The highway disappears over the horizon in the desert. Someone built this highway, but there are no houses along its path. No other vehicles are visible, nor have been for some time.
Mountains in the distance. Sagebrush and cactus along the road. A summer thunderstorm refreshes the earth to the west. The rains wash off the dust and release the aroma of the desert.
The solitude is magnified, magnificent and spiritual. Not only am I traveling alone. I am alone on the highway filled with euphoria. My peace and well-being conjoins with the smallness of my existence.
“Yes. I’ll meet you in Brookville about noon. We’ll find some lunch and enjoy a ride.”
“See you then.”
And with that brief conversation with my brother, Brian, the meet-up and motorcycling adventure was about to begin. Well, what’s an adventure? Any successful ride that ends safely back at home can be an adventure.
Although I have been living in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area for about five years, my first encounter with riding in southeastern Indiana came six years ago when I received my first assignment writing a feature tour article for RoadRunner magazine. The article was published almost a year later.
How does one describe the joy of motorcycling while riding such joyous roads? My route to Brookville? Avoid the interstates. Take the back roads through the countryside, and so it was as I motored west on Ohio SR 129 through Hamilton and the rural area of southwestern Ohio until I reached the Ohio-Indiana state line at a merging of routes at Scipio. On 129, you can’t see the historical buildings of this hamlet. They are better seen on SR 126, and when 129 and 126 meet at the line, you are now on Indiana SR 252 and diving deeper into the hills and curves made by glaciers millions of years ago forming the valleys and tributaries on either side of the Whitewater River.
About 18 miles from the state line, I have scooted through the hills and down into Brookville. As I cross the bridge over the tail waters from Brookville Lake, I quickly look up and down stream. Fly fishers are in the water pursuing the elusive brown trout that populate the waters. Brian claims this stretch of water is the best trout fishing in Indiana.
I am early. Brian will not be here for maybe 30 minutes, so I decide to scout out a place to eat. Apparently he did not like the biker bar where we ate some time ago, so we needed to find a new restaurant or sandwich shop. First south on US 52, Main Street, and then north. I spy a couple of places but decide to ride west on US 52 to meet him on the highway. Nearly eight miles away, and at the historical village of Metamora, we pass each other. Turning around quickly, we pull over and decide to eat there in Metamora at the Hearth Stone Restaurant.
After lunch, and a good one at that, Brian decides he needs to return home for other scheduled activities. I scan the map and decide to follow Brian west on US 52 to Indiana SR 121 and north to Connersville. On the map, it’s just a line on paper, but as I approached the junction, and waved goodbye to my brother who continued on US 52, I realized this road was one I traveled in that first RoadRunner article. It is far from a straight road. Identified as the Whitewater Canal Scenic Road, it twists and turns along the edge of the hillsides through several small towns. Pushing north, I turn east on SR 44 at Connersville and turn towards home—I have reached the halfway mark on this ride.
The ride towards home is uneventful, and yet wonderful. SR 44, east to the state line where it becomes Ohio SR 725, is rural. Farmers are in the field taking in the last of the corn with those giant harvesters. Tractors with huge dually wheels pull the grain trailers to the side of the road and await the trucks to take the grain to the elevators. Yes, autumn is in the air, still, in November.
At Germantown, I turn south to catch SR 123 which will angle southeast through Carlisle, Franklin, the crossroads known as Red Lion, to Lebanon and then south on SR 48 to home—about 150 miles of joy.
These are some of my favorite roads—the best two-lane highways, blue highways as William Least Heat Moon would call them. These roads are not for making time. If you want speedy travels, get on the interstate. If you want to see the small towns, white-steeple chapels on the hillside, farmers working the fields, and neighbors enjoying the day outside, then the back roads are for you, for they are a joy to motorcycle.
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.
About two months ago, I looked at the Triumph web site for the Demo Truck schedule, and noticed that it would be closest to me on August 26th in Lexington, KY. So, I put it on my schedule and asked my friends if they wanted to ride down to Lexington, KY, to test ride a Triumph. As the day approached, their schedules inhibited their ride, but mine was wide open.
So, I donned my gear and set out to test ride a couple of Triumphs that have been on my radar screen.