Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
Ok, I’ll admit it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but it was exhilarating at the time. I was running the pole vault at the Roy Peck Invitational and there were 111 boys and girls entered. We started at 9 am and there were still kids on the runway at 2 pm.
The event finished an hour later. It wouldn’t have been a big deal, but my wife Sue and her late sister Barb were singing in a cantata in Thornton, Colorado at 7:30 that night.
I set out just a few minutes before 3 pm in our Toyota Camry.
I’m an American car guy when it comes to pickup trucks and 1960s vintage muscle cars, but there is something to be said for Japanese engineering. We keep a 2017 Subaru Forester in Pittsburgh, but here in Riverton, it’s a 2003 and a 2013 Silverado, a 2015 GMC Terrain, and my wife’s vintage 1996 Oldsmobile.
I’m glad I had the Camry that afternoon.
I pushed the 4-cylinder rocket from Rivercity to Muddy Gap, doing that Wyoming trick of gunning the car when you can see six, eight, or 20 miles ahead, and made Rawlins in about 90 minutes.
Interstate 80 was clear that April afternoon with light traffic. I hit the Wyoming version of a cloverleaf exchange in Cheyenne, switching to the southbound lane of Interstate 25.
For a Saturday heading into Denver, the road was almost empty.
I crept up to 90 miles per hour. After a few minutes, a green Jaguar rolled up in the left lane.
I’d watched him approach in the rearview mirror, and as he pulled up beside me, just a few feet away, he grinned with a look I’d seen many times before. It was a challenge.
I thought, “Sure, you want to run, I’ll run.”
We took off, accelerating rapidly.
The Camry could make 35 miles per gallon, but it had a speedometer with a top end of 140 mph that I had never tested. That is, before that late afternoon.
We cruised south making two miles a minute with a little change (you do the math, unless you’re one of my friends on the Wyoming Highway Patrol)
I ran with this guy for about 10 minutes before my competitive nature was overturned by a brief moment of sanity.
“What are you doing?” I thought as I envisioned the Toyota flipping end-over-end in a fatal out-of-control crash.
I let off the gas, and so did he.
I looked to my left as he held the wheel with his right hand and saluted me with his left, then the Jag ripped away. A scant 30 seconds later all I was able to see were the Jaguars’ taillights as he disappeared over the horizon somewhere near Johnson’s Corners.
I made the cantata, a four-and-a-half-hour speed run to the northern suburbs of the Mile High City.
We take transportation for granted.
That same trip would have taken at least 10 days in the mid-19th century and even a hundred years ago, with cars well established it was a two or three-day trip.
A few years over a century ago, the roads weren’t that great in the USA. They were horrendous, or they simply didn’t exist.
Dwight Eisenhower, (my favorite president) was assigned as a young lieutenant colonel to travel from New York City to San Francisco on the “Lincoln Highway” a year after World War I ended.
The historical Lincoln Highway is also known as US Highway 30. In our fair state, you can drive from Laramie to Walcott Junction where the historic highway merges with Interstate 80.
When we’re in Pittsburgh, US 30 is the main thoroughfare through the Steel City, you’ll find the same road in Kemmerer, and west to the Pacific Coast.
In 1919, when Ike and a convoy of US Army trucks ventured west on the first large-scale coast-to-coast drive across the continent, US 30 was a highway in name only in much of the vastness of the American Midwest.
From Illinois to Pine Bluffs, the convoy spent as much time repairing bridges, and pulling trucks out of the mud as they did driving. In a standard 12-hour shift, they averaged less than 80 miles a day. Those weary soldiers pushing trucks buried to the axles or hooked up to a monster 5-ton, 4-wheel drive machine equipped with a winch called a Militor couldn’t fathom that one day, the speed limit would equal their daily quota.
Many misguided historians believe that Eisenhower’s greatest achievement as president, the American interstate highway system, came after he saw Hitler’s Autobahn firsthand during World War II.
That may have been on the Kansas farm boys’ mind, but it was that 1919 trek from Gotham City to the City by the Bay that put the dream of a coast-to-coast, high-speed highway into Ike’s heart.
As a soldier, he just took orders, fought the improbable challenges of traveling across unimproved two-track dirt roads, or on a good day, a stretch of lightly packed gravel, while doing his job.
As president, he had the chance to improve on that challenge of his youth, and the even-numbered East-West four-lane highways and the odd-numbered North-South superhighways came into existence.
As a kid traveling from Wyoming back home to either Travis or later Mather Air Force Base in California, I noticed that every Nevada town along Interstate 80 had a detour that took travelers through the downtown. Wendover, Ely, Battle Mountain, and every other wide spot in the road existed on the traveler’s dollars from these detours. Some of these detours lasted almost a quarter of a century until the ploy was finally ended by federal legislation.
When the detours closed, many of the small towns ceased to exist. It’s not a new phenomenon.
In its heyday, US Highway kept Bolser, Rock River, Medicine Bow, Hanna, and Walcott Junction viable. Now Bosler is a ghost town, and the other communities hang on the precipice of the same fate.
Highways mean vitality to the small, isolated towns of the American Heartland. When the road moves elsewhere, the town dies, it’s that simple.
When you fly at 600 miles per hour, 35,000 feet in the air, the nation shrinks. But, even at 70 mph, the trip across America is a long one.
Speed has shrunk the nation, whether it be high in the stratosphere, or at an idiotic 100+ miles per hour in a high-powered, low-profile sedan.
Roads always led to somewhere else. How you view those roads is more a testament to your view of the world than it is the asphalt, concrete, or gravel your tires are rolling over.