Thursday, September 18, 2008

The driving cure

Up here, they tell the story of a farmer of Norwegian descent who lived so close to the state line he could spit into Minnesota from the tractor if he cared to do so. Profoundly distressed during one farm crisis or another, he jumped into his truck and headed west on Interstate 90 through South Dakota to Buffalo, Wyo., north to Interstate 94 east of Billings., back through North Dakota then south on Interstate 35 from the Cities to home again. He was fine after that. It’s called the driving cure.

This is more expensive therapy that it used to be, considering the price of gas and diesel, and I don’t want to discourage anyone who needs professional help from getting it, but pedal to the metal sure beats the hell out of several other forms of self-medication including drugs, strong drink and Dr. Phil.

I take a double dose at the least each week, south across the state one day and back north again on another. The trip south usually involves the interstate --- right past some of my biggest money pits, halfway decent book stores.

The trip north nine times out of ten involves back roads in part because of my obsession with the most direct route from here to there, but also because it’s more scenic, more fun and more, well, restful. The interstate is mindless and there’s the potential there to get too wrapped up in yourself. But on the back roads you’ve got to attend to the twists and turns and those six miles of bad road between pavements.

Barreling down the interstate at 70 mph, I can make it from Mason City to Chariton in three hours flat all things being equal. Putzing up the back roads at 55 mph. I can make it from Chariton to Mason City in three and a half hours, although I rarely do --- too many things to look at along the way.

I head north out of Chariton on Highway 14 to cheaper gas in Knoxville (the Wal-Mart factor, although I don‘t fill up there), the sprint car capitol of the world, then on north and across the long bridge that spans Red Rock Lake (photo up top). Mixed feelings about Red Rock and the other big lakes. It’s kind of pretty in its way, but then so was the Des Moines River valley that it flooded. And quite frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a rip about its recreational potential.

Beyond the bridge, 14 passes through Monroe and I always look twice at this dilapidated old house just north of the square --- one of Iowa’s rare octagons fallen upon hard times, but at least it’s still standing. Below it is an older photo, dating from the 1930s and part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) collection. Under that stucco is brick. It’s a neat building. I suppose it’ll just fall down one of these days.

Highway 14 continues north across Interstate 80 and through Newton (Remember Maytag? All that’s left is bleu cheese) to the “T” several miles north of town where the highway jogs east on the way to Marshalltown and I jog west on a county road to the first blacktop north, which takes me to Melbourne --- a nice little flat-land town dating from 1882.

Straight north of Melbourne, still on county roads, I cross the new four-lane diagonal (No. 330) connecting Marshalltown and Des Moines, Highway 30 and another Marshall County blacktop before I hit gravel. What you see straight ahead here is the roughest railroad crossing in all creation and a hill that turns to mush in the winter when there’s lots of snow.

After a few miles on gravel, I hit blacktop again, jog east about a mile and then north on one of my favorite legs of the trip, up through Minerva (bet you didn’t know there was a Minerva; here‘s Minerva Wesley Chapel and look at how the beans are turning this week) to Bangor, hang a right at Bangor-Liberty Friends Church, across Honey Creek then up and over to Union on the west side of the Iowa River valley.

I really like Union --- it’s a pretty little town that really seems to have some pride in itself. And since I’m out of time this morning I’m going to stop right here for now. You can go on if you’re in a hurry --- through Eldora, Iowa Falls and Hampton --- and I’ll be along later.


hugh w said...

that's a good trip, back roads, in the summer time are good,less so at times during the spring and winter, I remember some of those roads and similar ones during the times we went from different places we lived in Earlham, Iowa City, Waterloo, Eldora, New Providence,to Chariton to visit my folks.

Ed Abbey said...

I love driving the backroads and I too subscribe to the driving cure.

In the past, I always wanted to take more backroads on driving vacations but didn't want to constantly be looking at a map to see if I was on the right track to getting to my final destination. Now that I have a GPS unit in my car that automatically configures my route, I can. I set it for the most direct route, not fastest, and pick some town a ways off in the general direction I want to head and away I go. When I get there, I pick another town, and continue onward until I arrive. I would rather just pick my final destination and some general winding route between but it doesn't let me unless I do my incremental method or spend a lot more money on a fancier model and software.