Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Take the Long Way Home

Robert Frost famously wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." And I've finally realized how true this statement is when it comes to traveling. I'm a huge fan of the back roads. The blue highways if you prefer. I'm a fan of any road where I don't have people flying past me at 90 and where I can actually see some sights that aren't billboards. In the last year Jeff and I have started traveling where we never take the interstate if we can avoid it. And that one move has completely changed road trips for me.

I love to travel but I'm not always happy with long car trips. They tend to be more stressful than they are worth. Or if nothing else, they are boring. We would arrive at our destination cranky and tired. And the miles seemed to drag on. That is until we started taking the back roads. When Jeff and I went to Iowa City a couple of months ago, we started out on Interstate 80. It was a crowded Saturday and we were both tense. The traffic was going 85 or faster and we were struggling to stay with the pack. We were also exhausted after a late night. About Newton I suggested getting off the interstate. We'd take Highway 6 over. The moment we drove off the interstate we went from tired and tense to relaxed and happy. We passed farms and towns, little produce stands, and plenty of wildlife. Suddenly the journey didn't seem quite so long. Or so terrible. We added a half hour to the trek, but it was well worth the happiness.

So our recent trip down to St. Louis was a bit longer than normal. We took Interstate 35 down to Kansas City since Jeff had to be there at 2 and we didn't get on the road until 10:30. Too close for a back roads trip. After the stop, we headed onto Highway 50 rather than Interstate 70. Highway 50 runs through Warrensburg, Sedalia, Jefferson City, and the unfortunately named Knob Noster. We stopped along the way for dinner but most of the drive was uninterrupted. After Sedalia, it was rare to see another car and even more surprising to see a billboard. We saw a ton of cows, many small towns, the state capitol, and enough trees and creatures to keep me constantly pointing out the window. It added an hour to the drive, particularly with the winding road after Jeff City. But we were happy and still smiling when we arrived in St. Louis.

The city of St. Louis is built around a great interstate system. We took the highways and interstates everywhere in the city. So when it came time to drive back, Jeff and I were looking for something even smaller than our typical drive up Highway 61. I found it with Highway 79, or the Great River Road. Listed as one of the prettiest drives in the Midwest, the highway lived up to its name. It was filled with scenic overlooks of the Mississippi, beautiful towns like Clarksville and Louisiana, and lots of hills. Even better, there was no traffic and no real rush. After reaching Hannibal, we took Highway 6, a mostly flat road across the middle of Missouri. But flat was short lived. Highway 149 has to be one of the most winding roads in Missouri. We drove up and down hills and were constantly turning. About halfway up through the drive I could no longer tell which direction we were going. By the time the road ended, both Jeff and I were feeling a little sick from all the twists and turns but I'd taken plenty of pictures of the beautiful fall colors and the rolling hills.

We could have taken 61 to Interstate 80 and most people would have thought that was varied enough. We could have taken Interstate 70 to 35, a route we have taken on bad winter days. But we would not have had near as much fun. The drive ran 7 and a half hours (about an hour and a half longer than normal) but I arrived at home relaxed and refreshed. I wasn't stressed at all. "I took the one less traveled," has become my mantra. You never know where the blue highways lead. But they are well worth the trip.

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