I’ve known for many years now that interstate highways tend to lie about the places they go through. It’s not anything malicious or malevolent; it’s just the ways of things when the purpose of convenience gets elevated above all others. And it’s certainly not that I object to convenience, either.
If I wanted to experience every bump, dip, hill and twist of western Kentucky, I’d get right off of the WK Parkway and get right onto the misery of those four-digit semi-paved trails. In most situations, especially the ones that involve getting from E-town to Murray in the shortest time possible, I very much enjoy the fact that I can zip right along at seventy miles an hour, smoothly winding my way through the curves and over and around the hills.
But back to my original statement: if you really want to experience the geography of a place, forget the interstate. All that smooth grading, even sloping and gentle turning is not the true nature of the places through which you are traveling. The truth is a bit less convenient, a bit more varied and more nuanced. And, if you’ve got the time and inclination, infinitely more interesting.
I discovered this fact many years ago about Highway 50 as it weaves and bends its way across central Kentucky when I took a deliberate detour and enjoyed an hour of chasing crawdads in a stone-bed river. I enjoyed this truth about Doniphan County for a bit more than a decade in and around northeastern Kansas, hiking for hours in mostly futile searches for mushrooms. And I’m looking forward to approaching revelations about Cowley County and the Flint Hills.
Some folks would simply rather move right on through and be on their way. They see I-35 or US-77 as nothing more than the least inconvenient conduit from Where I Am to Where I Want to Be. As long as there is an ample amount of fuel available and a sufficient store of readily available nourishments and refreshments, they care less about the terrain through which they travel. They might enjoy some sort of break in the scenery from time to time but they have neither the time nor the inclination for greater familiarity.
When we become so absorbed in our daily destinations that we ignore the settings of our sojournings, we are at risk of losing more than the road. We were meant to be engaged travelers, not bored tourists. If we can open ourselves a bit and slow down a little, we may find some good changes in more than the scenery.