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!


Amy said...

Hi Nettiemac,
Christiansburg actually has a couple of drugstores, local and chain, as well as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, K-Mart...
Blacksburg is actually a completely separate town with a few of it's own amenities.
I feel it's too bad the only things you could find about the area were complaints...nothing about Virginia Tech, the mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, New River... anything else. Maybe on your way back through you could stop and see there's more than a Food Lion and Dollar General! If you like West VA you'd definitely like it here. :)
Hope the cold gets better!

nettiemac said...

Amy .... I didn't have a chance to stop. I only had about ten minutes to spare to start. I'm sure Christiansburg/B'burg is lovely, and I would have relished the chance to spend time there. I hope to get back there sometime later this year.

My own thought is that in an area where there aren't many towns close to the Interstate, it's probably good in the areas that ARE closer to the road to have amenities near those interchanges. That's just me, though. Sometimes convenience is worth it.

Hope to make it back

Melissa said...

You HAVE to come back this way....I will show you ALL around Shenandoah - and the Blue Ridge Parkway is AWESOME!!!!!