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The road least traveled

In the footsteps of Least Heat-Moon

 

September 26, 2013



So many decisions. So many choices. After spending hours on the phone with my daughter, under the assumption that two heads are better than one, a cliché not necessarily true but I needed someone to hold my hand, we concluded that there is no wrong road.

I am now homeless. My auction sale is Saturday out at the Havre Fairgrounds, so come, say goodbye to me. Early next week I will head out. All the right roads beckon. Being me, I want to drive every road. What way to take? Which way to go? I have two, no, three criteria. I want to visit my son and granddaughter and friends in Seattle. I wish to explore hot springs, so my route will necessarily zig and zag. And I intend to be at the border Nov. 5, to be met by my friend who will help me drive south on foreign roads.

That leaves me a month to travel north border to south border. In the last week I have entertained routes and changed my mind no less than two dozen times. I could zoom over to Seattle, hugs and kisses, and race to the border. Google map, which does not have my best interests in mind, assures me I could make the border from Harlem in 23 hours. Not my style — no, not my style at all.

Google does not know that I despise Interstate Highways. Interstates homogenize and pasteurize travel. One tends to head up the on-ramp, grip the wheel and proceed as if death is on one’s heels, as indeed, it may be. Interstates cross through the most beautiful parts of the country and assure that you, the traveler, see none of it. You don’t dare slow down and look. You tend to eat franchise food and stay in franchise motels, all within sight of the ramps.

Like William Least Heat-Moon, I prefer to travel the “Blue Highways,” the byways and back roads. I want to be able to stop for a power nap when tired, eat in mom-and-pop cafes, walk in the nice little city park along the river, and admire the architecture of the old buildings in the center of downtown. One of my favorite off-the-map motels features a pyramid of homemade huckleberry jellies for sale at the counter. You won’t find that at a Holiday Inn Express.

A couple days ago, I heard from Tara, one of my “girls” from when she and my daughter were in college. Tara lives in Las Vegas. She told me Vegas sits in the middle of geo-thermal heaven with more than three-hundred hot springs. Immediately my mind changed once more. I’m feeling like my neck is on a swivel.

As of today, my loosely held plan is to spend a week or 10 days getting out of Montana/Idaho, soaking in hot water at some of my favorite north-country hot springs. I’ll take Highway 2 to Seattle to spend a week to 10 days with family and friends, then head south. But I have not defaced my maps with markers. No route is permanent in my mind. Nothing is cast in concrete.

Leaving Seattle is where my fun really begins. This morning I lean toward I-90 to I-82 to I-84 to Pendleton, gratefully exit the interstate for 395 to Reno, a lovely and relatively empty route. From Reno perhaps I’ll head east on 50 to Ely. South on 93 to Vegas to explore and soak and visit with Tara and Tim. Or maybe Seattle to Sacramento to Reno to Vegas. Or Seattle to Ellensburg to Pocotello to Salt Lake to Vegas. See what I mean?

Leaving Vegas, I can stay on 93 into Phoenix. Somewhere along the way, I will need to turn south on 85 which will take me through Why and into Lukeville and to my border crossing. My map is rather vague about how to do this. Tele-transportation, perhaps.

If you look at the U.S. map in the front of your travel atlas, you can see my quandary.

In the western United States, there are a lot of ways to get from here to there on relatively isolated roads. Roads where one can dream; where one can imagine what life is like in this town, in that little ranch house way off over there with the yard light shining. Roads where the waitress pouring coffee stops to ask you where you’re going. She’ll tell you about the bridge out up the way and the best place to stop for lunch. Roads with towns that make one want to turn in and stay a while.

(Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com. Email sondrajean.ashton@yahoo.com.)

 

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