Roads Less Traveled

On the road trip my daughter and I took while my son was at camp, I experienced some “lost and found” moments. My daughter and I spent our time getting lost and making discoveries.

I intentionally picked rural routes to travel on in order to get acquainted with other farm and ranch communities in South Dakota. I also chose unpopular highways because interstate traffic crowds my space and stresses me out, and driving the same highway for every trip can get boring.

Instead of seeing farm and ranch country at a rat-race pace, my daughter and I absorbed tiny towns by slowing down as we passed through them and made our stops there. Ironically, the sleepy towns kept me awake. I found that driving through country with familiar sights along highways made traveling more stimulating and less monotonous. Seeing hayfields scattered with bales, slow moving tractors on the shoulder, old farm houses and barns near the highway, and livestock grazing, was like comfort food for my eyes. I got acclimated to the slow-paced atmosphere by avoiding traffic areas that required constant attention to my surroundings. Anticipating what the next farm town would look like was more exciting than looking forward to seeing the next billboard or exit sign off the interstate and less congested highways calmed my nerves.

I repeatedly discovered that the great thing about getting disoriented on roads less traveled is that you’re only temporarily lost. Whenever I ended up on unmarked roads headed out of small towns that I didn’t think I’d taken, I never felt rattled the way I do on freeways. I didn’t stay lost for long or worry about where we would end up while driving on old highways with a handful of small towns along the way. Eventually, we would see a landmark or highway numbers at junctions we recognized on the map.

The times I caught myself heading in the wrong direction leaving a town, I was able to backtrack without getting lost further, like I would have in a big city. Getting on unmarked highways never concerned me because they always lead us in the same direction we needed to go and eventually hooked up to another little town I could find on the map. I felt safer on these unmarked roads with fewer people than I would have in a metropolitan area with lots of people around, several lanes of traffic, and well-marked signs because I was used to taking back roads at home. No matter how disoriented I got, I could adjust for “drifting” on South Dakota’s unmarked byways by getting on other connecting roads to my destination and was always able to get my bearings again.

My favorite find was discovering the most stress-free way to travel; spontaneity, minimal planning, and taking rural roads. By not being expected anywhere at a certain time, I didn’t feel anxious or under pressure to hurry and get places and didn’t fret when I ended up on roads I didn’t intend to be on. Whenever I wasn’t sure where we were on the map, I referred to my daughter’s reassuring philosophy; “All roads lead somewhere…except dead ends.” Dead ends remained lost to us because we never found them.

This column was originally published August 17-23,2008

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