The road less traveled isn’t about the road. It is about you. It is about the fact that you stopped and thought and decided for yourself where and when and how you are going to go to get there. Where is there? It doesn’t matter. What matters is how, and that is up to you.
Your road might be the highway. That is fine. The way doesn’t have to be a back road or a dusty path. You don’t have to go on foot, carrying everything you think you’ll need in a backpack. You don’t have to suffer. This isn’t penance. But perhaps it is a pilgrimage.
The famous poem about the two roads is at the end of this post for your convenience. Read it slowly, line by line, as if you are reading it for the first time. If you are like me, you’ve heard it so often you miss what it is really saying.
But this isn’t about the road – either one. This is about you.
Where are you going? Why? Which way will you get there? Why? Consider it. Be awake, and mindful. Choose. The only wrong choice is to waffle so much that you don’t make a choice at all. To fail to act for fear of failure is the only true failure.
My husband and I have driven together to Chattanooga many times over the years. Usually we take the interstate. I-24 East is a pleasant enough drive. There are nice views and the trip takes about 2 hours. It is safe, and that is part of the appeal. There are places we can stop along the way for a snack or a bathroom break or to stretch our legs. However, it is uneventful, and because of the nature of the road, it inspires mindlessness. You can get from here to there without thinking at all. That is a concern.
How much of our lives is like that? Too much.
There is a road that runs almost parallel to I-24. It is the original road that linked the cities before the interstate was built. It is US-41. We’ve seen glimpses of it on our right as we are coming home, going over bridge at Nickajack Lake, just West of Chattanooga. One time we got off at the exit just before there and considered taking that way back. We stopped at a gas station and got some snacks and a map. We went to the bathroom. For some reason it felt like we were about to go to the moon and we needed to prepare really hard for this trip. It was going to add at least an hour and a half to our trip – maybe more. We weren’t sure. We didn’t know if there were going to be places we could stop along the way to refresh or refuel.
We drove a little way up the road and freaked out a little. We got back onto the freeway as soon as we could. Perhaps we were already tired from our trip and just needed to get home.
Just going on a road trip can be the entire purpose of the trip. Sometimes it isn’t where you go, but how you go. The journey itself is the destination.
Another time we drove down part of the way on US-41. It was beautiful. Lots of hidden scenes and sights that you simply cannot see when going 70 mph.
US-41 is Broad Street in Chattanooga. But then it turns Right and is East Main.
It is how US-11 is also Lee Highway.
You can live in a town and not even notice how the road you’ve lived on all your life is part of something so much bigger – that it stretches all across the country. It takes a while to find the lines sometimes – they merge with named roads, take detours, appear to drop off and then re-appear.
It is a bit like doing genealogy, now that I think about it. If you’ve ever tried to uncover your family past, you might understand this.
The writer Charles Kuralt talked about this. That we gain time when we take the freeway, but we lose something else. We lose our sense of discovery and wonder. Perhaps we aren’t meant to go faster, but to go slower. Perhaps 70mph is too much for humans. We sacrifice part of who we are, part of our nature, when we go so fast that we can’t see what is going on around us.
Life goes too fast as is. We need to slow down to actually live. Life isn’t about traveling quickly from birth to death, but noticing all the moments in between.
This time, on our way down, I went to find the maps we’d bought, but couldn’t locate them. Would the GPS signal work? We’d discovered that problem in the wilds of the North Carolina mountains. There are areas where you can get pretty lost, still, these days. Technology doesn’t always serve. We asked for directions at a tiny church in a town called Frank. Something about going up the road for several miles, and turning left at the dentist’s office. All too often, people give directions by what used to be there. If I was local, I’d know what used to be there – but if I was local, I wouldn’t be asking for directions. We wore ourselves out looking for that office. It was mentally exhausting. I didn’t want a repeat of that experience.
We went anyway, and I’m glad we did.
I’ve learned that the route began around 1926, and runs 2000 miles, North to South, across the US, stretching from Miami, Florida to just before Copper Harbor, Michigan.
Maybe one day we’ll take a road trip and do the whole thing.
The Road Not Taken – by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.