I have traveled many a road in my short life. From those invented trails we kids would make in our back yard to some of the storied highways and byways of this green land and foreign glens and vast expanses. When young we had a number of roads named and mapped in the event we got lost. There was Long Trail, a winding cut deep in the woods, Bumpy Road (so named since in a storm we kids took the the road and our heals in the mud led to many bumps), Short Trail that cut past the back of the swing set and in front of the manure pile, Via Road a bramble trail unfit for our junky bikes but on certain adventures we would take this road less traveled. It was amazing then, this network of roads and now as I am older, far older, it is more amazing since the property of my youth but was a postage stamp of 1/4th of an American acre, and the backyard even smaller, and the network of roads but a part of that backyard of suburban America.
I have traveled by Citron across the Atlas Mountains in an electric storm. I have driven all night from Chicago to run out of gas at the Canadian border and push the car back into my Motherland. I have flipped my car on an icy road to crash and turn through the forest and snow, the only thought on my mind, “Did I pay my insurance?”
The Blue Ridge Parkway is accessed only by a few points on the map. It is not a thruway. I have grown up with Parkways, it is part of my early memories of traveling from my suburban home to the far away place of my grandmother, Upstate back when Upstate meant farmlands and wilderness. We would travel along the Palisades Parkway, a still extant road that runs from New York to New Jersey and then returns us to the womb of Bear Mountain and the Mountains of Madness of which Bannerman’s Castle guards but a lonely watch over those various ghost that may or may not infest the Highlands. The Palisades is but today a cut through for the millions of billions of commuters, but here and there the old grand park manifests and all are reminded that this is a strip of wild in an otherwise built upon world.
There is the Taconic Parkway. A slender ribbon of lands that takes one from the Bronx River up to the Berkshires and the rolling flowing lands of Albany. This is a fun road to drive if by fun you mean thrill-seeking. Many of the twist and gentle pastoral turns have been irons out by the workings of huge machines, but this is because the travelers who take this road do so at high speeds are not there to enjoy the few remaining lookouts and rest stops that have yet to be cut off by guardrails and huge blocking stone but to get home to their flat screen TeeVees, 2.5 children, and medication stashes out in the garage. It is one of the most dangerous roads in New York. From the boundry of the Bronx River up until Red Hook, the road is a road rage road race dotted only by small smashed parts of cars and the sundry police that take to the road in order to gain some modicum of income for towns from Cold Spring to Red Hook after which the traffic subsides, the road takes on a more gentile nature, and the police go haunt the small town movie theater in order to frighten up a few fines from the local teenagers in order to pay the bills of their dying and Walmart-infested town’s bills.
From Asheville, NC the road has already been meandering for some three hundred miles or so. Unlike the other parkways mentioned, and a few more not enumerated, this parkway does not service villages or settlements but exists only to bring the traveler through the wilderness. It is a pure road of vantage points, vistas, and travel for travel’s sake. It is a forced march, a summer abroad, a walk save that we do so aboard motorcycles, of which there were plenty, classic cars, of which there were several, or whatever manner of transportation we have accessed. For me it was Plain Jane rental car. Nothing memorable about it other than the windows rolled up and down better than anything I currently own for my private use.
I drove on with little expectation since I have acquired the habit of not using The Googles to delve into every detail of my travels, allowing some manner of discovery in this age of X and Y concordance and Yelp Reviews. This did mean I went the wrong way for some miles. North when I had meant to go south since I had to get to [redacted] for [omitted] and this was but a small diversion along the way. My being in the region also meant that I was not dressed in the attire of the Modern American Hiker. I wore a suit jacket, button down, and dress shoes. Of course I wore pants too. However, this I believe is not optional outside of certain locations, and Key West so is not remarkable nor a matter of illumination when painting a picture with words. When I did get out for a short walk, the others on the path, no matter how paved or level, looked at me with some fear or disdain, I was hard pressed to discern other than I knew I did not match their own sport sneakers, North Face jackets in case the temperature dropped below 70 (F), water packs to ensure proper hydration on the .8 mile hike, or the acres of spandex(tm) that the female hikers wore since they had not gotten the memo that tights aren’t pants and matched in colour the Ray Ban glasses of the men since it seems men’s eyes are apparently quite delicate, even on an overcast day. The Ray Bans also made them look like douchebag. Which, may be intentional.
The green pressed in on both sides of the road as I drove on this thin tarmac through the still-wild areas and as I drove on the twists and turns and passed through the high peaks with just a touch of the gas peddle. Built over the span of fifty years, and launched as part of the New Deal in order to put Mankind to work, the Blue Ridge Parkway was only completed in 1987. The parkway is our American Cathedral. So rare it is that our society can bear some project that take generations, perhaps this is the last one of our Nation. The Trans Blue Ridge Highway is a feat of roadscaping. Were all our highways so built, perhaps this writer would not be so inclined to not rant and rave against the highways of 17 lanes cutting across the geography of nowhere but praise their grandeur. Above all that, above the strip malls, the interchanges that consume acres and acres of land, above the humdrum life of commuters, the highway takes but the rare few with leisure or the inclination to stop and rest not at one, but every rest stop in order to take in yet another vista and catch one’s breath at the majesty of the world either placed in front of us by accident or built for us to marvel at, depending on our own often individual eschatological inclination.
While unable to traverse the entire length, the little I did reminded me, what has become of us that we do not continue to build roads to inspire and take those Sunday drives with the family as we were meant to. Someday perhaps we will rebuild the geography of nowhere and rebuild our network of highways into something special.