In my current travel mode I’ve decided to make an effort to blog more. So I wrote this a few days ago attempting to recap the initial driving on the road experience of this summer.
I spend a lot of time looking forward to traveling, but I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on traveling. But maybe that will change with this summer on the road. I’m writing this from almost as far south as one can go in the USA, just 100 miles or so from Miami and the end of the road.
It was a fun challenge to come down here from Michigan and do the trip almost entirely on the same road, Interstate 75, which extends up the middle-center of the country from just outside Miami to the Canadian border at Sault Saint Marie, Michigan. I, of course, know the road particularly well in the Detroit area, and had encountered portions of its Florida path before.
This time, the decision to travel southbound included significant stretches of Kentucky and Tennessee, two states I’d never set foot in before, and (in going through them it is) now bringing my remaining states yet to visit to just four, with the lower 48 set to be clinched next month. I expected to see more pastoral farmland than I did in Kentucky, and I wished I’d had more time to explore the surroundings of the area. Nonetheless, both Kentucky and Tennessee offered a surprising (to the visitor) range of pastoral mountain scenery, similar to what I know from the northern reaches of back home in New England. (It also served as a reminder that my car is not the best one for mountain environments.)
This rugged environment continued farther south into Georgia than I expected before abruptly giving way to the Atlanta area sprawl. Well, maybe the gradual widening of the highway was a clue, but the sudden merging of two major highways brought traffic to a full stop. As the traffic inched forward again, the exits revealed a veritable golden highway of tourist attractions. Carter Center! Turner Center! MLK Jr National Historic Site! Downtown Atlanta itself! If I’d had more time, I would have arranged to explore a few of those places. But it will have to wait for some other opportunity.
As for Florida, the state is “open for business” as the sign at its welcome center proudly proclaims. In a cute touch, they even offered free orange juice at the center, with an attendant cheerfully handing the beverage out (in a small cup) to anyone who wanted it. I needed the fortification when, an hour or so later, the clear skies abruptly gave way to rain so heavy it was like a flash flood. The deluge continued for maybe 10-15 minutes and I turned off the stereo to concentrate solely on navigation. In this case I was grateful for my small car and easy maneuvering from the slower to middle lane. It was a relief to see the rain go away and I needed to pull off at the next big town, Gainesville, to recover from the excitement.
It was rush hour in Gainesville and the stop served as a quick redux of a city I wouldn’t have expected to get to know over the past few years; this brief stop was my third time there in the past three months. The main commercial area near the highway has undergone modest to sizable changes since the first time I was there in 2012, with increasing emphasis on sprawl and congestion, which looks unlikely to change anytime soon. Because of the heavy traffic I was unable to look for a “cheap” gas price and had to settle for the currently high $2.34 per gallon, which was clearly an overage from what other stations were offering.
The process of making a long trip quickly and succinctly reminded me of the value of Intentional Traveling, where there is value in taking a quick look at a map before you get underway and deciding on a tentative outline of where and how frequently to stop on the way to your destination. I will be following that mode as summer on the road continues.
This week has seen a sudden return to my “old habits” of geeking out about road related matters, specifically road signs. I’d love to know when and where this attraction originated… but it’s been a fascination as long as I can remember, most notably with a long-running childhood project of drawing exit signs.
In this regard it’s exciting to live in Michigan, with its oh-so-slightly different standards of signage to the rest of the US – if anything, more close to European standards than you find elsewhere in this country. Some examples of this include the angular directional signs that are sometimes seen on highways going in different directions (one good example being here on the way into Ann Arbor) and a general penchant for smaller, angular signs that say what they need to say in a more compact orientation than one might find in another state. Finally, those same signs often don’t indicate the cardinal direction of the route, as I memorably captured in the photo below at an earlier point this year.
BUT, all of this interest in signs somehow generated itself from growing up in Massachusetts, which has its own infamous system of highways that were designed one way and then went another, courtesy of the freeway revolts of the 1970’s and a (rightly) growing sentiment that the region shouldn’t be decimated by a ring of urban highways tearing apart neighborhoods.
So this renewed fascination has taken me onto a few highway forums, most notably this one, from which I learned that Massachusetts plans to belatedly convert all of its highway exits to mile-marker based, as opposed to sequential, over the next year or so.
I feel like there should be more to say about my home state catching up to the rest of the country in this regard. But … it’s all well and good. And I’ll believe it when I see it.