Murphy and I spent this Labor Day Weekend visiting my girlfriend and her German Shepherd in Athens, Georgia, which is about three-and-a-half hours from Lamar. As such, I spent a solid seven or so hours on the road this weekend, not counting time we spent tooling around Athens.
For a three-day weekend, that’s not much driving, and I’ve driven longer distances. Way back in the mists of graduate school, circa 2006 or 2007, I drove from Knoxville, Tennessee to Rock Hill, South Carolina (not far), then from Rock Hill to Richmond, Virginia and back just to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra with a friend. She took the wheel only for the last hour of the drive back, and apparently as soon as I got into the passenger seat, I was out cold.
Granted, I was twenty-one or twenty-two at the time. In the intervening fifteen years, my zest for driving all night to hear live symphonic holiday power metal has waned considerably. Now I’m lucky if I can make it to 10:30 PM without falling asleep on the couch, my multiple after-school drives to Universal Studios notwithstanding.
But I digress. While I may lack the stamina of my reckless youth, I do alternatively loathe and appreciate a long drive.
The older I get, the more I dislike Interstate driving. Driving on the Interstate is like eating fast food—it’s quick and easy, but kind of boring and unfulfilling. It gets you where you need to go quickly most of the time, but can also result in painful, tedious blockages. It also seems that the Interstate always runs through the most boring sections of any State, county, or city. In the South, that usually means hundreds of miles of endless pine barrens (I-95), or long stretches of wilderness punctuated with exits full of fast food joints and gas stations (often in the same building).
But we put up with the drudgery, the boredom, and the highway hypnosis because it’s way faster than driving thirty-five miles per hour through every backwoods speed trap between here and Buttcrack. When trying to get to work or travel long distances, it’s usually worth saving the time (which can really add up over long drives) to drive the Interstate.
But the back roads—even the federal highways—are where the real hidden gems are. The drive to and from Athens requires a little over an hour on backroads, winding through a number of small towns (the aforementioned “backwoods speed trap[s]”). It is easily the most pleasant part of the drive, and it’s so nice, it makes the drive seem shorter.
On the way to Athens, this portion makes up the final part of the drive, and it makes the prior two-hours-and-change of tedious Interstate driving worth it. Almost immediately upon exiting I-20, the road unfurls into beautiful, bucolic countryside. This part of Georgia is in the Piedmont Region, a broad region that makes up the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains (my hometown of Aiken, South Carolina is right on the edge of this region). It’s full of rolling hills, roiling creeks, and wooded glens.
This time of year, the trees are still green, but the first slightest hints of golden fall leaves were beginning to peak through on Labor Day. I could already get a sense for how beautiful the drive will be in another few weeks. This section of the trip has something of the magical feel of driving in the Appalachian Mountains, without all the switchback turns and car sickness.
The towns along this route are themselves quaint and ramshackle. The word “nestled” comes to mind, as the homes and old businesses in the little towns all seem to be tucked into the sides of their little hills. Several of the small towns seem to have a mix of rundown ruination—all-too common in small towns throughout the South—and quirky revitalization. One of the larger of these towns, Crawford, has a funky little pizza place I want to try (Papa’s Pizza), as well as a chic looking barbecue joint. Another town near Crawford seems to have some elderly hippies, as some of the businesses had that vibe.
There’s also a good stretch of the drive that is bounded on either side by a massive Black Angus ranch. Murphy seemed to appreciate the smell of the cows and their leavings, as well as the scent of the land itself.
On returning yesterday, this pleasant drive really made the last two-thirds of the trip—almost all Interstate—that much more bearable. It has me itching to get back to Athens, and to go further up into the mountains, which I miss dearly.
Well, it’s back to work today. Future drives will have to wait until future holiday weekends.
Until then, happy trails!