In Praise of Rural Backroad Travel

Travel should have an element of adventure, even if it is routine.

Sadly, interstates are boring and sterile. Drive them once and you’ve driven them a dozen times – there’s not all that much to see or observe in the press of traffic and the shadows of billboards.

This morning my planned trek back from Charleston to Atlanta got a bit of a mixup when Google Maps decided to point me down South Carolina Highway 9 (SC-9). Game for a shortcut and something different, I took it.

I reached Highway 9 around 8 AM, passing on until I got onto Highway 39. I passed through Wagener, a town of under 1,000 people. I passed by a herd of sheep grazing. I passed by a herd of cows grazing. I passed by most mammalian farm animals, in fact. I saw fields still (apparently) fallow from the winter, bales of hay leftover from past cuttings, rusty old cars, an abandoned gas station, and just about every relic of farming culture you can imagine.

When I have taken this route *to* Charleston at dusk, I have tended to notice the decay and the falling apart of this (very difficult) way of life. But this morning the air was clean and cool, and spring was greening up the wide, open fields. The sun was still new on the land. It was gorgeous.

When I paired the scenery with some of my favorite 80s pop/rock (including “Footloose” on this Sunday morning for good measure), I felt like I had gone back in time. My senses were awake in a way I don’t experience on the interstate. This felt like South Carolina, and while I was in a different part of the state, this backdrop reminded me of the same feeling I get on the backroads at home on John’s Island. You just go to a different time and place on a rural road.

I know I’m just spouting of the same cliches you’ve already heard about the virtues of backroads. Country songs have worn them half to death. But then there’s a reason country songs talk about the life that happens here. As long as you want to learn about the world around you and a culture – farming – that has shaped it (and is quickly passing away), backroads are a powerful portal. Besides, they’ll get you where you’re going with less than half the traffic.

If you have to make a long trip on a regular basis, I recommend finding your own backroad – or the equivalent.


Stay in the know.

Get my best new essays and other occasional news, ideas, or projects delivered in nice, tidy packages once weekly.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.