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So Many Roads

If you don’t already know the song to which this post owes its title, please go to YouTube right now and look up ‘So Many Roads Grateful Dead’. And then play it while you read this. Thank you.

I took my first road trip approximately one week after I got my driver’s license.  It was late January, I was barely 16, and I drove my friends down to Philadelphia to walk around on South Street.  It was probably a terrible, terrible, unsafe idea–driving into a city like that having had a license for a total of four days–but I survived unscathed, as did my new-to-me, bright yellow Geo Storm.

Almost seventeen years later, I still love driving more than I love almost anything else.  To me, it is the perfect activity.  I’m going somewhere–moving forward in space and time–and I’m totally in control.  Well, provided that traffic is cooperating.

On my most recent road trip–a drive up to Connecticut to attend the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival–I started thinking about my feelings about certain roads.  My love of road trips has led me down some great paths–and some not so great ones, too.  And so, I bring to you the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Come along with me, won’t you?  I promise I won’t take too many rest breaks.

 

Taconic Parkway–New York

 

Years ago in Western Massachusetts, someone overheard me complaining about the holiday weekend traffic on the New York State Thruway.  I don’t think we even had a full conversation–I don’t even remember if this person was male or female–but I do recall them saying something like ‘mumble mumble Taconic mumble’.  And so, when I drove back home on the Mass Pike towards the dreaded New York State Thruway, I saw a sign with that word on it–Taconic–and I got off at that exit.

What a brilliant idea.  Instead of inching along the thruway, I cruised down the parkway, trees arching overhead, not another car in sight.  I swear this is true (and possibly too much information but oh well): at one point I pulled over, got out of the car, stretched, and peed right there on the side of the road.  And there was absolutely no one around to see it (or, well, I wouldn’t have done it–I typically will at least find some sort of tree cover).  I’ve since discovered that the Taconic runs almost dead-parallel to the New York State Thruway.  For the life of me I cannot figure out why more people don’t use it.  But I’m glad they don’t.  Because I’d hate to actually have to find a tree.

 

192–Florida

 

Yeah. It’s this tacky.

 

Just outside the magic of the Walt Disney World Resort, you will find everything your heart desires along Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway–otherwise known as Florida Route 192.  That is, if the things your heart desires are tacky t-shirts for $1.99, buffet meals at Ponderosa (kids eat free!) or “discount tickets” to any of the area attractions.  I am truly embarrassed by the fact that many, many tourists from other parts of the world visit the US for the first time to come to Walt Disney World.  And to them I need to say–I swear, the rest of America does not look like this stretch of highway.  I promise.

 

I287–New Jersey

 

I hate this road.  Sadly, it lies between me–in Pennsylvania–and everywhere I want to drive–New England and Canada.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven it, but no matter how many times I do, I will always hate it.  It is a miserable, ugly road that begins with a left on-ramp in both directions.  To add insult to injury, the lovely state of New Jersey decided to turn the only rest stop on the entire stretch between I78 and I87 into a truck-only stop; vehicles under five tons are prohibited.  That almost seems an unfair rule, as it applies to all car drivers other than the one car driver who likely passed the bill–any car Governor Chris Christie is driving will weigh at least that much when you add his mass to the equation.

 

580–California

 

This is the road that, for me, caused all other hated roads to pale in comparison.  I strongly suggest driving from San Francisco to Yosemite.   Both places are amazing and worthy of an extended visit.  However, the road which lies between San Francisco and Yosemite–580–is my personal version of hell.  People drive like idiots, lanes start and end with little warning, exit and entrance ramps snake over and around the highway, and there’s nowhere to pull over if, say, you need to consult your iPhone GPS.  As an added bonus, on the way back, you get to sit in line for the Bay Bridge for a painfully long amount of time.

Oh–and don’t get me started on the Bay Bridge.  The two driving obstacles I hate more than anything else are bridges and tunnels; the Bay Bridge manages to combine both into one nightmarish three mile experience.  It almost made me hate New Jersey less.  Almost.

 

The Cabot Trail–Nova Scotia

 

This was taken from the passenger seat–I promise!

 

In summer of 2011, my husband and I drove over 1,100 miles to visit the northernmost part of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island.  And it was totally worth it.  As we snaked along cliff-hugging roads, waves crashing below us, mountains towering around us, listening to Carmina Burana (my husband’s soundtrack choice, and a solid one at that), we felt perfectly good about our decision to drive over a thousand miles just to, well, drive some more.  And hike.  And eat copious amounts of scallops (pronounced SKULL-ups).  I mean come on–look at the photo above.  If that’s not epic, I don’t know what is.

 

The Capitol Beltway–Maryland and Virginia

 

I have never seen worse traffic.  Period.  And just to add insult to injury, every single day the DC metro radio stations without fail feel the need to inform you that, quote, traffic is backed up on 495 from the American Legion bridge to the Mormon Temple.  No shit.  That’s like waking up and announcing ‘hey everyone–my nose is in the middle of my face, just below my eyes!  

 

W. Charleston Blvd–Nevada

 

Las Vegas is awesome, but after a few days there, well, you kind of need to get out of town.  And so, on my second visit to the bright light city, I did just that.  I picked up a relatively cheap rental car right at my hotel and made my way out of the shadow of the resort casinos and into a land that shadow forgot–Red Rock Canyon.  (There are no shadows there because, well, it’s the desert.  It’s just all sun.  In case you didn’t get that…)

There’s nothing particularly thrilling about W. Charleston Blvd–the road that leads away from Vegas and into the desert–aside from the fact that, well, it leads out of Vegas and into the desert.  And I swear to you there’s a moment where you whoosh past the last building and, as thought there’s some sort of invisible force field separating the city from the desert, you are suddenly in the middle of nowhere.  You can even see it on the satellite photo on your GPS.  I’m not sure if Shel Silverstein was intentionally talking about Charleston Boulevard, but to me, this really is where the sidewalk ends.

 

Blue Church Road

 

I may have driven out here just now to take this photo. Yes. I have issues.

 

All of that being said, my favorite road in all the world is, like Dorothy discovered, right in my own back yard.  Ok, well maybe not in my actual back yard (because that would be odd) but maybe seven miles from my house and less than a mile from the house in which I grew up.  It’s a road no one else will know–unless you are one of my high school friends reading this.  It doesn’t tie together any amazing destinations, take you anywhere of particular interest, or feature epic ocean views.  It’s just a road, through some trees, past a church (thus the name), and around some farm land.  It’s twisty and turny and mostly deserted.  One of my favorite aspects of this road is that it branches off in two directions–one mostly north-south and one mostly east-west–and the name does not change; this causes confusion for many newcomers navigating the area.

It was one of my first roads and, as with first loves, it is the standard against which all other roads will be measured.  And, as with first loves, I’m confident that no new road will ever quite measure up.

Are you an avid road-tripper?  What are some of your favorite roads in the world?  What are some of your least favorite?  Share in the comments section below! 

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