Our interstate highway system is a pretty remarkable thing. Over the years, we have driven every mile of Interstate 95 between Route 3/202 near Augusta, Maine, and Interstate 4 just west of Daytona Beach, Florida. Every summer, we make the drive from northern Virginia up to Maine, taking I-95 most of the way. Every winter, we follow I-95 south to Florida.
The Interstates have personalities, and those personalities change with the landscape. I can never quite relax on I-95 just south of the Beltway in Virginia. It isn’t until the road thins out a bit near Woodbridge, that I finally settle down. The urban sprawl of the DMV thins out. Instead of shopping malls, and outlets, the scenery changes to fields and farms.
Drive the Interstates enough and you begin to recognize landmarks better than any mile-marker. Rural North Carolina is populated by a series of roadside billboards advertising adult store franchises like Adam & Eve. In the southern part of the state, the signs change to notices that you are approaching South of the Border, a tourist trap just south of the border into South Carolina.
Interstate 95 remains two lanes for much of the stretch of South Carolina and well into Georgia. As you approach Savannah, the road widens. Palms trees start to dot the landscape. Then you cross the border into Florida and the personality of the highway changes again.
I take the interstates for granted. I’ve driven the 1,385 miles between Route 3 in Maine, and Interstate 4 in Florida many times, but I never really considered the achievement of the roads. How long did it take to drive from Virginia to Florida in the early 1950s, before the Interstates existed? How smooth was the travel? The Interstates host rest stops where you can get out of the car, stretch your legs, and empty your bladder.
Thanks to the progressive cruise control in the new car, I was able to concentrate more on the roads themselves, and the scenery that bookends the lanes. There were no rough patches that I noticed. The lanes were all smooth, and easy on the cars and trucks that rolled upon them. There weren’t many aggressive drivers. Long-distance drivers know the percentages, and drive steadily. It makes for a better experience for everyone.
There are only two short stretches of I-95 that we have yet to conquer: the 195 miles of road that stretch between Augusta, Maine, and the Canadian border. And the 262 miles from Miami to Daytona Beach, Florida. We will travel most of the latter next week as we begin our drive home from our vacation.
We take three days to drive to Florida and two to drive to Maine. We could fly in a matter of hours, but that means luggage and bag checks and security lines and airline delays and cramped seats. The views can be nice, but are often obscured by clouds. Driving on the Interstates, we get to see America close up. We roll by at 70 MPH, fast enough to make the trip bearable, but slow enough to be introspective about what we see along the way.