The Great American Road Trip

The Great American Road Trip

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

What happened in the summer of 1919 forever changed the way we travel in America.

A 28-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant volunteered for a “genuine adventure.” It was a cross-country road trip to determine the travel time should the Army need to move troops from one coast to another in the event we were attacked.

The lieutenant led an 81-vehicle caravan that started in Washington, D.C. and finished in San Francisco. The convoy hit dirt roads in Illinois and rarely saw pavement again until it arrived in San Francisco. No trip like this had ever been attempted before.

Averaging only 58 miles a day and traveling at a grueling six-mile an hour pace, the vehicles often needed oxen to pull them out of the mud. 62 days later, just 72 of the Army’s original 81 vehicles made it to the city by the bay. This trip set a world record for the greatest continuous distance traveled by a motor convoy.

25 years later, that same lieutenant had become Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in WWII. General Dwight D. Eisenhower saw first-hand how Nazi Germany’s high-speed Autobahn allowed its troops and goods to be moved swiftly cross-country.

He determined to do the same for the U.S.

So in 1956, then-President Eisenhower lobbied Congress to approve the Interstate Highway System. Understandably, he had enthusiastic support from U.S. auto makers. The legislation easily passed.

Did you know?

  • The original interstate highway plan was estimated to cost $26 billion, to be completed over a twelve-year span. That plan wrapped up 35 years later in 1992 at a cost of $114 billion.
  • Interstate highways are identified by a trademarked sign, with the highway number in a red, white and blue shield.
  • West to east highways bear even numbers (such as I-10), and south to north highways are assigned odd numbers (such as I-17). Only three interstates are assigned single digit numbers (I-4, I-5 and I-8).
  • North to south interstates begin in the west with I-5 (Canada to Mexico), and route numbers increase moving east to I-95 (Canada to Miami). East to west interstate numbers increase moving north, from I-10 (Santa Monica to Jacksonville) to I-90 (Seattle to Boston).
  • The majority of interstates post mileposts every mile, beginning at their most southern or westerly point and mark their exits with corresponding exit numbers.
  • To aid in evacuating disaster areas, traffic flow can be reversed on one side of the divider so all lanes head out of an area.
  • Comprising 48,053 miles of roadway, the U. S. Interstate Highway System is the largest in the world.
  • The heaviest traveled interstate is I-405 in Los Angeles with 374,000 vehicles per day.
  • The interstate touching the most states is I-95, which winds through 15 states plus the District of Columbia.
  • Interstate highways make up less than 1% of total U.S. highway mileage, but carry over 25.1% of all traffic.

A few years ago my good friend, Bruce, told me, “the lure of the distant and difficult is often deceptive. Many opportunities are right before our eyes.”

That may be true, but I prefer this, “the lure of the distant and difficult is always exciting. It’s the only way to accomplish what others won’t try.”

Aren’t we glad that young lieutenant, Dwight Eisenhower, was a “go for the distant and difficult” guy?

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