In 1962, John Steinbeck wrote this: When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing. From Travels With Charley: In Search of America (The Viking Press, 1962)
In 1990, Charles Kuralt wrote this: 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. From A Life on the Road (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1990)
Hubby and I love our road trips. We plan ahead with real maps and reservations. We use GPS in the car, and appreciate it, but we also wander off route, sometimes according to plan and sometimes on a whim. The typical GPS-sanctioned route is often the most nerve racking. If you’re traveling for pleasure, who needs that? We far prefer the workaround.
We limit our driving to about five hours a day, which leaves time to enjoy the trip and is much healthier for backs, bones, and joints. The routes we chart are often a bit longer but almost always far more pleasurable. Over the years we’ve discovered stops that have since become mini-destinations, each offering up its own little treasures.
Going off the beaten path led us to our now favored route north, from Binghamton, NY, to the Vermont border. Over the years we discovered the Carrot Barn in Schoharie County (breadbasket of the American revolution and home of the Beekman Boys). I think of my favorite Richard Russo novels when we’re passing through Troy and smile every time I get that first glimpse of the White Mountains ahead. Sure beats the nightmarish routes through New Jersey, the NYC suburbs, and Connecticut.
Coming back from a wedding in Nashville about ten years ago, we went rogue and headed for Kentucky instead of continue west to 81. We made a random stop in Bardstown, where I had possibly the best fried green tomatoes of my life at the Old Talbott Tavern. We were evidently following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which of course we didn’t know at the time.
In Pennsylvania, on an alternate route to the western part of the state, in the postage-stamp town of Belsano, I spotted a historical marker noting the birthplace of Malcolm Cowley, one of the Lost Generation American writers who found a home in 1920s Paris with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. Who knew? I wouldn’t have learned that on Route 80.
In Quebec, we might have missed that woolen mill, or the Baie St. Paul. And if we hadn’t been willing to get off the beaten path in France, we never would have seen the breathtaking Gorges de la Nesques or had lunch at that wonderful place in Lourmarin, with the fire blazing on a rainy autumn day.
As in life, on the road—or, perhaps, off it—are endless possibilities, especially on those less traveled paths.