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On the road again

Automobiles may come with problems, but also unexpected joys

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I don’t do Twitter, but someone on a podcast directed me to a thread asking this question: What’s the worst 300-mile drive in the United States?

That’s a question I could ponder with profit. While growing up, the appeal of “See the USA in your Chevrolet” was lost on me. I dreaded road trips, crammed into the back seat with two sisters and sometimes an additional cousin, fighting over space and potato chips. After my grandparents moved to Eureka Springs, Ark., that became our vacation destination: an eight-hour drive from Dallas, with the same landmarks and stops and the same final, endless hour twisting through the Ozarks.

Then I married a man with a 1962 VW Bug and an itch to wander, who once had hitchhiked from Missouri to Canada and more recently sold Bible reference books door-to-door. Our honeymoon was a road trip from west Texas through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, hitting every national park along the way (including a one-day hike of the Grand Canyon, where we learned the best and worst of each other). The road looks different from the front seat, with Rand McNally in your lap and a wide-windshield view of the Great American West rolling before your eyes.

Once the Lord gave us a garden; now He gives us an open road and a scrolling landscape.

That was just the beginning: California here we come, Georgia on our minds, waltzing through Tennessee, way down yonder to New Orleans. The award for most scenic, though it’s a close call, would probably go to our drive from Vancouver, Wash., U.S., to Vancouver, B.C., Canada, with a ferry excursion to Vancouver Island in between. The quirkiest trip happened when our little VW broke down for good sometime after midnight in eastern Oklahoma and we were picked up by a trucker hauling chickens. Our longest trip ran from Trenton, N.J., to northern New Mexico, in a 1963 Ferrari purchased by a friend who didn’t have time to fetch the car himself. We hit all the home ports and tourist attractions along the way and picked up one speeding ticket in Kentucky. (Surely the patrolman stopped us only because he’d never seen a Ferrari up close.)

What sights we’ve seen. What fellow travelers we’ve met. What vehicles we’ve driven the socks off of. What a spectacular country.

Automobiles may be the scourge of the planet and too often the chariot of death—I’ve mourned with those who mourn the horrible consequences of a fiery crash. And yet. Imagine the freedom that previous generations couldn’t fathom. Imagine the Lord giving men the ability to create a self-propelled means of travel and smiling to Himself at the scenes those subtle engines would open for us. Once He gave us a garden; now He gives us an open road and a scrolling landscape. “At his right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In this life, every pleasure comes with problems, such as DUIs, shrieking ambulances, and crumpled pileups. But also unexpected joys.

Back to the original question about the worst 300 miles. The Twitter thread meandered on and on, but a clear favorite with respondents was I-80 through Nebraska. That surprised me: not I-70 through Kansas? Personally, I like those wide, clean vistas that go on and on. (“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies.”)

My vote for the worst might be I-79 through West Virginia. They don’t call it the Mountain State for nothing! We only drove it once, an endless replay of ascents, descents, tight curves, passing lanes, and surprisingly few scenic overlooks. There may have been more than I remember—I’m waiting to get an earful from West Virginians—but after a point we just wanted to get out of there. It was as if the atlas kept refolding on the same stretch of highway.

My road-tripping days are over for now; my husband got over them years ago, and I can no longer be away from him for more than a few hours. But “in [our] heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5). We’ve lived the metaphor, and our destination is in view.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.


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