Fifty-five years ago, as the Cold War escalated and the nation needed a faster highway system for commerce and defense, President Eisenhower enacted the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, and the Interstate system was born. Interstate highways have allowed faster travel and created opportunities for businesses at or near those exits. But, there have been some unintended consequences. The Interstates have also bypassed some small towns, replaced historic highways like US 66, and drawn travelers away from town centers.
The Interstate highways are convenient and time saving. But, as Charles Kuralt said, you can now travel from one coast to the other on the interstate system without seeing anything.
Every time I drive between Cincinnati and Indianapolis on I-74, the highway next to the Interstate in southeastern Indiana has beckoned me. What is it? Where does it go? How do you get on it? Granted, an interstate drive between my home and downtown Indianapolis is a consistent two-hour drive. Add a few minutes for coffee and rest breaks, maybe 15 additional minutes.
Driving home from Indianapolis, with plenty of time on my hands and no schedule to keep, I pulled off the Interstate at exit 123 to buy gas and coffee at the Love’s Travel Center. When I pulled out, instead of turning right to get back on I-74, I turned left, determined to explore the highway next to the Interstate.
The county road was in great shape, maybe even resurfaced recently. It was smooth as … well smooth as fresh asphalt and rolled out to a hard firm roadway. I kept looking for a highway sign that would tell me what road I was on, but none appeared. Referring to a highway map, I believed I was looking for Indiana SR 46. I cruised past the new Honda plant and in the town of Greensburg, I wandered through the downtown to connect with SR 46 and a joy of a highway. Curves and hills abound. Pavement as smooth as that county road that passed the Honda plant.
I thought to myself, “Why have I not been on this highway before? It’s an excellent highway for motorcycling. Little traffic. Great road. An alternative to the boring interstate. Clearly, I was not the only one with thoughts of motorcycling on this road.
My body was in the car. My mind was on the motorcycle, enjoying a wonderful highway next to the interstate. And then, it came to an end. But then, the end was also a new beginning.
I decided not to get back on the interstate, but to wander through the back roads through Harrison, Ohio, before getting back onto the interstate that would take me home.
The views along the highway next to the interstate were mind-absorbing—homes decorated for the autumn, farmers harvesting crops, architecture of small town centers, cemeteries neatly groomed and rural churches beckoning “Come in and find some rest.”
At home, I poured over maps and atlases and even a Delorme Gazetteer Atlas to find a route that would take me home without getting on the interstate. I believe I was successful. I’ll let you know after I test the route … on the motorcycle.
I came to a conclusion after finally traveling the highway next to the interstate. The interstates serve our convenience. The back roads, and two-lane highways serve our souls and remind us we are travelers as well as part of a community.
See you on the highway… the one next to the interstate.