Saturday, February 28, 2009

Country Roads, Take Me Home...

Monday, February 23: Cabins WV to Liberty SC.
Still more miles than I can count!

We awoke Monday morning to an inch of snow on the ground and some serious flurrying. It was just gorgeous!!! Amy and I sat and just looked out the cabin windows for what seemed like hours. We watched the Today show for the local weather (okay, as local as you could get -- it was coming from Hagerstown MD). We also got online to see the WVDOT and VADOT road conditions. West of us was not as bad as the news made it out the night before -- I know, surprise, right? But it was still going to be dicey for me. And as much as I wanted to try the other route, there's always the summer for that. So..... we decided my best bet was to go back WV-55 to the Interstate.

Time for check-out drew nearer, so we got the cabin ready according to the directions in the guidebook. We loaded up the vehicles and hugged and said our goodbyes. Russell & Amy headed west for their various rendezvous on the rest of their vacation, and I headed east. It flurried a little toward Petersburg.

I had planned to stop at a gift shop in Petersburg, but then I saw the one for Smoke Hole Cabins/Motel. I thought, "The heck with it, I will stop here, surely to God they have a WVU hat here!" (for my brother, who collects college caps). Oh yeah, they had plenty of them. I got him a navy one with big gold stripe and the logo and words "West Virginia Mountaineers." I got a pink WVU logo one with little rhinestone sparklies on it. Hey, I figured, "Why not?" It's cute and I can wear it for Race for the Cure this year (if nothing else!). I got my dad one with "Dolly Sods Wilderness" on it. Mom .... no, she's not the hat type, so I found a beautiful purple stone bracelet for her. Gifties purchased, on I went to Petersburg to gas up and go on.

By the time I got to Petersburg -- keep in mind, 10 miles from us -- it was sunny. No more flurrying, no grey skies, just cold wind and a Sheetz waiting for my money. A word about Sheetz: OMG. I was amazed at how nice and well-organized the stores are. But even nicer was the selection of cut fruit, cut veggies, healthy yogurt and all that .... right near the checkout! Let me tell you, I think every convenience store chain ought to have something like that. In Georgia, I stop at QT's and Flying J's because I know they have apples and bananas near the registers. But this topped that. I was majorly impressed.

Also, I'm more a fan of "truck stop coffee" than I am of coffee shop drinks. Starbucks isn't my thing, and I like just plain coffee if I go in Panera or Atlanta Bread. No lattes and cappucinos for me, primarily because they're so calorie-laden. All I want is coffee, Splenda or Equal and a little bit of creamer -- one of the International Delight mini-tubs works just fine (and only costs one point). To that point, the Sheetz coffee was very good!!!

From Petersburg, I stayed on WV-55 to Moorefield. From there, I planned to stay on 55 to I-81.... but Daddy's GPS had another plan. You know, I'm starting to wonder sometimes about GPS's. But the day was still young and I thought, "Well, why not?" So I went down WV-259 into Virginia toward Broadway, VA. And when I got on I-81, I realized I was about 40 miles south of where I thought I would come out. SWEET! It was a lovely drive, too -- a very agriculturally driven area, mostly animal farming (cattle, poultry, etc.). Very pretty, and I found another WV State Park to visit (Lost River State Park).

I came out on I-81 just north of Harrisonburg ..... which when I originally planned my trip, was where I thought I would exit to get on US-33. That was when Melissa warned me that US-33 could be somewhat tricky and to look for an alternate route. Alternate routes... story of my weekend! Anyway, I got to see James Madison University -- right there next to the I. WOW! I continued down I-81, just in pure awe of how beautiful it was. If I ever moved to Virginia, any place along I-81 is fine by me. It is just so pretty. I thought of several places I wanted to pull over and just take pictures of the rolling hills and valleys .... wondering how quickly I could cross the two lanes of I-81S to get to the big hill in the median and take pictures on what was my left. Instead, I put the camera to the driver's window and took some shots. They're not the greatest shots, and don't do justice to how gorgeous it truly is there.

One of my favorite mind-wanderings is "If I won the lottery......" well, I always know my answer. I'd build a home right here near my hometown. This is home, and my heart is always here. I'd get a home at the beach -- probably Edisto these days. And I would SO have a home somewhere in West Virginia or else somewhere along I-81 between Harrisonburg and Christiansburg-Blacksburg (closer to a town, mind you; I am a townie at heart). In a heartbeat. And considering I had family that originally lived in that area before moving to Carolina.... it feels a little like home anyway. Passing through Botetourt County (where my Gillespie ancestors lived before moving to NC), I couldn't help but smile. And as beautiful as Transylvania County is, I thought, "How could you leave THIS?" I stopped for lunch near Troutville, and continued on my way home.

