In a favorite book of mine, “Blue Highways: A Journey into America,” William Least Heat-Moon wrote, “Had I gone looking for some particular place rather than any place I’d never have found this spring under the sycamores.”
That describes the beauty of taking the scenic route, getting off the Interstate — typically miles and miles and miles of straight, flat, and boring — and onto secondary roads, county highways, or better yet, those thin, wiggly lines on the map that wind around a lake, over a river, or through the forest.
Case in point, if you drive the Interstate North to South through Indiana, you travel through miles and miles of ancient lake bed, now flat land, however, go a few miles West and you traverse hills and rivers, past huge rock formations, Amish farms, and small towns — a wonderland that the average traveler, bad mouthing the boring drive, never realized existed.
At the beginning of his journey, Heat-Moon wondered if “Maybe the road could provide a therapy through observation of the ordinary and obvious, a means whereby the outer eye opens an inner one.”
I can attest to the truth of those words. Instead of flying past everything, seeing nothing, “meandering” the back roads forces you to slow down, see the hawk soar over the trees, hear the water babble in the creek, and snatch glimpses of another slice of life — horses grazing, children playing, the old folks rockin’ in the shade of their porch.
Instead of billboards advertising gas prices or the next fast food restaurant or tourist attraction, homemade signs announcing “maters and taters” or asking “Are you willing to take a chance with your soul?” You literally go over the river and through the woods, whether to grandmother’s house or not. And you breathe — not only slower, as the stress of everyday life melts away, but cleaner, filled with the scent of apple blossoms, fresh grass, crunchy leaves, tumbling water, or pine.
Heat-Moon shares his father’s philosophy that “any traveler who misses the journey misses about all he’s going to get,” that a man’s (or woman’s) observations and curiosity, make and remake them.
Taking five full days to travel from Wisconsin to central Florida may seem like an eternity to some. “I could do it in 2 ten-hour days!,” they boast. This isn’t Name that Tune, so I will not respond with how fast I could drive it because for me, it is the journey that matters.
This was not a true meander; I had a particular place to be in a “reasonable” amount of time. That time expectation and the cold, blustery weather kept me moving southward, hundreds of miles a day. In the end, it was more like Heat-Moon describes as “turning the windshield into a movie screen in which I, the viewer, did the moving while the subject held still.”
Since each day, I took time to stop, look, and listen — watching wildlife, lunching by pristine waters, hiking trails past awe-inspiring rock faces and to roaring waterfalls, sitting by the campfire, and star gazing — I did not mind watching the movie that unfolded before me at times. In the end it was a good journey.