!

Richard Petty is Lee’s son, and was a total disaster at first. Nonetheless, he became a legend and earned his nickname, “The King” (move over Elvis), by winning the NASCAR Championship seven times, with a number of top finishing records under his belt during his long career. Petty retired in 1992 when hot young studs like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon started burning up the track.


Is NASCAR less prestigious than most other races that happen around the world? Formula One, for instance? Heck, yes, it is, but this is NASCAR! And it’s all-American. What’s the fun, you ask, in watching someone continuously turn left? It’s all in the fans. NASCAR is a very easy “sport” to understand: The first car across the finish line wins; this works as a bonding agent. More importantly, people get behind drivers’ personas, and that’s where the real fan base is built. Plus, crashes happen all the time and it creates a bit of a hockey brawl mentality as far as the fans are concerned, but that fear of risk, death, and destruction is the very thing that keeps it all exciting.

NASCAR’s safety rules are far more relaxed than Formula One’s, which require drivers to wear neck braces. But this is ’Merica! and we do shit that’s dangerous and explosive. Dale Earnhardt’s skull fracture death made NASCAR officials pause a bit, but not enough to institute real safety regulations. “Generation Five” race cars were introduced in 2007, where the car bodies were wrapped uniformly (regardless of the maker’s design features) for safety purposes. But big car companies didn’t like this, so by 2013, “Generation Six” cars were born, which reverted back to letting carmakers show off brands with more pizzazz, regardless of safety concerns.


Is it all Talladega Nights? We’d say the film painted a pretty accurate picture. Confederate flags will fly high and God will be mentioned at every turn. It is a sport that embodies the far right, and rivalries, driving, drinking, and babes are all part of the action. NASCAR!




Out in the distance of a dusty road, illuminated by the orange, nay, yellow, Amarillo, Texas, sun sits a majestic art installation composed of ten Cadillacs, nosedown in the ground, tail fins pointing toward the sky. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it, Disney’s Cars used it as symbolic background, and many have come to pray before the Cadillac gods, and have graffiti-ed them to shit in the name of self-expression. But these ten Caddies aren’t just there for shock value. Cadillac Ranch captures the life—and death—of the American Dream.


Cadillac Ranch was conceived by art collective Ant Farm in a San Francisco bar in the 1970s. The duo found a children’s book called The Look of Cars, which sparked nostalgia for the Caddy era in their hearts, inspiring them to look to a rich old dude, wacky oil billionaire Stanley Marsh 3, to fund a grand-scale project to memorialize their fond memories. In 1974, Marsh’s Amarillo, Texas, property became the “hood ornament of Route 66.”


Ant Farm set out to realize their vision by digging through junkyards for Caddies that fit the bill. Once the ten Caddies were acquired, for an average of $200 a pop, they drove or dropped the cars, nosedown, into pre-dug, eight-foot holes on Marsh’s land, cementing them to match the angle of Egypt’s Giza Pyramid. The cars were set up in sequential order by year of make, skipping years when the tail fin wasn’t altered much.

Why tail fins? The replacement of piston propliners with jet engines at the beginning of the 1950s propelled America into the “jet age.” The modernization of air travel, coupled with the expansion of the interstate, created an obsession with futuristic aesthetics and the open road. Carmakers began designing tiny tail fins, reminiscent of jets, and the trend grew well into the ’60s, with fins jetting out sharply from the backsides of new models.

The jet-inspired tail fin represented power and prestige, two things people had forgotten they wanted. Caddy Ranch’s ten models are a perfect arc of tail fins, from the tiny nub of the first model, to the sharp, ridiculous fins of the later models. The Ranch is almost a perfect graph of the life lived during this era of excess and exploration. This time shaped the American Dream.


Fun Fact

Stanley Marsh 3 loved his wife Wendy so much that he had the Caddy Ranch painted pink for her birthday one year.


