I know, I know.
We read books like Travels with Charley and Blue Highways. We’ve heard people wax sentimental over taking road trips over just the “back roads” to see the “real America”.
And it sounds so good.
But the reality was - and still is to an extent - interstates are seductive. They’re the default of Google Maps and GPS’s - because we’re Americans and we want efficiency. We want to “get there” in the least amount of time and using the least amount of fuel.
Interstates are comfortable. Especially if you are piloting a large RV. They have wide lanes and easy ons and offs. They are the heart of a travel-focused nervous system with readily-attached fuel stations, groceries, and campgrounds. There is also a certain safety factor knowing that if you break down there are others coming down the road and repair facilities are probably close by.
It was our leg from Virginia Beach, VA to the Charlotte, NC area that finally put me over the edge. The day started on a smaller highway, still 4 lanes and divided but not an interstate. The morning was clear and sunny, traffic was almost non-existent, the road was smooth, the cotton was high, and the living was easy.
Then we hit I85. First it just got…boring. Nothing but a highway to look at. Then it got busy and the stress levels went up - lots of traffic zipping by, multiple lanes, cars diving into my “safe stopping” space, lanes becoming exits, and construction. This went on for what seemed like hours.
Understand - we’ve been on the road almost three years. We’ve driven through traffic in places like DC, Atlanta, Chicago, and LA. We’ve been in this situation before.
And I’d had enough.
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We’ve learned to navigate smaller gas stations, and aren’t afraid of having to back the trailer up to turn around.
We can choose to not do this, and it was time to make that choice.
So I challenged my navigator (MsBoyink) - could we stay off interstates our next leg? She took on the challenge - having to evaluate our current navigation tools and see about using them in a different way. Our Garmin GPS has an “avoid highways” feature, as does Google maps. But we didn’t know what that meant. All highways? Or just Interstates? We also have a paper Atlas - and at one point I looked over to see MsBoyink consulting all three at the same time. She worked her magic and we launched.
And so we drove mainly back highways through the rest of SC, all of GA, and into AL.
We drove for hours without seeing a McDonalds, Cracker Barrel, or other chain restaurant. We drove through the downtowns of small town America, some looking healthy and some not. We saw classic southern plantations with pillars on the same road as metal-roofed shacks on blocks.
We had miles of smooth highway mainly to ourselves. We skirted National Forests and tree farms. We stopped in Hatchechubbe, AL just to say that we had. It was big enough for a Post Office. We saw a rig with both hunting dogs and horses, and later drove through what is considered the Bird Dog Field Trial Capital of the World.
One challenge was that we were often without cell service which removes an arrow from our navigation quiver and streaming music from our speakers.
Steinbeck famously wrote:
It will be possible to drive from New York to California (on Interstates) without seeing a single thing.
Charles Kuralt also said:
The interstate highway system is a wonderful thing. It makes it possible to go from coast to coast without seeing anything or meeting anybody. If the United States interests you, stay off the interstates.
I’m ready to declare our experiment a success. I could feel bad about not trying it sooner, but I think there’s a necessary comfort level (or frustration level, or boredom level) you need to get off the interstates and we just weren’t there yet.
How about you - have you ventured off the Interstates as your primary route? Any navigational tools or tricks you use in route planning?