Back Roads and Highways

It was quite foggy in the morning. I wanted to let Lister roam a bit and get some work done anyway, but it was just safer to let the fog burn off before going very far. After Google sent me to the wrong place (I turned around before I got stuck in terrain I couldn’t handle), I went to a boat ramp by a river to hang out and enjoy the scenery.

The juxtaposition of the beautiful Instagram shot of the fog over the river versus my van parked under a bridge behind the scenes amuses me. Perception versus reality. I got some work done, the fog slowly dissipated, and the sun came out. Now was a good time to hit the road.

I decided to take Google’s suggested “fuel efficient” route that would take me through the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests. A scenic back road drive sounded like fun, and much better than that hustle and bustle of the interstate. Indeed, that’s how the drive began, winding alongside a small river with little traffic and frequent pull-offs. I took advantage of one to let a Honda Goldwing pass that had caught up to me, and got a friendly horn toot in return.

Things got, shall we say, interesting after I left the Jefferson National Forest. I looked at Google Maps wrong, and it decided to completely forget the route I was on. I had no cell signal, so I couldn’t get it back. There was nowhere to pull over to set up my Garmin, so I had no choice but to keep driving. Eventually I did get the Garmin going, but it refused to find any GPS satellites, so it couldn’t get my route, either, even after I drove out of the trees and into clear sky. I must’ve driven at least 20 miles with no navigation whatsoever, because there was absolutely nowhere to stop and try to troubleshoot it.

Even worse, the road was wide enough for maybe one and three-quarters cars. This became a problem when an oncoming car would occasionally go by. We’d each have to drop our right wheels off the side of the road to get by. One time a pickup truck towing a trailer came by. Our trailer wheels missed by inches. While the scenery was beautiful, the stress of not knowing where I was going outweighed it.

Finally, I pulled into a small town gas station — the only place I could actually stop moving without blocking the entire road — and got my Garmin sorted out with a hard reboot. It picked up satellites and got me a route back to the highway, which at this point was all I wanted to see. Slowly, the road got better, and eventually wide enough for two cars to pass without off-reading. I pulled into the town of Covington, and stopped at another boat ramp. It was after lunchtime by now because there’d been nowhere to stop for the past hour and a half, so I had some lunch and took Lister for a walk. This brought down my stress level quite a bit. With scenery like this, how could it not?

I soon hopped on Interstate 64, which led me to I-81, the road I’m pretty much running alongside for my trip northeast. Parts of this drive were quiet. Other times, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic at 65 mph or less, mainly because trucks would try to pass each other, then not maintain speed, holding everyone up and causing a big jam of impatient people behind them. It was the first time I’ve had to turn off cruise control on the highway because there was too much traffic, and speeds were too erratic. Welcome to the northeast, I guess.

Despite that, as I approached Harrisonburg where I’d planned to stop for the night, I was feeling pretty good, like I could drive a bit farther. The following day’s plan was a four-hour drive, so I decided to keep going to Cracker Barrel in Front Royal, another hour up the road, to cut down the following day’s drive. I’d reserved a Harvest Host stay for that night, so that’s a fixed point in time.

It was a quiet night at Cracker Barrel after a nice dinner inside. It occurred to me that Front Royal is the north end of Skyline Drive, which, in turn, leads to the north end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If my previous Blue Ridge Parkway trip had gone according to plan — without a nasty breakup in the middle of it — we probably would’ve continued onto Skyline Drive, and ended up here, precisely here, at the end of it. I’m nearly two years late. I’ve made a bit of a side trip out west for more than a year. I didn’t come up Skyline Drive to get here. And I’m in a completely different rig than I was then. But I’ve ended up here anyway. There’s no deep inner meaning here. It just amuses me.

Last night’s sunset was weird. I could look straight at the sun because it was filtered so much it wasn’t too bright. It wasn’t clouds blocking it, either. Friends tell me that this is smoke from wildfires in Alberta, Canada. Wildfire season is off to an early start. I watch them closely when I’m out west so I don’t get caught in one or in the smoke of one, but I haven’t kept up with them back east because they’re not as common. Fortunately, the air quality was still moderate, and it didn’t trigger my asthma.

What a wacky adventure today was. It was like driving first on go-kart track, then the Talladega 500. My van isn’t exactly made for either of these conditions. But it handled it well enough, and all is well. I need to find roads that are in between the two that I drove today, open enough for my van and trailer to fit, but quieter than NASCAR race of the interstate. I think I have such a route figured out for tomorrow.

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