I spoke to Daddy as I passed around Roanoke, and we realized one pretty important fact that I'd overlooked in my stops and starts..... at this pace, I'd be hitting Charlotte traffic right around 5:30 or 6:00. Hey, I listen to Primetime with the Packman each day. I hear the Wilburn Auto Body Traffic Report, as well as the actual traffic on the 'Net broadcast straight from Charlotte (not just the local drops). Let me tell you, I had no intention of getting caught in that web. I got to just north of Statesville and was barely able to pick them up -- but I caught a traffic report that mentioned a tangled mess around Gastonia -- in my direction. Oh no. Daddy's suggestion suddenly looked better and better: Take I-40 West in Statesville toward Asheville, get on US-221S at Marion, and end up in Spartanburg. The GPS once again thought I'd messed up and suggested I turn around. After about 2 miles it dawned on the machine, "Oh, she WANTS to go this way!" It then suggested I take US-321S..... right into Gastonia. No, I had no intention of getting anywhere near Gastonia. It took it ten miles to figure out that I had every plan to stay on I-40.

The further west I got, the more I toyed with the idea of driving on to Asheville instead and taking US-25S to Travelers Rest (my usual route home from Asheville). But I was getting tired and cranky. Asheville was really only another 30 miles or so west, but part of the rationale behind me taking US-221 was so that I wouldn't have to drive down the mountain at night. And besides, I just wanted to get back home as soon as possible.

I came down US-221. It had been a few years since I'd gone down the road, but it was a pretty smooth trip. I finally crossed over into South Carolina at Chesnee, and stopped at a Hot Spot for "drinks and drainage." I needed some coffee, badly, at that point -- not just for the caffeine, but for the warmth. Did I mention earlier that the heater in my car has stopped working? Yeah, it was starting to get cold and I just wanted to get home. It took about another 10 miles but I got to I-85, and ..... well, color me happy. I could finally travel again at a decent rate of speed!! Leadfoot Rides Again!

At that point, everything was familiar again and the rest of the trip home seemed to pass by fairly quickly. It was actually about 45 minutes, but it didn't seem to be so long. I finally got home around 8:20 PM, and I got a very warm reception from my sweet boy and my brother. I got everything out of the car, and started some dinner (I was hungry!). I was so glad to be home and happy.


West Virginia really is almost heaven. It is just gorgeous and I understand now why everyone I know who visits raves about it. I'm one of their ranks now!

I read a great article this week in Newsweek online about Governor Manchin's plan to try to rid WV of the toothless inbred hillbilly image. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but everyone I met in West Virginia was nothing short of genuine and generous. The campus minister at my parish and I were talking about West Virginia -- his old parish in New Jersey does summer ministry in WV, helping to rebuild and renovate houses, and so forth. He noted that it was extremely ironic that there's such natural beauty in the state, and people so warm and kind hearted and real .... and such poverty. And he's right -- I don't know if the poverty is due to the isolation by nature .... after all, it's hard to get to a lot of places because of the rugged terrain and winding roads. I would love to see more industry in some of those areas, especially high-tech stuff which wouldn't destroy the natural beauty. But then you'd lose some of the charm that just seems to come naturally.

I admit that I am spoiled. I can't sling a dead cat without hitting bookoos of varied retail establishments and I'm so spoiled by that. Stocking up on things is as simple as running to the local grocery store -- one that for my small hometown (~4200 people) is surprisingly large and well-stocked at almost all times. To go to a Wal-Mart is five minutes one way, about ten another. At my job, I am within 3 miles of a monster retail area -- more stores and restaurants and whatever than you could believe.

But I don't feel such a sense of community in my hometown anymore. I saw real community in WV. In so many of those small towns, even in Elkins (twice the size of Liberty), there seemed to be a real sense of people knowing each other, supporting each other. Maybe their lack of easy access to resources makes them more creative, better bonded. I wish there were a way to have the best of both worlds.

And it's amazing how in just 72 hours or so, West Virginia stole my heart. I will be back. It's too pretty not to visit time and time again!

A quiet day in....

Sunday, February 22; Day 3 Travelogue
Nowhere but Petersburg -- 20 miles RT

This morning, I awoke much later than yesterday -- almost a quarter to nine. I rarely get the opportunity to sleep so late. Others were up and stirring before I was, but that was fine by me. I started on the Saturday travelogue and had some breakfast. No coffee this morning for me, which is a bit unusual.

The morning brought partly cloudy skies and occasional flurries. I just sat and marveled at it for a while. Snow is so rare, even in the mountains of SC, and it's been a fairly normal winter for us -- probably on the warmer end of normal. Except for a couple of really chilly weeks, we've had average to slightly-above-average temperatures. What precipitation we have had (and for which we are grateful!) has been liquid. But we've had nothing even smacking of a real chance at snow this year. In fact, the last good snowfall we got was the March Blizzard of 1993 (on my brother's 18th birthday, no less).

