February 2014 | Nate Pedersen

On the Road Via Google Maps


Combining the twin powers of self-publishing and computer technologies, literature enthusiasts today are able to elevate fandom to an entirely new level. 

A German college student, Gregor Weichbrodt, has created an eBook detailing chapter by chapter directions for the route traveled by Sal Paradise (alter ego of author Jack Kerouac) in On the Road. Using "exact and approximate" destinations mentioned in the narrative, Weichbrodt plugged the locations into Google Maps and generated a 66 page document, "On the Road in 17527 Miles," available for free online or for purchase as a self-published Lulu book. The directions take the reader from New York City to San Francisco, on to Los Angeles, then back again to New York City. Weichbrodt split the directions into chapters mimicking the chapters in On the Road.  

According to Google, the road trip should take you 272 hours as you travel 17,527 miles. These directions rely upon Interstate travel, however, a luxury unavailable to Kerouac in the 1940s. If you wish to fully recapture the Beatnick spirit, you will need to stick to the old highways and byways, which will significantly increase your time (and significantly heighten your experience).  

Weichbrodt's Google Maps version of On the Road is only the latest in a recent trend to use technology to expand the reach of literature. In 2011, a software developer programmed an algorithm to generate a pub-free walk through Dublin (a dream made famous by Leopold Bloom in Ulysses).  And in 2009 a fan of Stephen King released an eBook of the novel being written by Jack Torrance in The Shining.  The eBook repeats the phrase "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over the course of 80 pages in a variety of types and sizes.

[Image of Kerouac's hand-drawn map of his travels from OpenCulture]