It seems a bit silly to think that one has a favorite mile of roadway. I know of certain sections of roadway that are designated in ways to make them seem grand, such as the Magnificent Mile, in Chicago, or Museum Mile in NYC. While both of those are places I’ve been — and I do enjoy some of the offerings along those roads — they are not my favorites.
There is a road on the island where we vacation frequently. I’ve been there enough times that it doesn’t take me long once I cross the causeway to get my bearings. I had to adapt a bit a few years ago after a hurricane took out to sea pieces of some landmarks, leaving the rest for the wrecking ball and the inland dump, but I still have those places where I know I’ll get my first glimpse of Gulf blue waters. But it is not my favorite piece of road either.
Central Indiana won’t register on anyone’s list of scenic places. It is mostly characterized by its sameness, the flatness of the land and the fields of corn and soybeans that stretch onward towards more fields in all directions. Sometimes the land is broken up by housing developments, grain elevators, the occasional picturesque barn, though most barns are highly efficient metal pole barns these days. The only way to tell the difference, sometimes, between one section of highway and another is by the billboards. Travel a particular highway often and you’ll become more familiar with the billboards and the barns than with the mile markers.
But, it is in the middle of this flat sameness that I have a mile of road that warms my heart; it is my favorite: Interstate 65, Mile 164.
The asphalt divider of farm fields stretches on for about 20 miles without much change between Lebanon and Lafayette, Indiana. But, at mile 164 the road curves to the northeast and heads up hill. It is a slight hill — not at all like the gently rolling hills in Southern Indiana as you approach the great Ohio River — unlikely, an unexpected half-smile greeting.
I’ve traveled this section of road several times in the last five years. In each season, it has a beauty that seems to differ from the rest of the area. At the beginning of the year, with a hillside full of empty branches, the land seems to glisten from the snow and the ice more here than elsewhere. In Spring, the red-wing blackbirds find the trees early and you can pick them out in the treetops from their characteristic perches, their necks and beaks angling skyward. The flowering wild plums and the redbud trees burst purple across the hill in April, before turning the greens of summer. In Autumn, the reds and yellows of the leaves take over, giving the traveler a break from the browns of the harvested fields.
But, more than the seasonal beauty, I like this mile because it is a marker. As I see the gently curving hill I know that I am only 20 minutes from my son’s college home. Just past the curve, where the road straightens out again, where the earth flattens out and forgets the little hilly amusement, is the welcome sign for Purdue, college of engineer and astronaut makers (because, you know, who is a boilermaker anymore, or even knows what one is?). If I am headed south, I know that I am 59 minutes from my doorstep. Either way, it marks the distance to my heart’s home.