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!

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