So to watch snow falling and flurrying around has been a treat. As you all are well aware, I love the beach almost as much as life itself. There has always been something about being at the ocean that balms my mind and soul. But this place is also in the running.

When I got out of the shower, Melissa had gone on the Top of the Rocks hiking trail. I'd gone up the first 5 feet or so yesterday, but it was fairly steep in that section, and I didn't get very far up the trail without hiking or all-terrain shoes. Melissa read some information in our cabin guidebook that said the terrain leveled off and it was around 20 minutes to the top. When she returned, she talked Russell into hiking it and she would go again -- we stayed behind and watched them when they got to the top. Before they left, Susan had gotten a smooth small stone, and we all wrote our names or initials in marker on the stone. They took it with them to the top and put it there as a monument to our weekend. They returned within the hour, and according to both of them, the West Virginia mountain/highland definition of "level off" must be very different from the definition used by us lowlanders. Apparently "level off" means "slightly less steep incline."

I really would have enjoyed hiking it myself, in better weather and if I weren't so wiped out from the upper respiratory thing I've been battling all week. But there's always next time, and I will be up for the challenge -- and in the meantime, I will manually adjust the incline on the treadmill to mimic the WV "level off"!

After their return, preparations for the Great Fondue Fest began in earnest. Yesterday in Helvetia, Susan bought a cookbook that had been published by one of the civic organizations (the garden club, maybe?). There was a really good cheese fondue recipe in there, so we used that. The guys decided that the fondue fest was a little more frou-frou than they liked, so they went into Petersburg for some manly fare...... and we girls were more than happy to let them have their man-food. More fondue for us!!!! Russell & Mike left and we began on the cheese fondue with bread cubes and cut veggies. Oh. My. Was it good!!! Very tasty, and I will have to ask Susan for the recipe to use myself. I have a little mini crockpot that it would work well in.

Then Amy made the chocolate fondue and we used cubed angel food cake, marshmallows, strawberries and bananas for that. Oh dear, it was divine too. It was my big indulgence meal of the weekend, and I totally enjoyed every bite! YUM!!!!!!!!

After Mike and Russell returned, the DC gang had to leave us -- they all had work on Monday :( and needed to get back. We said our goodbyes and wished them a safe and easy return home. After they got on the road, we decided to go out to Dolly Sods to see what we might see. The turnoff to the Dolly Sods Wilderness was only about a quarter-mile from the cabins, and it wasn't much further off that to the Forest Road 19. About a quarter-mile in on that road, we found the signs that said "NO SNOW REMOVAL BEYOND THIS POINT" and the sign lettered by hardware-store lettering: "IMPASSABLE IN WINTER."

I should also mention that according to Rupert's temperature gauge, the exterior temperature at the cabin read 31F. When we got to the Forest Road signage, it was 28F. So on we drove just to see what we could and how far we could go. Nothing but uphill and hairpin turns, and we probably drove on for about a mile at most. As we drove on and up, the temperature dropped to a lovely 23F. Yep, an 8-degree drop in just that short time and distance. We decided (wisely, I think) that the ever-whitening road in front of us meant that we maybe oughta turn around and SOON.

Once we got back to the cabin, we sat and relaxed for a while, then decided to go into Petersburg for some dinner. Russell brought along a rather interesting CD -- it was an elderly gentleman who was doing a medley of every song he knew (whether he knew the lyrics or not) and singing it at top speed. Right as we pulled into the parking lot for the Chinese restaurant in Petersburg, the old man on CD was singing "Jingle Bells" ...... I broke out in a howl of laughter. I explained by singing "Jingle Bells" the way the waiters did in "A Christmas Story" (yes, the fa-ra-ra-ra-ra scene). We all realized the hilarious irony..... and went in for our food. Much to Russell's great disappointment, they were all out of cashews for cashew chicken. So he drove off to get something else while Amy and I waited for our orders. We came back to the cabin afterwards for a late dinner, and the TV newsflash that western Grant County was in a winter storm warning!!! WHAT???????

Yep. Russell did a little further research at the NWS site and we were not in the warning zone -- it was on the further western slopes of the county, but not all that far from us, either. They were going to be heading west in the morning, but given the weather conditions, I might have to change my mind about traveling west (and going home down I-79 to I-64 to I-77 and home). We would see how things developed in the morning, but my backup plan -- to return home via WV-55 out to I-81) might end up being the route out.

