Thursday, February 7, 2008

Back Home and Ready to Blog!

Our week-long road trip to Norfolk, VA ended Tuesday afternoon when Mom and I arrived safely back home. Along with souvenirs we brought home lots of stories. There was so much happening on our trip and back here at home that I have enough to write about for the next several days. Here goes with Part 1 of the week of Jan 29-Feb 5.

2500 Mile Road Trip
Preface: To set the stage a bit, I don't normally choose to take road trips in January and February, but all the forecasts showed above normal temperatures with occasional rain. No freezing temperatures were predicted so we looked forward to a relatively spring-like trip. The forecasts held true --- that was our first miracle. However, the unseasonally warm, moist weather was bound to erupt into something at some point, so caution prevailed. Mom and I have taken many road trips together and are good traveling companions. Our styles are much the same and we pretty much get in the truck and go, stopping only when necessary. But we see alot through the windows and make note of places to return to and places not to. The driving time goes pretty fast. It helps that there is not a speed limit out there that I don't consider anything more than a guideline, conditions warranting, of course. So, on to specifics.
Weather: As I mentioned, we watched the weather forecasts faithfully. The prediction of some rain showers didn't bother me much. Just required more caution. On the way to Nashville we entered Tennessee under a heavy downpour and it didn't let up until we got into Nashville. More was predicted so we stopped just east of the city rather than go on to our planned overnight stop. That was definitely a good plan because shortly after we settled into our room at the Comfort Inn a storm went through that lasted only 10 minutes but carried 70 mph winds and torrential rain. The next day was beautiful clear skies all the way to Norfolk. This was definitely a blessing as we crossed the magnificent Great Smoky Mts. in North Carolina on Interstate 40. This highway is very popular with semi-trailers and they are restricted to the right lane during the crossing. Having perfect weather made the climbs and curves almost fun! Actually, it was the most incredible crossing. I have now crossed the Appalachian Range at 4 locations and this was my favorite.
Weather on the way home was also a combination of clear skies and light rain. But Tuesday, the last day on the road, was of the most concern. A very large system was moving up through the Midwest and, as expected, the high temperatures and moisture content was ready to reak havoc along our route. Starting off north of Nashville, we had about 425 miles to home. Not wasting any time we left early and boogied while the weather was clear. Forecasts showed that only the eastern half of southern Missouri was under this severe threat and we were able to get through there without a drop. Whew! But not in the clear yet. Just 40 miles from home a new system swept in and opened up like flood gates. This time we pulled over to the side of the road for a while. So did the Highway Patrol officer on the other side of the road. With the worst of that squall line over, we headed for home. Wet and tired, we pulled in, unloaded the car, went to our respective recliners (by the way, Mom lives only 2 doors away) and thanked God for our safe return. Not even 2 hours later we came under a tornado warning. This time I went to the basement with the dogs. Jerry was away for the day. Again, we were blessed. However, the system that brought us that scare was the one that took so many lives just south of us in Arkansas and across Tennessee and Kentucky. Our hearts go out to those families who lost so much.
Darkness: The early setting of the sun and the time change to EST contributed to the excitement of our road trip. The second day we had more miles to travel and all of it for the first time. As darkness fell we arrived in Virginia, but had 120 miles to reach Norfolk. The road was very good and lightly traveled. Arriving in the Norfolk area in the dark was somewhat surreal. Nightfall is one thing, but when you are next to the ocean the darkness seems deeper, endless. Odd feeling for us interior dwellers. Going around to the northeast corner of Norfolk to get to Scott's appeared easy when I looked at the directions obtained from Google Earth. In actuality, we became confused --- and lost. In hindsight, we made only one wrong turn. Isn't that the way it always is? At our exit we had a choice to turn right, which the sign said was "Chesapeake Bridge/Tunnel" or turn left which said "Hampton Roads". A bit of background here: My very first trip to the East Coast was when I worked for Levolor and had to go to the home plant in Hoboken, New Jersey. Turned loose on my own with a rental car I was trying to find the factory. Driving on the freeway I saw a sign that said "Last exit before Lincoln Tunnel". Uh oh! So, there I was in Norfolk, again with a choice that involves a tunnel. It was dark and I had no idea how far the road went before the tunnel, or if there were any other streets before the tunnel. I remembered Scott telling me that he was in the Hampton Roads section of Norfolk. Flashing back to the near encounter with the Lincoln Tunnel I chose left to Hampton Roads. Oops! That wrong turn took us from within a mile of Scott's house to 10 miles into the center of Norfolk. Cell phones and Scott to the rescue! He talked us in and we finally saw his smiling face directing us into his driveway. As for the Tunnel Turn-off: the road to Scott's would have been only a mile or so on that road.
Sea Level: A brief note here about driving at sea level, especially in the dark. Steep, winding roads are not a problem. But imagine my surprise when I saw a sign --- at sea level --- that said "Steep grade ahead. Trucks use lower gears". What!? Sure enough, the road suddenly took a steep climb. Well, we had to get to the top of the drawbridge somehow!
The Big Uh-Oh!: Most of our road trips have situations that live on in our memories and help to identify a particular trip. This was no different. So I will close this episode of our travels with an admission that I was the one providing the never-to-be-forgotten situation. We were in eastern Tennesse and decided to take a break before crossing the mountains. At Newport, TN the exits are a bit unusual for an interstate highway. There are two exits, one to the left and one to the right. Gas stations each way. We chose the station to the left. Driving around the exit ramp we spotted the station virtually at the bottom of the ramp. A quick right turn into the entrance. Barely traveled the main road at all. Well, the only pump that was available was out of order, and we noticed that the gas contained a mix of ethanol. Not sure about using ethanol just yet, we decided to go to the gas station on the other side of the interstate. So right back out onto the road we took in. I looked to the left, looked to the right. No traffic, turned left. In a nano second I realized that I was looking at the BACK of the road signs, and that there was another roadway alongside us to the right. @#%&#, we are going on the wrong side of the road, going the wrong way! Immediate decision: go into the median and get up into the correct lanes. Fortunately the median was grass, shallow, and dry. At this precarious angle I couldn't see the traffic, so Mom was watching for the all clear. In the meantime, I could see the traffic coming at me. I believe there were two cars, but the only one I saw was the black-and-white, Andy of Mayberry, Barney Fife --- a cop! He slowed down just as Mom gave the all clear. I gave a shy wave and climbed onto the pavement. Now pointed in the right direction I saw that there was a paved crossing in the median only about 50 feet away, right about where the officer could have turned and chased us up to the other gas station. He just gave a wave and moved on. Oh, brother! I can't believe I did that. All this occured in a matter of seconds, but it was like slow motion. I take pride in my driving skills and forty years of driving with no tickets, moving violations, or accidents. Once again, my angels were with us! Through the tinted windows of the truck only a profile is visible so maybe, since my trusty baseball cap was firmly planted on my head, I looked like a guy. Sorry guys, just trying to keep this from being a "woman driver" story that the cop could laugh about back at the station. However, hurt pride and all, I have a story that I will probably tell for awhile!
Preview for tomorrow: Cape Henry lighthouses --- and pictures!

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