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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2021 812 Magazine

Driving through time

The I-69 extension may close some Indiana back roads, so I took a left turn off the highway to see what's there.

Usually, when I'm driving down one of Indiana's back roads, all I'm thinking about is how fast I can get from point A to point B. Rarely do I consider the beautiful landscape, the cows and horses standing around in fields on the sides of roads or the quaint farmhouses strewn about as if an artist had painted them there. All too often, we who grew up here take this rural countryside for granted. It's hard to look at it with fresh eyes. But if I had spent my entire life in a big city and then drove through Indiana for the first time, I suspect it'd be something along the lines of breathtaking.

A 142-mile extension of Interstate 69 will someday run from Indianapolis to Evansville, making travel between the capital and Evansville much easier. However, the chosen route will bring changes to rural Southern Indiana. Fourteen county roads may close in Monroe and Greene counties. So, I decided to take a trip down some of these roads now.

Paying close attention to the road signs and the other drivers on State Road 45, I found myself in nearly bumper-to-bumper traffic, my foot alternating between the brake and accelerator. I'm used to this, of course, but knowing that open roads lay in front of me, the left turn onto West Evans Road couldn't come quick enough.

As soon as I pulled off 45, I felt I had already driven miles away from town. These back roads bring dramatic shifts in traffic and scenery. One second, you're staring at license plates and gas stations, and then the next you've got green fields and miles between houses.

As I drove, I tried noticing the small things that I ordinarily wouldn't. First: Indiana is really hilly. I'd be driving over a vast expanse of flat road, with flat fields to my left and right, and the next thing I know, I'm in a forest driving up a steep hill and taking a 90-degree turn at the same time. The trees themselves aren't that remarkable. I'm just impressed by the sheer number of them.

And then there are the cows. What is it about a cow standing in a field that can make an otherwise unremarkable sight picturesque? Herds of cows lined the roads, grazing in fields and doing whatever cows do.

I parked my 2000 Buick Regal on the side of the road and was taking a picture of one when a man pulled up next to me in a pickup truck. "Are these yours?" he asked, referring to the cows. I told him they weren't and that I was just taking pictures of them. He replied, "Oh, OK. Well I was gonna let you know there's one loose just standing around over there." Then, he drove off.

I've always enjoyed the feeling of solitude you get on back roads. There were so few other cars, I could have gotten out and had a picnic in the middle of the road if I wanted to (I didn't). What really fascinated me was how quickly I could go from a fairly congested area on State Road 45, take one turn and feel completely alone in a matter of minutes. It was relaxing not having to worry about merging, stoplights and aggressive drivers.

I had parked my car in a quiet intersection when another man in a pickup truck pulled up beside me. He looked about 60.

"Your car broke down?" he asks.

"No," I tell him. "I'm just fixing my camera here."

"Well, you'd better pull up a little further on the road. People tend to come flyin' down that turn there, and they might not see you."

"Thanks," I say.

"Have a nice day."

He drove away, and I pulled my car up further out of harm's way. He didn't have to stop. His pulling up and giving me advice shows you how the Midwest got its reputation as a place with genuinely nice people.

During the whole time I was driving, I didn't have any music on once. I rolled a window down and just listened to the sweet sounds of, well, tires rolling on pavement. Whenever I came to a stop, I couldn't hear anything except for the breeze and the distant sound of cars on SR 45. But this wasn't bothersome. It only reminded me of what I was returning to. It was nice to know that, for now, it was all very far away.

After two hours of driving aimlessly, I turned around and headed back home. I got back on SR 45, waited impatiently at stoplights and let some cars merge in front of me. The drive had frozen time for two hours, but now I was back in civilization, rather than Indiana's rural countryside, where everything seems timeless.