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Road Trip: Virginia

There's nothing like a long-haul trip to take your mind off the hustle, bustle, and overall disgust with the world at-large. Thus was why I found myself on a 650-mile drive last weekend that took me through Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and western Virginia.

Here are a few of my more notable observations from the road:

* The Appalachian Mountains may be kindergarten stuff by, say, Rocky Mountain standards, but when you live in Chicago and the only thing you've got to compare is Waste Management's CID landfill along the Bishop Ford in Calumet City, they're pretty fucking impressive.

They also remind me that the first thing I always notice on trips South and East like this is the mind-numbing, monotonous table flatness of Indiana - and that once you leave, you immediately know you're somewhere else, by golly. Why Kentucky and Ohio even bothered to waste money on "Welcome to" signs is beyond me, because the exact second you cross the Hoosier state line, you're immediately greeted by glaring unflatness.

In fact, I'm amazed that this country managed to be settled west of Indiana at all, what with all those pioneer families tragically drowning in their Conestoga wagons when Pa fell asleep out of boredom at the reins and drove into a big river.

* Looks we took that crying Indian from the 1970s pollution awareness commercial seriously after all, since I'm happy to report that our nation's highways - well, Interstates 65, 64, 77, and 81 anyway - are remarkably trash-free. They're remarkably roadkill-free too. The only corpses on hand in varying states of decay were a dog of some sort, a pheasant, and someone's rather large, ugly sofa with a nasty case of asphalt-ballet road rash.

This surprisingly low corpse count, however, does not take into account my car grille's contribution to the extinction of approximately 2,953 butterflies that apparently hadn't had it ingrained in their genetic code yet that federal highways are piss-poor travel routes.

* This might be second nature to veteran bikers, but it never occurred to me that earplugs are a necessity if you plan on roaring about at 80 miles an hour without a helmet and don't want to go deaf, or half-insane from a nasty ear infection brought on by a combination of wind noise and big-Harley roar.

It apparently didn't occur either to some guy's old lady sitting behind him, since she spent 30 otherwise-pleasant Kentucky miles they paced for me with her fingers in her ears. By the constant look of utter annoyance on her face, I'm going to assume this is not the best way to enjoy a long, high-speed motorcycle cruise.

I suppose if my hair was whipping me in the face like hers was, too, I probably wouldn't be having much of a good time, either.

* As Indiana is flat as a board and Kentucky is filled with genteel rolling hills loaded with horses and trim wooden fences (in fact, one guy along I-64 likes fences so much, he put one around every single tree on his Ponderosa-sized spread), the real fun begins in West Virginia - a state so mountainous that some of their overpasses have the incline of a log flume. Seeing something like that at ground level is kind of unsettling, if not plain disorienting. It's as if the road department hired Salvador Dali to "build something nice yet utilitarian" for them.

* Speaking of bridges, West Virginia has a habit of naming every single bridge in its I-77 existence after someone. This wouldn't strike me as unusual, though, if their "bridges" didn't amount to tiny overpasses. Still, I suppose if you've got enough local dead heroes lying around, an overpass in their honor fits the bill.

* When the sun's just right, the shiny golden dome of the state capitol building in Charleston can potentially blind you as you drive past. Consider yourself warned.

* A long, 11-hour trip could have lasted an hour or two longer if not for the ability to disregard our interstate system's 65- and 70-mile-per-hour speed limits. This, of course, is made entirely possible by the refreshing and complete absence of state troopers.

While drivers in Kentucky treat the speed limit as a polite suggestion, it seems to be West Virginian code for "Dude! AUTOBAHN!!!" Now, I'm not sure how precipitous truckers consider a 5 percent grade on a 3,000-foot drop in elevation, but when you're flying about in a car at 90-plus miles-an-hour, there's something pretty unmistakable about the odor of a few dozen sets of brake pads burning all the way to the bottom.

* I'm also happy to say that our I-Pass transponders work at the four $2 toll booths along a big stretch of I-77 in West Virginia, too. I'm a bit mystified, though, why a federal interstate - which in theory anyway is supposed to be "free" - has toll booths on it. It's not like the road from one end to the other is maintained any better than the rest or we're getting anything extra out of the deal - like maybe free Klondike Bars or condoms at the last booth - so my guess is the state is running a Candid Camera bit to see how many motorists will actually fork over two bucks before someone gets wise.

Either that or the cash is used to maintain the natural mountain scenery on the pin-curvish roller coaster ride that passes for the first 10 miles or so. Fun for kids and drowsy/drunk drivers of all ages, for sure.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Mike Jurkash:

Nice article, Scott. I am ready to fire up the Caddy and head out on the open road. Keep 'em coming.



Permalink

Posted on September 14, 2010


MUSIC - Britney's IUD.
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BOOKS - Foxconned.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Don't Let Your Pet OD.


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