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U.S. Route 6

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, rambly

Grinnell is right off of US 6 in Iowa. When I first came to Grinnell, I said to myself Hmmm … I feel like there’s a US 6 near home, too. I wasn’t quite right; while US 6 does go down to the tip of the Cape, which is where I remembered it from, it’s a bit south of Newton. But yes, it is the same US 6.

And that got me thinking: It might be fun to drive US 6 from one end to the other. Why? Because it can be nice to choose an alternative to the Interstates; it gives you a chance to see small towns and interesting attractions along the way. Of course, it also takes longer than, say, Interstates 80 and 90. But life is about taking different paths. So, at some point, Drive US 6 from end to end got added to my bucket list. I’ve thought about it a few times, but haven’t found a summer that wasn’t booked with other tasks.

In contrast, Middle Son, upon observing that I-80 runs by Grinnell and also by the house of some relatives in California, added Drive I-80 from end to end to his bucket list. That task has some conceptual similarities [1] and some significant differences [2].

For a while, I’ve thought we might combine the two trips: We could take US 6 west from Grinnell to California, I-80 back east to New York, some random roads from the end of I-80 to the end of US 6, and then US 6 back go Grinnell. But that hasn’t happened yet. And it sounds like middle would prefer to do the trip with sons.

At some point along the way, US 20 got added to the mix. US 20 also starts in Boston and heads west to California. US 20 doesn’t run through Grinnell, but it does run a bit north of Grinnell. It also provides a compromise between US 6 (likely slow, but near towns) and I-80 (almost certainly fast; distant from towns).

During our recent trip from MA to IA, we passed enough exits for either US 6 or US 20 that I started thinking about the two trips again.

My quick Web search revealed that US 6 was once the longest road in the US, but then the wacky folks in CA decided to chop off the last few hundred miles. It’s down to slightly under 3200 miles [3]. US 20 now seems to be the longest road in the US 20, with a length of 3,365 miles. However, US 20 is discontinuous in Montana, because the route through Yellowstone is not designated as US 20. That makes US 6 the longest continuous route.

I like books, so I did a quick Web search for books about US 6. There aren’t many. It appears it’s not that popular a highway. Nonetheless, someone has written a guidebook that evolved from a ’blog she wrote. She likes stopping more than I do; In fact, she suggests planning at least six weeks for the trip. I was figuring I would drive about 300 miles a day, making it a trip of ten days or so. And I’d certainly take less time than the nine months that someone spent walking the whole route.

Can I add anything to that literature? I’ll probably muse about the trip when I make it. I’ve also decided that it would be fun to put a GoPro on the dashboard and to record the whole thing (sped up).

When will I make these trips? I have no idea. Perhaps on my next leave. Perhaps one of my children will suggest doing one some summer. We shall see.

[1] The most obvious is that both involve driving from coast to coast. I believe that US 6 also overlaps with I-80 once in a while.

[2] The I-80 trip is likely to be much faster, if a bit less interesting.

[3] 3,198.87, according to Wikipedia.