“I’ll take the backroads home through the open country side. Letting things slip by, in drawn out time. I’ll take the long way home on the backroads of this life, taking time to see what goes by.”
Those lyrics come from a song by the late folk singer Kate Wolf called “Backroads”, which is something of a theme of my life.
I had picked up the bike from the new location of Downtown Harley-Davidson in Renton after some service work a week or so ago. Their new location is right along a busy freeway and in the middle of “Big Box” land with lots of large stores, so traffic is always a bear. It was a nice, sunny, late summer afternoon and I had no reason to get home quickly which means a perfect time for a lazy afternoon ride. Yeah, I could have hopped on the Valley Freeway or I-405, but I didn’t. I was reminded of a line that Tony once used when we would go skiing: “Why take a blue run when there is a perfectly fine green run that goes to the same place.” Now in skiing, a green run signifies an easy meandering route, and a blue run, a steeper more challenging route. Tony likes to ski like I like to ride – meandering and enjoying it rather than racing at high speed. And just like motorcycling, skiing gives me that same sense of freedom to go where I want to when I want to under my control.
So as I meandered on some back roads from the dealership towards home in West Seattle – and yes there are some nice quiet roads that make you forget you are in the sprawling urban environment between Renton and Seattle -- I looked for and took the perfectly fine “green” runs home rather than the parallel “blue runs” otherwise known as arterials and freeways. And no, I’m not telling you where they are, but I’ll take you on them if you want to go riding with me.
It truly is amazing what a backroad can do to your mental state as well as your blood pressure, even in the middle of the city. As Kate sings in her song “a backroad is so easy it just rambles on and on, take it or leave it, as it rolls a long. Drifts through things it cannot change and doesn’t even try…”
I estimate it took me about ninety minutes to meander back home to West Seattle on those backroads, and the normal 16 miles turned into about 60, but I didn’t care. I needed that time in the sun on the backroads to blank my mind and let it drift. And unlike ski runs, on maps backroads tend to be marked in blue – hence the title of William Least Heat Moon’s book “Blue Highways” where he rides the backroads across this country in an old van. When given a choice I’ll always take the blue highway -- the backroad. Because as Kate sang:
Any place your bound, you’ll get there some day. You’re the one who chooses what you’ll see along the way. And when the heartaches seem too much for you to bear, there’s a backroad winding everywhere. And the shortest road ain’t always the best – sometimes let a backroad take you home.”