You’ve heard planned obsolescence applied to 1950s toasters, TVs, and those Blu-ray discs nobody ever got into. Apple is good at this. Turns out, planned obsolescence also applies to cars. The race to the cooler-looking tail fin between Chrysler, GM, and other car manufacturers led to new models being pumped out every year. The older models fell out of fashion and function fast, then ended up at resellers. This meant that, suddenly, people with less money could afford them. The American Dream seemed within reach for the less fortunate, and car-centric businesses, like drive-in restaurants, drive-throughs, and drive-in movies, all meant that you would be seen in and with your car. The expansion of highways and the creation of the interstate system by Eisenhower in ’55 (the “open road”) also led to an explosion of car sales.

Caddies were synonymous with sexual liberation; more specifically, they meant you no longer needed to bang on your parents’ couch. The roadsides sprouted motels and greasy-spoon diners to feed people’s appetites for freedom from their homes. Billboards on highways allowed for more ad space, and the Mad Men marketing era boomed.


The very thing (jets) that led to the popularity of Caddies also led to their demise, as air travel (and foreign importing) became easier and foreign imports more accessible. With globalization on the horizon, German and Japanese cars became “hot” commodities, kicking Caddies into the dust. Rising gas prices and auto dependency meant Americans looked for efficiency over flash. America’s needs changed and began to be serviced by foreign brands.

Installed in 1974, the Cadillac Ranch, according to Ant Farm, was “intended to be both about capturing the American dream and tail fin culture, but also a burial of the gas guzzler.” People in Priuses pull off the road to take pictures of the Caddies. Oftentimes, you’ll find the cars painted different colors to commemorate events. They were rainbow for gay pride, pink camo for breast cancer awareness, black when a member of Ant Farm died, repainted in their original colors for marketing purposes, and then blanked out with white paint to allow (and encourage) new graffiti to be sprayed on them.

Bruce Springsteen’s song is about how Cadillac Ranch is where Caddies go to die, and, well, we all know what happened to the sad characters in the movie Cars. But a certain part of ’Merica will always live on in those Caddies, facedown in the dirt between Earth and sky.


Roadside 66

The story of this highway (aka the Mother Road and Main Street of America) is perhaps the single most symbolic representation of how ’Merica came to be. Route 66 was first established in 1926, starting in Chicago and traversing Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, before ending in Santa Monica, California. It ran continuously for almost 2,500 miles. People took to the road and attractions sprouted up along the route to draw in motorists with the weirdest attention-grabbing shit. This was the beginning of truck stops, fast food, and eventually, when a new interstate, wider roads, and a freeway cut 66 to pieces—ghost towns. While Route 66 lost its highway status in 1985, historic remnants are still hanging by the side of the road. From Chicago to Santa Monica, these are our favorite places still thriving in the name of nostalgia.



Shea’s Gas Station Museum in Springfield used to be a Texaco, but now it houses the coolest gas station memorabilia, like pumps, phone booths, and all kinds of road signs.


Fun Fact


On Sale
May 10, 2016
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Off Track Planet

About the Author

Anna Starostinetskaya was born in Ukraine, raised in Los Angeles, and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her most memorable trip was to Spain, where she hopped a fence on the side of a highway to sample an authentic Spanish olive right from a tree. Don’t eat olives from trees for two reasons: (1) they have not been cured and taste like utter shit and (2) if the grove’s owner catches you trespassing, you may leave Spain with more battle wounds than you intended.

Freddie Pikovsky is the ringmaster of OTP and fell in love with backpacking on a trip in 2009 that started in Israel; went through Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands; and ended in travel enlightenment. He often travels in a style known as “broke fancy,” which has landed him in some precarious situations. Once calling the floor of an Italian train station home for the night, Freddie came close to being swept away by a street-cleaning truck as he snoozed comfortably on pizza crumbs and petrified gum. He’s a firm believer that every young person should experience the life-changing capabilities of travel and drives OTP forward to make this vision a reality.

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