See the USA off the highway: the case for two-lane travel

Growing up, I oscillated every few years between living in small Corn Belt farm towns and the Chicagoland area and I’ve always associated each with its particular transportation landscape. Probably because I spent a lot of time on the road traveling back and forth between country and city. I’ve long since moved to the East coast, but I’ve retained an affection for two-lane travel, so I loved this portrait of two-lane-America and what it means to live in the land of “red line roads”.

“…if we agree that driving has come to shape the quotidian rhythms of most Americans, then it’s crucial to think of how certain Americans—namely, the ones that live in the massive swaths of lands between interstates and urban centers—experience driving differently.

…Rural highways are the closest we come to the ways that people a century before us traversed and appreciated the land. The decrease in speed, either in accordance with posted speed limit or because of the truck hauling a horse trailer in front of you, forces you not only to consider the wildflowers of the field, but the towns you pass through on the way to your destination…”

It’s a great article and I especially enjoyed the author’s descriptions of towns that dot the unconventionally scenic byways in her part of the world. What sticks with me most is this:

“I know these towns, and I know the land that brought people to them.”

I get it. Last fall I made a brief return to my grandmother’s hometown in rural-with-a-capital-R central Illinois. The fastest A-B from Springfield to New Berlin is I-72 W but I was feeling sentimental and decided instead to drive the older roads through the tiny German farm towns that the highway bypasses. You can’t help but remember your people when you cruise alongside their farms, their storefronts, their schools, and the rival cemeteries where they’re buried (Catholics vs. Protestants. It was a BIG DEAL). Along the way I passed an implement dealer with a casual “two-fingered wave,” noted where farms began and ended by the seed signs, and for-real laughed at a rhyming, sequential propaganda series of NRA yard signs along the side of the road. Flat, tree-less, horizon-to-horizon corn and soy fields will never challenge the Pacific Northwest in terms of scenic majesty, but, remembering that drive, I can still relate to feeling a sense of home in two lane life amid ” the white spaces on the map.”

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