The Interstate Highway System — specifically, Interstates 30, 20, 10 and 8 — links Fort Worth in North Texas and San Diego in Southern California.
After a stop sign and two stop lights in my Fort Worth neighborhood, I can get onto Interstate 30 and then travel west for well over a thousand miles, with nary another stop sign until I reach San Diego, the rendezvous point for the start of our cross-country bicycle trip.
That’s the marvel of the America’s Interstates. If I didn’t stop for the night, I could drive from Fort Worth to San Diego on a continuous ribbon of smooth highway in less than 24 hours. We can thank President Eisenhower for that.
America’s first coast-to-coast motor route was the Lincoln Highway — 3,389 miles from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Dedicated in 1913, the road passed through 13 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.
On July 7, 1919, a U.S. Army expedition called the First Transcontinental Motor Convoy (FTMC) — consisting of 81 vehicles, manned by 24 officers and 258 enlisted men — left Washington, D.C., joined the Lincoln Highway at Gettysburg, Pa., and reached San Francisco 62 days later on Sept. 6.
Accompanying the convoy as an observer was a 29-year-old lieutenant colonel, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who saw the strategic importance of good roads in time of war.
As president more than three decades later, Eisenhower championed a national highway network and in 1956 signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, which authorized the Interstate Highway System.
As of 2006, the 50th anniversary of the interstates’ creation, the system had a total length of 46,876 miles, making it the largest highway system in the world and the largest public works project in history.
The distance from my home in Fort Worth to the Point Loma Hostel, where our group of 15 cyclists will stay before heading east on our transcontinental trek, is 1,368 miles. It should take 19 hours and 51 minutes to get there by car, according to Google Maps.
But Charles Kuralt was right. I could drive nonstop from Fort Worth to San Diego in less than a day, but I wouldn’t really see much of interest along the way. The same fast-food joints and big-box stores that I see in Fort Worth will also be in Abilene and El Paso, Tucson and Yuma.
To see the America beyond the interchanges, you have to get off the interstates onto America’s lesser byways. And that’s what we’ll do during our 65-day, 3,160-mile journey from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., by way of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
I’ve rented a Toyota Matrix, with fold-flat back seats to accommodate a bicycle, to drive to San Diego for the start of the bike trip.
I hope to get on the road as early as possible Tuesday morning and to get to Las Cruces, N.M., during the first day of driving. That, according to Google Maps, is 688 miles and should take nine hours and 12 minutes.
On the second day, I aim to get to within a couple hours’ drive of San Diego, perhaps El Centro, Calif., on Interstate 8 about 145 miles to the east.
That should allow me to get to San Diego around lunchtime, drop my bike and gear at the hostel and head for Encinitas, 25 miles up the coast to return my rental car. As I noted in an earlier post, Budget has seven locations in San Diego, but only one that will accept the return of a one-way rental. Go figure.
But on the way to Encinitas I’ll get to travel another leg of the Eisenhower’s web of highways — Interstate 5.