Charles Kuralt once said, "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." While we consider each Flying J a roadside attraction unto itself, the wise old sage of America's roads had a point. Last Tuesday, we asked you to nominate the country's least inspiring length of asphalt, and you responded. Out of 28 entries, we've picked the four most detailed and now submit them all for your approval and vote. Remember that the winning essayist gets a stuffed Bally, the most prized item in all of Hoops Nation. Let's go!
Brice nominates a spooky stretch in Virginia that we here at TMM are plenty familiar with after years of travel in the Big South and CAA.
I did a fair bit of driving when I was in college, and for my money it's pretty hard to top the 100 miles of I-85 between Oxford, NC and Petersburg, VA for sheer boredom. One rest stop, one exit with a Wendy's and a gas station, and an hour and a half of nothing but trees. Trees right off the shoulder so dense you can't see ten feet into them, trees covering the median so you can't even look at the cars coming the other way. And don't even think about hitting the gas a little, because there's bound to be a police car sitting in one of those emergency U-turn slots. The rest of 85 isn't that bad--South Carolina can be a bit dull, but at least there's a horizon to look at. Heavens, though, those hundred miles can be so long.
Charlie submits an Illinois interstate for consideration. We just drove this last week on the way to Eastern Illinois, and agree with the literary parallels presented here.
The most boring stretch of interstate highway in the United States is the roughly 120 miles of I-39 from its southern terminus in Normal, IL to its junction with I-90 in Rockford, a distance of around 125 miles. I live in Minneapolis these days, but I grew up in rural southeastern Ohio, meaning I take it frequently to drive home. (It's only 20 miles longer than going through Chicago, and since there's no traffic at all, it goes much faster.) And the whole road--flat and straight, with maybe two turns in the whole 125 miles--is corn. Corn corn corn. I remember reading "A Farewell to Arms" in high school. I came away convinced that the plot of the book amounted to "It was raining, and some stuff happened in the rain, where the rain was rainy and it was raining in the rain."
If Hemingway had written about farming in the Midwest instead of ambulances in World War I, he would have set the book along what is now I-39, where there is corn as far as the eye can see, and there is corn among the corn, with farmers who farm corn in the corn fields all day long. That the road's terminus is in a town called Normal should be enough of a warning sign. But the towns along the way go even further to show its boredom. They have exotic, foreign-sounding names like Peru, El Paso, La Salle, and Tonica. Having grown up in small-town Ohio, home to places like Russia, Berlin, Gnadenhutten, and Congo, I am confident in the following thesis: in rural America, the more exotic the town name, the more boring it is.
Trae recently drove one of the stretches that gives "flyover country" its derisive nickname. We drove this twice in December (back and forth), and it looks almost the same at night as it does during the day. At one point near the Kansas-Colorado border, I took my hands off the wheel to tie my shoes at 80 mph.
This summer I made the drive from Jackson, Mississippi to Portland, Oregon. On this drive I crossed possibly the most brain numbing stretch of road in the U.S. I nominate, for your consideration, I-70 from Salina, Kansas to Denver, Colorado. For those of us used to things like trees, and hills this is the worst 400 miles in the history of roads. The only excitement was the flying by of numerous storm-chasers heading in the same direction I was, but I would classify that as more heart racing fear than excitement. When I hit I-80 in Wyoming the next day it was quite possibly the most visually stimulating day of my life by comparison. I don't mean to offend anybody from Kansas of course, but I think it's America's Most Boring Interstate.
Miles' pick is a Golden State highway that we're going to be visiting very soon.
America's Most Boring Interstate has to be Highway 40 between Barstow, CA and Needles, CA. This is the land that California forgot. When you think of California you don't think of desolate barren wasteland. You want to get the heck out of Barstow (unless you love outlet malls) and your destination is a place where you can pay $5 a gallon for gas. In the middle of these two wonderful places is nothing. There are no pretty mountains in the distance or nice scenery along the sides of the road. I'm pretty sure that if your car broke down, you might as well consider yourself dead.
Voting ends Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. EST, and the winner will be announced later that day.