Monday, May 18, 2009

Road Trip, Part 1

It seemed like a crazy idea at first: Hop in the car and drive west on Route 40, to the end of the road.

U.S. Route 40. The National Pike. The federal highway begun during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and over which pioneers plunged into the unexplored wilderness on Conestoga wagons. I had traveled the route eastward toward Cumberland, Md., many times, but the farthest west I had traveled had been just over the state line into West Virginia, 40 years earlier, when as college students we frequented bars like Morgan’s and Gebhardt’s to slake our thirst with 3.2 beer.

“How far does it go?” my wife, Alice, asked.
I thumbed through my road atlas, my finger tracing the thin black line through Wheeling and into eastern Ohio. Across Ohio, the line goes back and forth across the thick artery of Interstate 70 but remains its own road. On through Indiana and Illinois it meanders, cutting through the middle of every single town in its path.
Just before St. Louis, Route 40 merges with I-70, but it does not end there. It shares the pavement with the superhighway through Missouri and eastern Kansas, before splitting off into a two-lane secondary road. In western Kansas, it winds south on its own course, joining the interstate just east of Denver. In the foothills of the Rockies, it abandons I-70 for good and snakes across the Continental Divide through a pass almost 12,000 feet above sea level. From there it slithers across the vast expanses of western Colorado and eastern Utah, through the Uinta Mountains.

“The Great Salt Lake, that’s where it ends,” I replied. “It just sort of hits Interstate 80 and disappears.”

It would be a long trip – about 2,000 miles to Salt Lake City, mostly on two-lane road with who knew how many stoplights, through the heart of America, on a route that once stretched from Atlantic City to San Francisco.
We departed with the hope that in driving down Main Street of countless towns we would traverse not just distance but time, and witness a living history of our nation and its people, but we really had no idea what to expect.
Such is the intriguing nature of the Road Trip.


Murphy's Cats said...

I live on the original road (Old National Pike) in Centerville and have wanted to do this since moving there. But you have to follow the old road if you're going to do it right! There is so much history. Across the street from my house is a house that was once a stagecoach stop.

Brant said...

When I was a youngster in Claysville, Route 40 was THE east-west route through the area. Claysville had several restaurants, several gas stations, a motel, a hotel and even a "tourist home" (run by my grandparents). Then Interstate 70, which I still consider to be a blight on the landscape, was constructed, and things inevitably changed. I'm not convinced that the change was for the better. It was the same with the construction of I-79. When I was young, a trip to Cook Forest took us through all sorts of little towns, some with funny names such as "Dime." We may get where we're going a lot faster these days, but the old routes were a lot more interesting.