I recently took a trip from our home in Tennessee to visit my folks at their home in The Villages, Florida. I've taken these trips before, and while I love visiting and helping out while I am there, I hate the trip. This time, I tried something different; I drove the backroads.
Until the highways replaced the spider's web of smaller roads draped across the US, the roads passed through small towns and burgs. The hotels, motels, restaurants, and other businesses patronized by the travelers were owned, operated, and staffed by people from the local communities through which the roads passed. The locals also patronized these businesses, and people tended to know those who owned and staffed them.
Then the interstates took over, bypassing all those little towns and their businesses. The towns were replaced by rest-stop businesses, franchises and company stores, owned by people far from the communities which supplied the workers who staffed them. Even then, the workers came from no single community, but were drawn in from miles away, few knowing those with whom they worked. Meanwhile, the small towns died.
And now we are left with traveling through places as homogenous, and anonymous as tapioca, everything the same, with nothing left but a frantic urge to get to our destination before the indigestion sets in from yet another fast-food sandwich in one hand while the other aims the car down another stretch of highway indistinguishable from the last.
And just like you, I have spent many a trip just droning along on the madness that is "the highway." But this time was going to be different. This time I was going to take the backroads.
It took a bit of time, maybe an hour or so, to find the best way to go. There are settings on many GPS devices to "avoid highways," but don't use them. Trust me. I tried that setting on my trip back from Florida and had in interesting tour of Georgia, but didn't make a huge amount of headway on my trip! Instead, map your trip on your favorite online mapping service, then find the best waypoints to program into your car's GPS (in my case, an older, built-in Garmin).
Taking the backroads added several hours to my trip, but not necessarily as many as you might expect. By going the backroads, I completely avoided the traffic jam that is Atlanta, plus a few other traffic hotspots.
To make the trip even more enjoyable, I decided to break it into two days, stopping any place I found interesting, eating wherever it looked good, and choosing my stopping point based solely on when I felt like stopping.
Along the way I met many great people.
There was the lady at the little restaurant who interrupted my placing my order to tell me, "Oh, hon, I almost forgot to tell you. It's Thursday, that means it's rib day, and we just took them out of the smoker" (I promptly changed my order).
And Katrina, the owner and barista at High Points Coffee & Books where I had to stop to let a headache die down before returning to the road. The coffee was terrific, as was the conversation with Katrina and the other patrons. Katrina and her husband are from California, but now live in the Ashland, Alabama area with their 4 children. Both she and her husband are retired Navy.
The coffee was terrific, as was the conversation with Katrina and the other patrons.
A 4-piece band outside a little café in Micanopy, Florida was quite enjoyable, as was the deli sandwich.
I stopped and took photos whenever something caught my attention. The rest of the time I just cruised, the radio playing, the top down, the air conditioning blowing cool air to combat the heat.
The most surprising thing to me was, when I stopped for the night or arrived at my destination, I wan't fatigued like I would usually have been. I was tired, for sure, but not that collapse on the bed and sleep for 10 hours kind of fatigue long miles on the interstate seems to bring on.
If you have the time, give it a try. It takes some extra planning, but I think you'll find it's worth it. Drop a comment and tell me how your trip down the backroads went. I'll be anxious to hear.
William K Elliott
William is a member of that ever-popular group known as “Aspiring Writers,” also known as “unemployed.” He has been dabbling in writing for some twenty or thirty years, and has finally decided to “get down to business.” With inspiration from Steven King’s “On Writing,” and a lot of support from his wife, Kristy, he has been working on his first novel.