Amy went on to sleep after the 11:00 news, and I flipped it over to the end of the Oscars, in time to see Sean Penn win and "Slumdog Millionaire." You know, really...... I don't go to the movies. Why should I spend $7 to watch a movie in a darkened theater where I have to worry about missing something if I have to leave to pee; where I have to wonder if the people behind me or in front of me are EVER going to shut up and let the rest of us actually SEE the movie; and what if I get sick (yes, I have gotten motion-sick in a theater .... a few times, actually)? I'd rather wait until DVD or PPV, watch it in the comfort of my home, pause it if I need to pee or have a popcorn urge, and I can stop it and come back later if need be! And it's way cheaper!

Before going to bed, I started putting away everything but the essentials for the next morning. All too soon, this wonderful getaway would become just a happy memory..... BIG sigh. More to come........

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Deep in the wilds....

Saturday, February 21: Day 2 Travelogue
Cabins WV to Helvetia WV & back; around 140 miles (RT)

After going to bed around 1:15 or so, I awoke at 7:15 AM. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person. But if I see light, then that is it. Gone. I must get up or risk going back to sleep for another 3 hours -- today, that was not really an option.

So I awoke and began writing the Day 1 travelogue. It was a lovely, quiet, still morning, and I intended to keep the peace. Susan awoke about 30 minutes later and decided to go for a walk. She came back with some great pictures, so I knew a morning walk would eventually make its way into my day.

Eventually we all arose, had coffee and some level of breakfast, and began getting ready for the day. I went on a quick walk after my shower .... and worked up a sweat. Great, right? I got some great photos of the cabins and surrounding scenery. This place is tremendously beautiful and peaceful, and the vistas and views are amazing. Between the river and the mountains, it's hard to know where to start with the "best" features. By far, I think the biggest selling point is the quiet majesty of the area. It's so amazingly serene here!

Around 11:30 we headed out for Helvetia. During last night's trek to Harman (and back from Harman), I missed a lot because (a) it was way too dark to see any scenery and (b) I was too busy concentrating on the road. Today, as a passenger, I was amazed. There was some heavy snow in the area between Seneca Rocks (air guitar WAAAAAH!) and Harman -- OMG beautiful. I also discovered there were a few other things in Harman besides just the DOT shed ... just not a whole lot. We traveled on to Elkins for lunch.

Lunch was at Bob Evans, and it was pretty good. Near meal's end, I excused myself and found the cutest sign at the restroom sink: "WASH UP AND SING." It's a reminder to take enough time when washing your hands to assure that you're as hygienic as possible. They suggest a verse of "Old McDonald" ... so I both oinked and mooed (2 verses) just to make sure. I came out to find five worried faces. I had forgotten that the last time Susan and Mike and I were together, it was in Savannah at Johnny Harris .... I had excused myself to the restroom and never came out because I was so sick. Today, I sheepishly explained that I had really gotten into the singing at the sink.....

We continued on to Helvetia. The roads were tiny but the scenery was gorgeous. At Mill Creek, we turned onto the County Road to turn to Helvetia. On that road, there were 3 facilities associated with coal mining, and one Marathon convenience store that is the only place to purchase anything between Helvetia and Mill Creek. We stopped in for some quick drinks and on the road we continued.

We got to Helvetia and parked the cars at the Cheese Haus. Unfortunately for us, both the Cheese Haus and the Healing Honey Shop were closed. We walked over to Blue House Gifts, where I bought a very beautiful, hand-knit wool scarf. The owner was incredibly friendly, warm and generous; a delightful person with whom to chat! From there, we went to the library/museum area ... also both closed. We went to the Star Band Hall, where for a nominal cover charge, you could come on in, have a beer & brat (or brat & lemonade for the non-drinkers), and hear musicians at the open mic. Nice, but we were waiting for the buffet later at The Hutte restaurant. We went into the small general store next.

This little general store reminded me so much of the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis NC -- only on a far smaller scale. MGS in Valle Crucis is the provisioner for the Valle Crucis residents and the smaller towns to the west, but still.... they're a little closer to larger retail centers (such as Boone) than Helvetia is to their nearest town. A trip to Boone or even over to TN for a Wally run isn't a whole day's adventure. Anyway, this store reminded me a lot of MGS in how they provide for the area. Honestly, I was amazed by the prices -- $1.40 for a box of Kleenex? You betcha!

After the store, it was still 20 minutes until the restaurant opened, so we just waited outside, watching the early Fasnacht activities. Fasnacht is the pre-Lenten revelry of the Swiss-German area that the Helvetian ancestors came from. It is very different from the revelry of the Gulf Coast Mardi Gras parties, or of Brazil's Carnivale. They all have masks and parades, but in Fasnacht in Helvetia, they have a huge bonfire and burn Ol' Man Winter (instead of throwing beads, dressing provocatively or flashing strangers!). Well, I can promise you, Ol' Man Winter did not die in the Saturday bonfire. The flurries on Sunday morning told me a different tale!

