Tuesday, April 17, 2007

5,789 Miles, Eleven States

Returned home today after visiting a few of the fine states in the USA. Texas is always a favorite. The state of Texas alone, is larger than a lot of countrys. A state mile marker on Interstate highway 10, from the Arizona state line, is around 1000 miles at the Louisiana state line.

The highways in Texas are extremely well maintained for a state that large. Smooth pavement makes the ride more enjoyable so the incredible variations of scenery can be observed without the jarring of joints in concrete squares so prevalent in previous years of highway engineering. I truly believe the lobbyists for the concrete industry are promoting the use of that product. Not that the product itself is bad, the technology to lay it smooth has improved to the point that the joints no longer have to become irregular after time. The problem is that so much of the old 'expansion joint' engineering still exists across the entire nation. Hundreds upon thousands of BAM, BAM, BAM miles still are waiting to be replaced. Personally I still like the ride of a nice asphalt roadway with the top layer being 'pea gravel', NO joints and a nice reflective surface for night driving. The new highways being built are layered over more sophisticated foundations. Maybe the next generation will hold up better.

The state of the nation is reflected in it's highways. I always like to see maintenance crews working and construction companies building new complex overpasses with the 'flyways' soaring above the many different routes intertwined with each other. Now trying to weave my way through these complex mazes with a 35 foot coach towing a Jeep during five o'clock rush hour is a bit daunting to say the least. My favorite co-pilot is doing the navigating while I steer around the temporary concrete barriers that are very unforgiving when a driver makes a mistake and gets a little too close.

The speed of traffic always speeds up when an 'Interstate' highway goes through a city. the local drivers are trying to get to 'wherever' faster and faster. Usually the speed is about 70 MPH in extremely heavy traffic following at one car length or less, while doing the 'weave' to enter and exit at the various streets. the posted speed is about 55 but is totally ignored in the city 'corridors'. Out on the open highway with lighter traffic, 60 MPH is acceptable. The city life is faster so the drivers reflect that fast life in the speed of the vehicle they are driving. When a mistake is made, the results are catastrophic. The entire passageway is blocked for endless hours. emergency vehicles have to find a close roadway and the EMT's have to climb over barriers to get to the victims in many cases. Surprisingly few accidents happen, for the shear numbers of vehicles per hour moving through this high speed 'game' called the 'commute'.

While crossing the Ohio river, we had the fortune to watch the 'barge' traffic pass below the old narrow bridges we were stopped on, while waiting in line for the 'one lane at a time' opening. Skinny lanes were a reminder of years past when vehicles were narrower. Add to that, the number of big 18 wheeled trucks with fewer than 12 inches between us, as we pass by each other at about 30 MPH. The water below did not look any too friendly for an unfortunate rail jump by a truck or ourselves. The old bridge ironwork and concrete barriers swishing past, were a mere couple of inches away from the side of the rocking coach. Prayer works.

While seeing a 'shortcut' on the map through Eureka Springs' Arkansas, the decision was made to take it. Hours of first gear, up hills and down hills and around switchbacks that were designed with little old cars of the 1920's being the rule. The coach logged more first gear and steering wheel spins during that passage than a year of normal driving. My arms and wrists were feeling the wear as well. New modern highway is being built through the area to handle the heavy traffic from the area around Branson Missouri. The old highway is great for motorcyclists testing their skills. Maybe the Wild Hogs will make a new 'road trip movie. Only one other place was more intense to drive the coach through.

The Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, Natchez Trace, and a night spent in an hour long, first gear accessable, high mountain, bear rich, campground built for tents and travel trailers. Morning brought rapidly falling snow so we left fast during the storm. A bad decision and a wrong turn brought many hours more of switchbacks and first gear until the road turned to gravel, narrowed and started down a very steep grade from which no return could be made by the big coach.

I unhooked the Jeep, sent my co-pilot on ahead to scout the great abyss lying below the coach. Great news, the highway lay only three miles further down this old mountains little forest service road, which the 35 foot coach had blocked completely. Many back and forth 'man handling's later to work the tight switchbacks through the trees and ravines, brought us out on a blessed paved roadway to civilization. Hallelujah....What a great, exciting, nation.
next post: Civil War History stories.


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