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Favorite Drives

July 31, 2008 | 7 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor,
One of the casualities of the high price of gas is the pure pleasure of getting in the car, putting on some favorite music or radio show, and driving off to the country back roads.

These aimless adventures always perked up my spirits and chased away for awhile the burdens of the world.

The west part of Marin and Sonoma counties offers rural pleasures of dairy farms and gentle rolling hills.—a refreshing diversion for the mind and senses.

Do you have any favorite routes when life closes in a little too tight?

John B.
Rohnert Park, Ca.

West Marin is great for an old prairie driver, with those hairpin turns on the coastal highway—no guard rail, the ocean surf hundreds of feet below, your passenger stamping her right foot on an imaginary brake—and I've driven it a hundred times from SF north to Stinson Beach and through groves of eucalyptus past the old tiedye compound of Bolinas and up through the dairy farms around Pt. Reyes and north. (It sort of staggers a Minnesotan's imagination to see Holsteins and fabulous scenery together, like running into Lutherans in France—didn't know it could happen.) For driving near home, we flatlanders like to cruise along the Mississippi south from St. Paul. There's a very pretty road on the Wisconsin side and a faster one on the Minnesota side. The little town of Stockholm WI is worth a stop and you cruise on down to Pepin and cross over to Wabasha MN which is worth poking around in and then head back home. Now that I am part-owner of a little restaurant in Avon MN, I like to head up there and the backroads are the preferred route, of course—I like to take Highway 55 which follows the Soo Line railroad out of Minneapolis (my grandpa worked for the Soo Line) and clears the suburbs eventually and reaches Buffalo and then Annandale where the Soo Line held their big employee picnics and Watkins, birthplace of Gene McCarthy, and Paynesville where the Sanctified Brethren used to hold summer Bible conferences and then you head north on county roads toward Avon which is nestled in lakes. You drive through rolling farmland dotted with ponds and strung with river valleys and long before you get to Avon, you are over whatever was troubling you. The trip I was hoping to take this summer and cannot—because work beckons—is the long drive west through South Dakota and the Black Hills and into the Shell Mountains and then onto the amazing high plateau of Wyoming which is one of my favorite states to drive. It's so enormous that 70 miles an hour feels like a crawl and you edge up toward 90 and you're still crawling. A vast sky and the great plain and it's even more stunning when you pull off onto a gravel road and go for a walk. Especially at sunset or on a clear night under the stars. I would be bitterly disappointed if my life did not include at least three more driving trips across Wyoming. The drive north from Rock Spring to Jackson Hole is also spectacular and there is a thrilling drive from Red Lodge MT down to Cody over the mountains, but it's not for relaxation, it's for pure excitement like the coastal road in Marin.


Mr. Garrison, Will you kindly please stop your rapture over country driving! You make me feel stuck in the mud, or here, in the sand, but my mind soared with memories of some of your roads driven, alas, not the midwest ones, which I may never be able to drive because I am also a victim of gas prices. I am from the country and a popular form of entertainment was to drive the redmud roads of the county. I fondly recall Sunday evenings when I was a kid at Grandma and Grandpa's, and we'd pile in the car and just drive around.

Gosh, cars...

It's not only about "just ridin'
around," but how will young people
"get to know" each other in a
Smart Car? Is there enough room?

We've left the coming generations
without many of life's small pleasures.
I sure hope we can find a way to
correct the situation.

San Clemente

While driving home from Beach, ND, around Minneapolis I got tired of the Highway, and decided to get off and go southeast by another road. I think it was Route 14, but I drove on a 2 lane road thru beautiful, lush green narrow valleys, extremely small towns, some dairy farms. It was peaceful, quiet - a treat for the soul! I ended up in LaCrosse and had a beer (what else in LaCrosse!) with a paddleboat engineer, who told me about the paddleboat races on the Mississippi and the charter trips up river to St. Croix (and it's Jazz Festival) and all kinds of things about the area. It was a very memorable drive through that country and I needed it in heart and soul! Next time I want to do that drive on a motorcycle!

Sitting in Davis, California and reading about driving along the Sonoma Coast (did it last week), Wyoming (did it last month) and along the "Great River Road" (same trip as Wyoming), brings back great memories. I'll have to try the trip to Avon next year since we seem to be on the same page travel-wise.

Drive on.

I had to give a hoot (just a low one -nothing showy) when I read your comments, GK, because my wife, on occasion, also pumps her right foot in futile alarm when we find ourselves negotiating the beautiful, winding back roads of the Upper Midwest. One of the great loves of my life (besides my dear spouse, writing poetry, and a cold drink, with maybe a nosh to go with), is wandering the countryside of northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa. Most every country road around this neck of the woods dips,and climbs, and curves every which way through stands of trees,between meadows and farm fields, and along serene creeks and streams, requiring a certain level of attention while taking in this scenery. She knows I know what I'm doing, and I am for the most part sure, and together we indulge our passion for taking in the unparalleled wonder of this part of the world. I think we have travelled some of the same paths, my friend, especially up around Prarie du Chien and the gorgeous drive along the Big River. We also hold a special place in our hearts for what are called the Uplands of Wisconsin. I am from Freeport, IL, originally, just below Monroe, and I had to joy to introduce Deb, my wife, to the wonders of Mineral Point, Dodgeville, Monroe, Spring Green, Mount Horeb (don't miss the Mustard Museum), and New Glarus, where we honeymooned. If there is a place in the world closer to heaven than here, I have never heard of it, and likely wouldn't believe it if I did.

While it is true that you are coming to the Great Indiana State Fair, home of the fried Pepsi, I cannot imagine a better place to listen to A Prairie Home Companion than right in my rural Indiana front yard.
My favorite pastime of a Saturday evening in summertime is to sit in front of a campfire under the ancient stars with my ancient husband. I just cannot believe that listening to PCH under a roof in summertime to be wholesome.
Until then, Dear Garrison, I'll put another log on the fire (cough, cough,) and turn up the radio.

I drove through several states all last summer.

The most strikingly beautiful stretch of my road trip was the day I drove from Fishtrap, Montana down through central Idaho passing through Salmon and the Grand View Canyon and ending up in the beautiful little town of Shoshone.

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