At 5:00 PM sharp, the door opened to the restaurant. Unfortunately, no one told us we needed reservations (and in none of the Fasnacht stuff did we ever see anything about reservations!). Still, the hostess agreed to seat us if we could eat in one hour. Well, yeah! A few minutes later, in came a couple who drove over from Buckhannon -- and who also didn't have reservations! The eight of us had a very delightful conversation for the hour -- lovely people!

Speaking of food, oh my stars, what a feast! Hutte chicken, home sausage, carrots, parsley potatoes, green beans, sauerkraut (which I could have just taken the crock back with me!), homemade applesauce (OH yum!), onion pie (similar to a quiche), tossed salad, Helvetia cheese (from the Cheese Haus), pickles, pickled beets, and so much more. Dessert was a peach cobbler that was more like a cake. I couldn't eat any of it -- Melissa and Susan split a piece and said it was good. I, on the other hand, was full as a tick.

On the way out, we stopped again at the Marathon store for drinks and drainage. The owners had a black Lab/Newfie mix named Bear, who was the most loving, affectionate creature ever. He was as jet black as Maddox is oatmeal/white, and they are kindred souls as far as being affectionate. Russell and I were both ready to smuggle Bear back with us and then later fight over who got to keep him. Bear was a precious, sweet dog who made me miss my own Sweet-Boy all the more.

And with that, a brief word on dogs: pets aren't allowed at the cottages, and I am sure that it is due to too many irresponsible pet owners. You know the kind: they refuse to control their animals through proper training, discipline and affection. They are the ones who want a dog and yet won't take the time to exercise him or even play with him indoors. They're the ones who turn their dogs loose and let them poop in everyone else's yards and refuse to clean it up. I try my hardest to be a more responsible pet owner. The sad thing is that Maddox would SO love these cabins and this area -- I hardly know where to start with what he'd enjoy. And sadly, he isn't allowed to be there.

After leaving Marathon and Bear (awwww....) we headed back to Elkins for a fill-up and a stop by Kroger for items for Sunday's Fondue Fest. By this time, it was dark, so no more scenery to see until the dawn. Back to the cabin for the evening's fun. We chatted a little, but it had been a long, fun-filled day for everyone. We instead watched a little Robot Chicken and traded off all our pictures with each other from the day's adventures.

What will Sunday bring? Stay tuned to most of these CBS stations........

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Heading to "Almost Heaven"....

Friday, February 20: Day 1 Travelogue
Liberty SC to Cabins WV; more miles than expected!

I left Liberty around 7:50 AM, as I had to stop by work for an unspecified amount of time. I had Mapquested everything (more on that in just a moment) and Dad -- my wonderful, kindhearted, generous Dad -- allowed me to use his GPS. His almost-brand-new one that hadn't yet been used on a road trip. What a road trip to break it in on! The boss had me do some things at work for about 30 minutes, and then, I was free to go!

I stopped along the way to get a new tote bag; the one I'd lovingly packed and planned to use..... well, the zipper died a rather unkind death. But I found a really good one that I can use as a duffel for workouts or what have you. It works much better! SO.... with that in hand, newly-full gas tank, and GPS plugged in and at the ready, I got onto the Interstate. A mere 10 miles up the road, I realized that I was going to need some coffee post-haste, as well as water for the road. So a quick pulloff for that, and then back on the road at last.

Remember when I said I had the GPS at the ready? Well I forgot to actually put in my destination.... DUH! So I hurriedly did so. Mistake #1: typing in the wrong destination. Our reservations were for Harman's North Fork Cottages in Cabins WV; in my stress-addled state of late, I typed in Harman WV. Worse, that is what I had Mapquested as well the night before. Amazingly, the GPS and the Mapquest agreed on the best route, except for a little minor detail near the end, but no biggie, right?

Mistake #2: pooh-poohing the estimated time given on the GPS. I always marvel when Mapquest says "travel distance: 37 miles. Estimated Travel Time: 50 minutes." They obviously are not aware that I have a leadfoot, and truly nothing on the interstate takes that long. No way. Ain't happening. This time, the GPS and Mapquest were both pretty darn close, and would have been spot on had I not made mistake #1.

