Thursday, January 7, 2010

West Virginia is Not for the Faint of Heart

The drive down on Sunday went much better than expected...for the first half. Ohio was exceedingly dull, as always, but at least the roads were clear and the weather, though teeth-chatteringly frigid, was clear. I had cleared a nice space in the front for Jasper, with his bed, blanket, and two toys, but he decided ten minutes into the trip that he preferred to ride on top of the luggage in the back.

Since things were going so well, I decided to just drive straight through rather than stopping for the night in Parkersburg as I had previously planned. (Cue the sound of creepy organ music, indicating trouble ahead.) So, trying out a new route for the first time (cue up the music a little louder), I continued on through West Virginia.

I think the first hint that things were going to get "interesting" was when my TomTom (GPS) completely lost me. On the screen was a map of the road I was supposed to be on (which, for the record, I was still on, unbeknownst to my TomTom), with a little dotted line pointing out a little yellow car (representing me), which was in the center of a barren wilderness. Apparently, highway 35 is just a bit rustic. Just a bit. The poor TomTom struggled in vain for over twenty minutes trying to locate where we were, with no success. Since I knew I was still on the correct road, I chose to be amused, and enjoyed the local scenery (trees, abandoned farms, and occasional dilapidated mobile homes, included one which had somehow split in half). I don't think any other humans had passed by the way in quite some time.

Eventually I came upon 64, which I knew was the next road that I wanted, so I got onto it and the TomTom gave a little squeak of delight as it finally figured out where we were. I stayed on 64 for awhile, until my TomTom directed me to get off onto 60. Little did I know that while this new route was certainly shorter than my usual route, it would also give new meaning to the phrases "hair-raising," "sharp turn," "no guard rails," and "deadly drop."

Upward and upward my little car drove, through steeper and menacingly steeper terrain. The amount of snow on both the surrounding countryside and the road increased the higher I went. The road narrowed to two anorexic lanes, bordered on one side by snow-covered cliffs and on the other by an extreme drop that would have made my dear little grandmother keel over in a dead fright. Jasper heaved and vomited in the back, making me grateful that I had put a towel over the luggage. The turns become more and more sudden, and my heart decided to take up residence in my throat, where it shuddered silently. The TomTom periodically lost us, keeping things "amusing". Occasionally I had the added excitement of large patches of ice or puddles of thick slush, which bore a startling resemblance to some of the fare they served in my elementary school cafeteria.

For nearly two excruciating hours my tenacious little car did her best to stay on North America's candidate for the prestigious award of "Most Nauseating Road in the World". I stopped for gas at a station so old that "pay at the pump" had not yet been envisioned (nor teeth either, from the sight of the five customers inside). I felt like kissing 64 when 60 finally rejoined it, but my relief was short-lived. This section of 64 was like something out a Poe anthology (well, perhaps a bit more slippery). The Virginia border has never looked so beautiful to me. Little did I know what the last hour held in store for me.

Having survived my harrowing escapade through West Virginia, I was not in the mood to deal with idiotic fellow drivers, but fate decreed that I must meet with one. An apparently-homicidal maniac with more fingers than brain cells decided that his night would not be fulfilling unless he could spend a full hour of it following me, as close to my bumper as possible, with his bright headlights on. No matter whether I sped up or slowed down, he would neither retreat nor pass me. I dared not stop, for fear of what the imbecile would do in the dark. Once I got into Lynchburg, I was able to duck in front of another car immediately following a curve, then pulled off onto an exit. My charmless companion mistook another car for me, and continued on his merry way, riding on the new victim's bumper with his brights ashine.

It was with a sigh of relief that I pulled into the drive of my new apartment complex. Jasper was thrilled, too (he was still a bit unhappy from our drive through West Virginia). Both of slept well that night!

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"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"