Roadside Garbage

A different perspective on America.

I have spent many, many monotonous hours riding along America's roads at 10 miles per hour. I love to take notice of the beautiful scenery, smell the fragrant scents of wildflowers, watch the cattle and horses graze, and experience the topography of our nation.

I also have to look at everything as I ride - no matter how unpleasant it may seem. I see road kill and I see garbage. The road kill is inevitable - Bambi tries to cross the road but Mr. Mack truck is on a collision course. Or, Mr. Squirrel is going after a dinner of nuts for the wife and kids and doens't make it back. It happens.

But garbage is another thing. People chuck some amazing stuff out of the windows of their cars. Mostly beverage containers but I have also found some more unusual stuff. So far I have seen an entire Hickory Farms Christmas gift pack on the road just south of Rosedale, Virginia and a suit complete with tie, socks, and shoes just west of Vesuvius, Virginia.

The beverage and food containers tell a lot about the surrounding community. Let's start with beer. On the Atlantic coast near Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg as well as near major cities the empty beer containers are usually imported or expensive beer. On rural roads and near small towns the beers are usually from large domestic brewers like Coors, Bud, or Miller. When I'm in the real sticks the empties are things like Natural Ice and Natural Light.

The other type of beverage containers relate to fast food restaurants. McDonalds cups mean that a McDonalds restaurant is within 30 miles. If I watch my odometer I almost always run across a McDonalds within the next few hours and then the cups slowly trail off after passing the restaurant. Then I'll see Subway bags with the heels of hoagies in them. Guess what? A Subway is coming up. Then it's Diary Queen and Burger King and so on and so forth.

I also see lots of Sobe, Snapple, and Nantucket Nectars bottles within 10 miles of outdoor recreation spots. The yuppies drive up with their $40,000 SUVs, ride 5 miles on a bike around a park, pack their bikes up, grab a Sobe at a convenience store, chuck it out the window 5 miles down the road, head back to their big city, and tell the boys at the water cooler on Monday morning how in tune with nature they are. Hypocrites.

The one good part of this saga is the number of Adopt-A-Highway signs I see and the relative cleanliness of the roads near them. People are doing their part to keep things clean - they volunteer to go out on their free time and clean up after slobs. Kudos!

I love to keep the roads and campsites clean by packing all my garbage out to a proper receptacle. I wish I could pick up all the garbage that I see but I would usually have to stop every 10 feet (no exaggeration) and haul a dozen more BOB trailers to put it all in.

There are some common and unusual things that can be found roadside. Each day I spot at least half a dozen cooler lids that blow off the tops of coolers at highway speed. I saw one fly out of the back of a pickup and land in the road while in Colorado once. There are lots of shoes too. Not pairs of shoes but individual shoes. There are also lots of licence plates too. This nation must be filled with one–shoed people driving pickup trucks with no license plates and a lidless cooler full of warm water and soda.

Virginia has a road trash problem. Kentucky has a road trash epidemic. Missouri and Illinois aren't much better. Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho are relatively clean. The population density and attitude of residents plays the biggest role in this issue, I think.

Updated 7/28/02