Anyway, the trip over to Charlotte was uneventful, as expected. From I-85, I took the 485 connector over to I-77 north -- not what the GPS mapped out, but I knew it well enough to be comfortable with the change. On I-77 leaving Charlotte, you will get to the Lake Norman area. As I crossed Lake Norman, I was stricken by this thought: rain's been rather scarce in my neck of the woods, but Lake Norman is surprisingly full. It almost looks overflowing. Por que? Has Charlotte really gotten that much more rain, a mere 2 hours northeast of us? I'm thinking there's a story there, and I for one am very interested in the whys and wherefores of their lusciously bountiful lake and our extremely sad looking ones. Lake Norman needs to share its secrets and soon.

As I traveled further up I-77, I noticed the connector for I-74E to Winston-Salem, and part of I-74 West with I-77 North. Any signage for I-74 promptly stopped at the state line. The whole I-73 and I-74 story is something else I want to look into. I know that I-73 is supposed to be part of a Detroit-to-Myrtle Beach corridor. Quite frankly, I wasn't aware that Michiganders were clamoring for an easier snowbird route to the northernmost point of the Redneck Riviera. But hey, I'm all for infrastructure jobs -- and would especially appreciate any that extend I-20 to Myrtle Beach as well.

I was also amazed to learn that this particular section of North Carolina is winery country. Now, when I pulled over for a pit stop during this part of the trip, I was amazed at how chilly it was. This is the Piedmont plain just east of the "Northern Mountains" (Boone, Blowing Rock, etc.). And while they're not the highest elevations in NC, it is ski country. I don't know that much about grape growing, but it seemed almost too cool a climate for grapes. Again, what do I know? Yet another thing to look into........

Oh yeah, one minor aside. I have long enjoyed 95.7 The Ride out of Hickory and Charlotte NC. When I crank my car at home in Liberty, I can just faintly pick them up. Heading east each morning, I could pick up a better signal. A couple of years ago, a church in Spartanburg started broadcasting "Hangar Z: Positive Alternative" (yeah, I'm calling their station out by name!) and co-opted the 95.7 signal for the Greer/Greenville area. I have yet to forgive them, and I am being dead serious. I lose a great radio station every single day because someone had the bright idea that kids need Christian rap and metal. It is the flippin' crappiest excuse for music I have ever heard, and I'd feel that way regardless of content. If they were really smart, they'd have done "Hangar Z" as podcasts; let's face it, not a lot of truly savvy kids are into radio anymore. Imagine how upset I was to know that here I was -- some 90 miles north of Charlotte, some 80 miles NE (as the crow flies) from Hickory, and crossing into Virginia -- and still picking up The Ride, and unable to do so at my own home.

Okay, back to the Travelogue: As I was on I-77 N, suddenly, there was this large looming mountain in front of me. It was just gorgeous against the blue afternoon sky. There is no other way to describe it. I continued on I-77, and after a quick lunch stop, got on I-81 north toward Roanoke. I-81 is an even more beautiful drive. I fell in love instantly and more deeply the more I drove. When I was a kid, we took a trip to Charlottesville VA. We took I-85, then picked up US 29 somewhere around Greensboro, driving into Danville VA and then on to Lynchburg. We spent the next few days around that general area between Lynchburg and Charlottesville. We came back via the Blue Ridge Parkway.... it was the closest I'd been before to the Shenandoah area. Were it not going to be the freezing depths of cold this weekend, I would consider coming back via the Blue Ridge Parkway, but maybe another time.

I pulled off at Christiansburg/Blacksburg for gas and to look for a drugstore. I'd been battling an upper respiratory infection all week, and I was out of Kleenex and my nose was rubbed raw. And I was almost out of cough drops. Once I was in Christiansburg, I gassed up, and drove in search of the pharmacy. I was utterly amazed by the 2 Dollar Generals, the Family Dollar, the Food Lion, and the complete lack of a CVS, Walgreen's, Rite Aid, Kerr Drug, Osco, or any other major chain pharmacy. I didn't even see a local pharmacy. Nothing at all. Tired and cranky, I sallied forth, thinking I'd stop in Elkins WV (along my route) .... surely they would have a Wally, if nothing else.

Now, remember Mistake #1? Yeah, that little bugaboo. Well, that little thing instructed me (both by MapQuest and GPS) to get off I-81 at Staunton for US-250 over into West Virginia. No biggie. I'm an adventurous girl. MQ suggested US-250 to US-219 to Elkins and then come into Harman via US-33 from the west. I dutifully followed instructions and took the roads. O.M.G. More twist and turns than a cheap curly straw, hairpin turns like mad, butt-cold temperatures as you ascended the mountains and few signs of anything resembling towns as I know them. They are lovely little mountain villages; please do not misunderstand at all. But trust me when I saw that these folks along Route 250 are the ones you likely see at Wal-Mart with 4 or 5 shopping carts full of every possible provision and you think, "Are they stockpiling for Armageddon?" No, I assure you, it's probably a once-monthly trip to stock up on essentials because it's an all-day affair just to get there and back around the mountain. I remember that they have to do the same in Colorado for the people who man Pike's Peak. Anyway, it made me glad that I had stopped for gas when I did. Around 6:00 PM, with dark quickly approaching, I made it to Monterey, Virginia -- about 7 miles from the border.

