If you were to ask me where the most pleasant, most peaceful drives are, the answer would include several that are close to home.
U.S. 52 from Portsmouth to New Richmond, Ohio, is high on the list. Take a side trip on the ferry to Augusta, Kentucky, while you’re at it.
Ohio 7 from Gallipolis down to about Athalia is up there, too.
This past weekend brought the opportunity to drive another great road: Ohio 124 from about Hockingport to Racine. At a couple of places the road nearly hugs the Ohio River, and for the most part there’s hardly a smokestack in sight.
The area feels remote, but the main roads to Parkersburg are only a ridge or two away.
Away from the river, southern Ohio has some good scenery once you get onto two-lane roads a few miles outside the metro areas. On your next trip to Columbus, try Ohio 104 instead of U.S. 23 north of Chillicothe.
If you go to Parkersburg, avoid Interstates 64 and 77. Head up West Virginia 2, cross the river at Point Pleasant and take Ohio 7 up to the new Blennerhassett bridge (the only network tied arch design over the Ohio).
There are places just off Interstate 64 in Indiana where you can stand on a hill and see farm after farm. U.S. 60 from Paducah toward Louisville had some nice scenery when I drove it in 1986.
This isn’t the featureless rural scenery of some other states when you wonder if this part of your road trip will ever end. Interstate highways in Alabama and Missouri come to mind.
Having grown up in the country, farmland gives me a connection to my past and, I hope, to my grandchildren’s future.
One thing this coronavirus situation should have taught us is that we need to get our economy back to some basics. People talk about rebuilding our manufacturing base and making things again in this area and in the nation, but rebuilding our agricultural infrastructure would pay dividends, too.
How we do that, I don’t know. As with many things, starting a farm from scratch takes a tremendous amount of capital. You need land and equipment, plus you need ways of getting your product to market.
Can it be done? Of course it can. It may be one of those things that starts small and unnoticed, and before you know it everyone is going back to the land.
What brought all this to mind was one evening at home when I saw a copy of “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon lying on a table.
“Blue Highways” chronicles the author’s trip around the edges of the United States in 1978. He avoided the big cities and instead explored the small towns found on the backroads of America: Nameless, Tennessee; Dime Box, Texas; and Liberty Bond, Washington, among them. He passed through this area toward the end of his journey.
I bought the paperback when it came out in the 1980s and read it several times that decade. I still read parts of it now and then. The pages are yellow, and the back cover has fallen off.
The book has almost a cult following. Some readers have re-created parts of Heat-Moon’s journey and tracked down the people he met.
When Rinker Buck, author of “The Oregon Trail,” came down the Ohio in a flatboat four years ago while preparing his next book, we met and talked about Heat-Moon’s works. Buck follows a similar philosophy in his travels: “See America Slowly.”
Columnist Salena Zito does the same. She avoids interstate highways as she covers Rust Belt politics and culture.
You can have Disney World and New York City. Some of us prefer cows, cornfields and small-town America.