Take Me Home, Country Roads

Location: Grayville, Illinois

I wanted to cover a lot of miles today, but I didn’t want to retrace my steps. I chose a more northerly route through America’s heartland.

Add Highway 52 in Virginia to the list of tops highways in America. It was a sunny morning and the car and I were in fine fettle. I headed north from Winston-Salem with a full tank of gas and a desire to see the world. I flew around the curves, through clouds of leaves, slowing down for pretty little towns with their pretty little churches. I was awash in the smells of the land.

Not far out of the city, before the road got really interesting, there was a smell it took me a moment to place. Tobacco. Sure enough, the next exit was Tobaccoville. North I went. The road got twisty and turny and the air was heavy with the smell of leaves decaying, making the rich loam that would slumber through the winter and fuel the spring. I turned off the tunes in favor of birdsong. Passing through one of the little towns I breathed in the smell of fresh-mown grass as I passed an old man on his tractor.

One cool part about this stretch of highway 52 is that it is not the best way to get from point A to Point B. There is I-77, which is much more efficient. There were stretches of several miles of perfect driving road in which I saw not a single soul. Sure, I’m trying to cross an entire continent, but I wanted to see more of what the east is like. What are their contributions to the new pantheon?

Interstate 77 turns into a toll road in West Virginia. I’m a cheap bastard, and I was having fun on 52 so I decided to stay to the little road. I’ll tell you this, I don’t know what the West Virginia Turnpike costs, but if you’re trying to get anywhere it’s worth it. Highway 52 in West Virginia take you along a rail line, through little coal towns nestled in valleys, strange combinations of postcard views flanked by run-down and abandoned buildings. (According to a political ad I heard more than once today, West Virginia is the only state whose population has declined since 1950.)

As I passed the mines I was met by the acrid, acidic smell of the coal, and in one town I saw a man whose job it was to scrape the coal dust paste from the street gutters.

On this part of the highway there is no alternate route, and people drive at a maximum of 45 no matter what the posted speed limit is. I spent long, long hours watching the ass end of mal-tuned pickup or a Buick with no visible driver. I lost a lot of time, but now that I’m here I’m glad I did it. I’d read about that country, but I’m glad I got a slow view of it, even if it was a driveby. I drove by a lot of photos, but that would have slowed me down just too much.

The final smell I picked up driving top-up in the light rain as I drove through southern Indiana in the darkness. Fertilizer clogged my nostrils. It was worse even than Clovis.