Oh yeah, one slight detour. There was an overlook where I had to stop for a pitstop and picture. It was labeled "Confederate Breastworks, 1862" right at the border of Augusta County and Highland County, VA. I knew my brother's inner-12-year-old-boy would appreciate it (and quite frankly, my own inner Beavis & Butthead snickered too). I was far more appreciative in that moment for the restroom. I went in and ..... well, basically, it was a portajohn style, with a VERY deep hole. I thought, "Good God, I am peeing straight into the mountain." Yeah, I probably was going into a deep holding tank buried somewhere in the mountain. Due to the extremely bitter wind at the overlook, I didn't stay longer than I had to. (Note: I have since researched and I want to go back; they say the view from the overlook shows a huge part of the Shenandoah. Dang, I hate I missed it!)

Okay, on to Monterey. I had planned to stop in Elkins for a few provisions, but I was getting a little tired by this point. So I stopped at the Dollar General in Monterey -- the lone store (besides a convenience store). I found cough drops, milk, Vicks rub, and a few other things I needed. The only thing I didn't find was a thicker scarf (I had a thin one but it wasn't keeping the cold at bay on stops). I found coffee and a MegaMillions ticket at the convenience store, and back into the car.

Remember my planned route to Harman? Well, the GPS and MQ differed here, and the GPS was directing me onto US-220 North. DO WHAT? It's getting dark, the GPS is throwing me for a loop, but you know, what the hell, you only live once. So I headed north onto 220, then....... once I crossed the state line into WV, the GPS directed me to turn left onto County Road 17: Snowy Mountain Road. I shrugged and turned down this road. I was immediately creeped out and every horror slasher killer flick I'd ever seen came to mind. Halfway down the road, I began to seriously reconsider my options. I programmed in how it would be if I turned around and took US-250: an extra hour. No. Not an option. So I just decided to take my chances on this little road, and prayed that no one wondered what I was doing there and take a shot at me. That's not intended as a slam on the fine citizens of West Virginia; but this is a road you take if you know where you are, not one you just casually choose.

So at the end of this road, I was instructed to turn right onto WV 28. My cell rang -- WAHOO! It was voicemail from Daddy and a missed call from my friends (probably already at the cabin, dammit!) I tried calling Daddy and ...... I tried again, and ......... dead silence. I looked at the screen: "No Service." Yep. I was in a dead zone! I drove on to find a little meat-and-three in the middle of nowhere (okay, the nearest town was Riverton), and I was starving. I got a to-go order, and noticed that the local high school was doing a fundraiser. My high school was the smallest school in the county, and fundraising was just a way of life for nearly every team or activity. So when the waitress brought my order, I gave her a $5 for the kids. I know it wasn't much, but I wanted to do something. And on to Harman I went....

At the split at Seneca Rocks (insert air guitar WAAAAAAAAAH here and a "devil sign" with your hands couldn't hurt either), I took US-33 W/WV-55 over to Harman. More mountains and lots of climbing, and a very sanded-down road. This wasn't just snow but some packy ice in places. They don't plow the roads, just sand/dirt them. I guess they get so much snow that it's futile to plow so often..... I mean, it does make sense. Anyhow, I crested the top of Allegheny Mountain to the sign pointing out the Eastern Continental Divide -- which is something I am used to seeing in North Carolina not all that far from home. Amazing. It meant I was pretty much due north of home, but had to go around Robin Hood's barn to get here. I made it to Harman eventually -- and no sign of the cabins.

The only -- and I do mean only -- thing in Harman, besides the WV-32 split to the Canaan Valley ski areas, is the WVDOT shed. The gentlemen in there helped me tremendously, by letting me know I was definitely in the wrong place. One of them said, "Are you maybe looking for Cabins, WV instead?" DING DING!!! Something in the brain said, "Oh crap; that was it." Guess what? I was going to have to turn around and go back the exact way I came in, back over Allegheny Mountain and to turn left at Seneca Rocks (air guitar: WAAAAH!). When I informed them that I had just come that way..... well, I can't decide if their look at me was one of admiration, shock or, "Is this girl that crazy?" Yep. To every last one of those.

Anyway, I drove back over the mountain -- massively steep grade. 10% in quite a number of places. I'm so glad I have good brakes. But I got to Seneca Rocks (air guitar: WAAAAH!) and made the turn. WV-28/Wv-55 was the exact opposite of the other. Not only not as icy/snowy, but hardly what you'd call treacherous. I found the cabins right on the road at a little place just south of Cabins called "Hopeville" -- I MADE IT!!!! 11 hours later, but I MADE IT!

