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Friday, July 20, 2012

A Case for Back Roads...

I enjoy driving...a lot. I have a history of taking long solo road-trips (22 consecutive hours of solo driving from Miami, FL to Dayton, OH is my record). I must admit that much of my long trip driving experience has been on the interstate system, which, like all systems, has its pro and cons. Allow me to take a moment to examine them:

Pros of driving on an interstate:

  • They tend to go between major cities in a relatively straight line (i.e. the shortest path)
  • They tend to have the highest available speed limits (thus cutting down total travel time)
  • They have standardized marking features such as milage markers, exit markers, and milage signs for distances to cities
  • They advertise the services (i.e. gas, lodging, attractions, and food) available at each exit
  • You are never that far from the next gas station
  • They are kept in relatively good repair (i.e. no potholes that will swallow your car whole)

Cons of driving on an interstate:

  • They tend to be boring
  • The scenery is often not that attractive (although there are some exceptions to this rule)
  • They often have many 18-wheel trucks driving on them, which can be troublesome for a regular car traveler (no offense intended to big-rig truck drivers! Keep on truckin'!)
  • They are prone to have long-lasting construction projects that often bring them down to one lane, and dramatically reduce the speed limit (which is important for construction worker safety)
  • When they aren't traveling through a major city they often travel through farm fields, and while farms are important, farms provide limited visual excitement on a lengthy trip.
  • They sometimes have tolls
On my most recent road-trip to Charlottesville, VA from Cincinnati, OH (8 hours, 450 miles), Google maps service recommended that I begin my 8 hour journey with a three hour stint on non-interstate roads (Ohio state route 32, and US route 35). After examining the options, this seemed logical, and I gave it a go.

I was pleasantly surprised by my extended "back road" section of the trip, and was reminded of how delightful back roads can be, and thought for a moment, I would ramble on about the advantages of back roads from my own experience.

First of all, traveling on back roads was more convenient in that you often find yourself passing through little towns with gas stations and food places (some are even local instead of chains!) where one can pull off the drive and eat or get gas without having to get off at an interstate exit and then get back on (which sometimes seems to take a while depending on traffic).

The scenery is far more entertaining and enjoyable on those back roads. I spent some of my time driving through US 35 in West Virginia, and was just blown away by the beauty and grandeur of their mountains and forests.

You also sometimes find radio stations on back roads that you might not otherwise find on an interstate. For example, while on US 35 in West Virginia, I stumbled across a state sponsored classical radio station (89.9 I think), which happened to be playing my favorite Bach violin concerto (the one for two violins in D minor)! What a find! And who would have ever expected to find that, in those remote hills of all places!

There is WAY less traffic on these back roads. As I was driving along these back roads, I was struck by how few other cars I saw. I could go miles without seeing anyone.

As I reflect back on it, some of my other favorite drives have been "back road" drives. Followers of this blog will know that my wife and I recently took a vacation in the Pacific Northwest, and spent a lot of time driving the coasts of both Oregon and Washington: both of which were beautiful back roads.

I've also driving Route 1 in California which follows the coast there as well, and that is a beautiful stretch of road.

So, the next time you're planning a road-trip, consider routing in some back roads, just to give yourself a treat, and a taste of what goes on in those vast spaces between the interstates. I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised with what you find!

Until next time...keep reading!


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