Our professor slowed to a stop at the intersection of two country roads outside Murray, Kentucky, and asked for the road map. I can’t speak for the rest of my classmates, but I remember what was on my mind at the time – where in the hell are we going?
We’d just left a conference of political science students and teachers at Murray State University and were headed back towards the interstate – or so we thought.
Dr. Spence took a right turn and we started down a two-lane highway that looked like it would take us straight to the sort of place that Deliverance was filmed in. We exchanged some puzzled looks, but the professor answered our question before it could be asked.
“This is how you learn about American history,” he said. We weren’t in class, but I was about to get a lesson on the most important rule of traveling in America – “Always take the back roads.”
Rather than spending three hours looking at concrete on the interstate, the professor’s route took us through the Land Between the Lakes, a man-made recreation area from the TVA damming times between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. As we crossed over the bridge we were told of whole towns sitting at the bottom, and scuba diving tours that allowed you to explore them.
Instead of lunch at a McDonald’s or Burger King we stopped at Ferrell’s Hamburgers, a hole in the wall burger joint in the middle of Hopkinsville. We ate food that hadn’t been sitting under a lamp while Dr. Spence chatted with some of the locals.
By the time we made it back to campus, I felt like I had actually been somewhere. The saying that “a journey is as much about the trip as it is the destination” is a cliche. But it’s become a cliche for a reason.
The reason is that speeding from A to B without asking what’s in-between is a trip highlighted by missed opportunities. You’ll make great time and never know you were only five minutes away from a place where an event unique to Earth’s history happened. It’s like reading the first ten and last ten pages of a great book. You’ve made it to the end and missed it all.
Interstates have made life a lot easier on people. And while travelling, you should spend as little time as possible on them .
This weekend, plan to take a day on the road. Do a little bit of research and find a town or attraction you’d like to end up at. Find a state highway that goes there (if you’re in Oklahoma, might I suggest Route 66?) and take it slow . Find a hole in the wall restaurant in one of those small towns that still has brick streets. Talk to complete strangers. Don’t be afraid to stop for an interesting picture.
Always remember the first rule of traveling flyover country– always take the back roads .