Highway 58 and some recent photos

Aaron McAlexander, Greasy Bend: Ode to a Mountain Road (Stonebridge Press, 2016), 224 pages, a few black and white photographs.

Highway 58 cuts across Southern Virginia, from Cumberland Gap (Along the Tennessee/Kentucky border) to the Tidewater. The highway crosses swamps, fields of peanuts and tobacco, old industrial towns like Danville and Martinsville, then climbs the Blue Ridge and the Grayson Highlands before it enters Kentucky. Highway 58 used to be the Main Street in Meadows of Dan, near the Blue Ridge summit, where the author grew up. Just to the east, near “Lover’s Leap,” were several especially dangerous hairpin curves. When the fog rolled in, these curves were even more deadly. Each had a name: Midkiff Curve, Green Martin Curve, Greasy Bend, the Bob Fain Curve, and the Harley Hopkin Curve. McAlexander tells of accidents that occurred along this stretch. Today, there are still curves and steep drop-offs, but the road has been improved and modified so that it’s not as dangerous as before. 

Using this ribbon of highway as a backdrop, McAlexander tells of stories of growing up in the 40s and 50s along Highway 58. Many of these stories are of himself, but there are other legendry stories of outlaws and bootleggers that fill the pages of this book. We learn of country stores, AM radio stations that brought farm reports every morning, raising and inseminating dairy cattle, cutting hay, the secrets of good cornbread, and the reliability of the old Ford 8N tractors. 

Today, many of these stories are only known when they’re on paper, the rest of such stories are as lost as are the towns that Highway 58 now bypass (even Meadows of Dan is bypassed, with the four lane running just north of town). This book is a delight to read. I kept it on my nightstand, reading a story each evening before bed. 

I only have one bone to pick with McAlexander. He cited on the back cover that US 58 at 508 miles in length, is the longest US highway in a single state. Being from North Carolina, I immediately became suspicious. I knew it wasn’t as long as US 64 is between Manteo and Murphy (that’s 545 miles in length). US 64 in North Carolina is the same mileage as US 1 is in Florida, which runs to Key West. I got to thinking about other long roads. US 90, from El Paso to Orange Texas is 774 miles in length. But the longest I found (and I stuck to roads I’ve driven at least a portion of) is US 101, which runs along the Pacific Coast with 801 miles of asphalt in California. 

This is the 3rd book by McAlexander that I’ve read since moving to SW Virginia. I’ve also reviewed Shine on Mayberry Moon and The Last One Leaving MayberryEach book is a treat! 

Some photos I’ve recently taken (all within a mile of US 58)

The hayfield outback was cut by a local farmer last week
The “backyard.” You can see my grapes are reaching up toward the wire and behind the barn (and hickory tree) is my garden)
My green cabbage has been eaten up (but it should be okay for sauerkraut). My red cabbage is beautiful!
The squash is good!
In another week or two, I’ll be feasting on tomato sandwiches
I enjoy walking the backroads in the evenings
The sunrises and sunsets are so wonderful (this was a 15 minutes before sunrise)

10 Replies to “Highway 58 and some recent photos”

  1. Oh my gosh you’re no doubt have the time of your life, and being refreshed every moment of your trip. As I read you have traveled about some of the very places I just recently did in spring, and my entire life since I was born and raised in Michigan! I am in heart and always will be a Michigander girl! I would totally enjoy even more photos! Just a wonder area. Take care be safe.

  2. Lovely photos. Your garden is doing nicely. I always enjoy books that take place where I live, but always find errors! So much for research.

  3. A YouTube video blogger posted a series of videos of him driving from Orlando back to California where he lives. But on that trip he took a series of state and county roads instead of the interstate.
    I was enthralled at all the small towns and still operating “tourists traps” he encountered.
    The sad part was that most of the small towns, especially in the southeast, looked like scenes from Apocalypse movies. Nearly deserted with buildings that could be considered genuine ruins. But after crossing into west Texas things picked up with him hitting a bunch of tourist sights that were pure Americana.

    That sunrise picture is a masterpiece, by the way.

    1. Journey is a genre I love reading… and writing about. I can see traveling one road (or hiking one trail or paddling one river) and using it as a backdrop to tell many stories. The video of the journey across country also sounds interesting. I have travelled across the states eight times in cars and many times have taken the backroads, which I love.

  4. I think one of the longest stretches of time is waiting for green tomatoes to ripen.

    That’s a stunning sunrise!

    1. Thanks. I have to remember that measurement of time ;). Kind of reminds me of Doug Marlette’s comment in the mouth of the Rev. Will B. Dunn in the comic strip, “Kudzu.” When asked how long eternity is, he responded, “it’s like the NBA tournament, only shorter”

  5. Despite the questionable fact, this book sounds good. I like the idea of exploring one road. Chet Raymo’s The Path digs deeply into the route he takes from home to work (he walks)–history, geology, botony, everything. It changed the way I thought about walking.

    1. As to the questionable fact, I always through Highway 64 in NC was the longest… then I started looking at other roads! “The Path” sounds interesting, I will have to check it out.

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