Stay tuned for additional adventures from Wild, Wonderful West Virginia!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Home, happy and warm.....

I rolled in about an hour ago from my West Virginia mini-vacation. I have 3 days' worth of a travelogue and will post it as soon as I get a chance. Plus I have to write Day 4's adventure as well!

More to come, I promise!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Okay, brain melt complete!

This week at work, I've been listening to That 70s Channel (KOOL, HD2; good stuff, by the way) and enjoying it. The other day, I heard one of my old favorites: "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)" -- great tune!

While walking Maddox tonight, I had that song running through my head. No complaints, midn you. But then, I suddenly realized that I had taken that tune and put whole different lyrics with it -- I was singing Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" to that tune!

YOW! Worlds colliding!!!! Scarily enough, it actually seemed to work fairly well.


Friday, February 06, 2009

In the Red.....

As most of my friends and faithful readers know, I'm all about pink and breast cancer awareness. But today is Go Red For Women Day, to help women recognize that the leading killer of women is heart disease. I am proud to wear a red sweater in solidarity with women who are battling heart disease, have come back from it, and all those we've lost to it.

Think about it, though: Heart disease: #1 killer in the US, and certainly #1 in South Carolina. #1 with a very deadly bullet. And overall, heart disease has been the number one killer of Americans for a century -- every year running since 1918, and tops since 1900. Heart disease: #1 ..... and preventable.

That statistic gives me chills, especially given my own families' history with heart disease. History isn't a strong enough word -- we're practically the Ginger Rogers to its Fred Astaire. I lost every single grandparent to some type of cardiovascular disease: my mother's parents to heart attacks, my dad's to strokes. The #1 and #3 killers, nationwide, and so very closely linked. My maternal grandmother's family is a cardiologist's dream or nightmare (I'm not sure which). A family reunion is more of a medical convention -- litanies of whose triglycerides have worsened or improved the most, discussions on the latest in cardiac management. Crazy, right? In my own family, my mother is hypertensive and has been for almost as long as I can remember. She is adamant about staying on top of this disease. She doesn't miss a daily dose of her BP meds; matter of fact, she gets incredibly dizzy and weak if she does. My brother is also hypertensive, but a little less regular about his meds. My father, thanks be, shows no signs of any of it so far. But since both his parents had strokes, I live in dread fear of it happening to him.

With this sort of family history, and given my contrary nature, one would think then that I would spend much of my adult life doing everything I could to NOT be one of the statistics. Right. I kept happily and heartily digging my eventual grave with a fork and spoon. The closest I came to even worrying about my heart was the night I was having a gallbladder attack. I had had similar symptoms a couple of weeks earlier, but was able to alleviate the muscle pain fairly easily. This night, it was about 1:30 AM, and I felt the pain shoot all the way up to my shoulders. I lay in my bed in horrific pain and my first thought was, "I am going to die here because I am too embarrassed to call for help. I am going to die here of a .... what is this?" Then the next thought was "OMG, is this a heart attack?" The only way I knew it wasn't was because the pain was far more concentrated in my abdomen, and tests a couple of weeks later confirmed a humongo gallstone. But once I knew what it was, I didn't give any additional thought to my heart.

I knew my extra poundage could not be healthy for my heart, but denial ain't just a river in Egypt. If I thought the whole scenario through to its logical conclusion, I would scare myself to death. Easier to be an ostrich and pretend it just doesn't exist. But you can't live like that at all. Eventually I would have to do SOMETHING. You would think gallbladder surgery would have been the impetus. Not at all. It took a very minor problem -- really, more of a fly in the ointment of my life -- to get it going. That and a doctor's kind words and confidence in me. I don't know what it was that made me pull my head out of the sand either, but I did.

I would be colossally naive to think that 36-plus years of abuse did no damage to my heart. Please, I'm an optimist, but that's wandering into the Land of Pure Stupidity. I can hope that nearly 3 years of an improved lifestyle have done something to reverse whatever damage I have caused. Dr. Ornish's studies show that change can occur. I hope that I have put my heart back on a healthy track so that I don't have a coronary issue someday. But I still need to educate myself ..... just in case.

And so here I am, on Go Red For Women Day .... learning what I can do to prevent heart disease from getting more of a foothold. And I encourage you to do the same. Ladies and gents, we have to stop this disease in its tracks as much as possible. And I'm willing to bet that if we stop #1, then we can also shorten the effects of #2 (cancers) and #3 (strokes).... also all preventable by the same methods. Imagine that. And we have to stop it in ourselves, or our kids might not live long enough to stop it.