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Geek Road Trip: Planning the ultimate American Gods cross-country adventure
Ever since I first read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I have had a hankering to take a massive road trip across the country and attempt to recreate the adventure that unfolds in the book. The first two seasons of the television adaptation have only increased my desire to do this, but just because I have the desire, it doesn't mean that I'll actually do it. I live in a state of simultaneously longing for adventure, yet never wanting to leave my own home. Still, there's no harm in planning what this grand American Gods road trip could entail.
I may never take this trip, but there's nothing stopping you from hitting the road! The fully immersive American Gods experience is right here waiting for you, and unlike Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, you won't have to do too much cooking in the sun while waiting in lines. You might end up in prison, but that's always a possibility, isn't it?
Speaking of prison — if you really want to go for the fully immersive experience, then get yourself arrested and spend a few years in jail before starting this trip. This step is not recommended, so our guide will follow Shadow Moon's post-incarceration path.
BEFORE LEAVING HOME
Surely there are trees where you live, even if you happen to live in a city. Seek out the biggest one that you can find, look around on the ground, and find a small branch that has fallen off a tree. Take this small branch with you. Buy or borrow a book on magic that includes coin tricks, and learn from this book along the way when you have downtime. Find an old journal or an old notebook that you used to write in, flip randomly through it, and rip out whatever page you happen to flip to. Fold up this page and pocket it. Do not read it.
From wherever you reside, get to Chicago. Fly there, walk there, whatever it takes. This is where your journey will begin. On the plane/train/whatever, take three shots of something, listen to "Who Loves the Sun" by The Velvet Underground, and imagine that you're getting into a fight with Mad Sweeney.
This is where the real adventure will begin, because Eagle Point, Indiana, is a fictional place. Shadow and Wednesday's trip to Chicago, where they visit Czernobog and the Zorya Sisters, provides the backdrop for the next logical starting point.
Enjoy this city for however long you wish (The Art Institute of Chicago is wonderful), but Gods-wise, there is only one thing that has to be done while here: Go out very late on a night when you can see the full moon.
Take a coin from your pocket (I'm assuming you have a coin, if not, get one), and hold it up to the moon. You likely can't pluck the moon out of the sky and turn it into a coin, so this will have to make do. Say something meaningful to Zorya Polunochnaya, the Midnight Star, while holding your coin. When done, pluck your coin back and carefully put it in a safe place. Carry it with you for the rest of the journey.
Sleep if you can, then wake up and rent a car. Drive to Spring Green, Wisconsin. On the way, listen to the folk song, "Midnight Special."
THE HOUSE ON THE ROCK
Of all of the destinations listed here, the House of the Rock in Spring Green is probably the most important one. This tourist trap was where Wednesday held council with the old gods, and Shadow got his first peek behind the curtain. You shall do the same.
Do whatever you have to do in order to gain entrance. Because of the place being featured in both the book and the show, popularity has likely risen — no matter, wait however long it takes to get in. Spend an entire day here, and see everything you can. Get your fortune, get a look at every odd bit of decor and kitsch that the place has to offer, and yes, by all means, see the carousel. You likely will not be able to ride it, but spend some quality time staring at it. Take out your moon coin and let it soak up some of the carousel's power.
Before leaving, make sure to walk through the entirety of the Infinity Room, and then make your way to Drunkard's Dream. Take out the page that you ripped from a diary or notebook back at home. Read it and remember it, no matter how random or silly it might be. Crumple the page into a ball and toss it into Drunkard's Dream. Perhaps you'll receive a vision, perhaps you will not.
Get back to your rented car and drive to Cairo, Illinois. On the way, listen to "The Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss, and remember the carousel.
Shadow spends a fair bit of time here in the novel, in the funeral home run by Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel. That funeral home is also pretty much the home base for most of the show's second season.
There is no actual funeral home run by Ibis and Jacquel, so instead, tour the town and learn it's rich history. If you come across a different funeral home, pay your respects to the dead. Do not interrupt the grieving process of anyone, be respectful. Keep your moon coin close.
Once you've gotten your fill (and have been told how to properly say the name of the town by at least one resident), get back into your rented car and listen to "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin. Your next stop depends on you — and is somewhat seasonal.
This is another fictional location, and if it does exist, well, nobody's talking. Gaiman himself writes in his "Warning for Travelers" at the start of the book that it is a work of fiction, not a guidebook. In terms of Lakeside (and another big location that we'll get to), he notes that "You may look for them if you wish. You might even find them."
All of that is to say that if you wish to look for Lakeside, this is when you should do it. Shadow's time in this murder-mystery town is a big part of the book, so it would make sense. If you're taking this trip in the winter, then look for a town located on the side of a lake that would be frozen. Failing that, perhaps just go and wander around Minnesota. If you see a small town on a frozen lake anywhere, pretend that it is Lakeside and refer to yourself as "Mike Ainsel" for a day.
Whether you accept this side-jaunt or not, get back on track by driving your rented car to Lebanon, Kansas. On the way, listen to "Old Friends" by Stephen Sondheim, written for the musical Merrily We Roll Along.
THE CENTER OF AMERICA
Geographically speaking, Lebanon is the center of America. You won't find much here — Mr. Nancy himself says that it's just "a tiny rundown park, an empty church, and a derelict motel." He's not far off. The place has power, though Nancy continues, "It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things."
Take out your moon coin and let it soak up some of the power here. You'll be surrounded by endless grass and open fields, so let your mind wander about belief in things that both are and aren't imaginary.
Jump in that rented car and drive to Blacksburg, Virginia. On the way, listen to the folk song "Hang Me, Oh Hang Me." There are many versions, just choose one you like. Personally, I'd go with Oscar Isaac's rendition from Inside Llewyn Davis.
THE WORLD TREE
This is the other fictional location that Gaiman referred to in his opening. All we know about the fictional location of Yggdrasil is that Shadow, Nancy, and Czernobog drive an hour south of Blacksburg to get there. That's not much to go on, but it's something. So just drive an hour south of Blacksburg and look for the biggest tree that you can find.
You'll know it when you see it. Yggdrasil can be an idea (like Asgard not being a place, but a people), so find your own Yggdrasil. Don't sacrifice yourself on it — for the love of Odin, do not do that. Simply take a moment in front of the tree, and then take out the branch that you've brought from home.
Toss the branch that you've carried for so very long in the air and let it fall. Dedicate it to the deity of your choosing. Look around on the ground, and find a new fallen branch. Take this new one with you. Get back in the rented car and drive to Rock City, Georgia. Listen to "The Fool on the Hill" by The Beatles.
The site of the novel's "final battle" is the last stop on our adventure. Rock City is built into Lookout Mountain, and much like the House on the Rock, it is loaded with kitschy magic. See everything here you can — journey through the entire attraction. When you come to the edge of the waterfall known as Lover's Leap, let some of the waters run over your moon coin.
Get back in your rented car and drive home. On the way, listen to whatever rendition of "The Way You Look Tonight" you like best.
Return the car. Go to the tree that you originally visited before leaving, and place the branch from your own Yggdrasil before it. Go back to your home, lie in bed, and sing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" to yourself while attempting a coin trick with your moon coin. You won't be giving this coin away — keep it with you for the rest of your life.
Who knows what magic can be found while traveling the path that I've just laid out? Who knows what mystical energies will be uncovered? I honestly have no idea. Go forth and find out for yourself. The day may even come when I feel like coming along.