Sunday, November 28, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
Continuing on Tyler Mountain, we drove up Slaughter's Drive, a steep road that led to a group of houses and trailers clustered on the side of a mountain. Anna lived there with her mother (who is now deceased) from about ages 9 to 17. A house was built over the trailer they used to live in, but the shed she used to play in still stood. Anna stopped at the house next door to her old house, "just to see who was living there," and was pleasantly surprised to see the mother of her childhood best friend, Tammy, who was living in the next house over.
Anna went to the house next door and saw Jack - Tammy's father - cooking eggs. Tammy was sleeping after hitting the early-morning after Thanksgiving sales, but woke up, excited to see Anna, as the two hugged. Tammy said she had tried to find Anna on Facebook, but now they could catch up in person on 20 years of lost time. Anna was equally happy to see Jack, who she calls Jackie. "He was like a father figure to me," Anna said. "He would always say to me, 'If you ever see me on a plane, don't say "Hi Jack!"
Jack teased Anna for losing some of her West Virginia accent. "You sound like you're from New York," he teased Anna. "Don't forget your roots, girl!"
Next, we stopped at a bar called the Wagon Wheel, where Anna's mother, uncle and grandfather used to frequent. Anna said the bar, which has been around for decades, is virtually unchanged from how she remembers it. I actually have a Wagon Wheel tee shirt that Anna's sister sent us (since mine is getting faded, we asked if they had more, but they didn't).
This blog would not be complete without a bit more about Gawnjie, the 120-lb. Bouvier, who resembled either a black bear or a poodle on steroids. The Belgian dogs are bred to herd cattle, but Tonya had to constantly herd this dog around the house, shooing it out of the way or off of the couch. The breed is known for being smelly to begin with, but this dog was also in heat, which made the odors worse. "Gawnjie, you stink!" was a constant refrain of Tonya, as she followed the dog with air freshener spray.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
After the capitol, we drove to see Jimmy's mother, Minnie, who had prepared Thankgiving dinner for us and Jimmy's sisters. Getting to Minnie's house at the top of Spring Hill Mountain meant driving up a steep, narrow curvy road, with only a metal guardrail separating the road from a steep drop-off into the woods. Minnie's street was also very steep, and neighboring houses were not only surrounded by steep hills, but all of the houses were on hilly lots themselves. But that is typical of much of West Virginia. If you are not on a hill, then you are surrounded by them.
Minnie was a gracious host and wonderful cook, and after dinner, I was too full to do anything much more strenuous than make conversation. Anna's 11-year-old son Ricky, however, was full of energy and wanted to ride a four-wheel ATV, which he flipped over, ripping his jeans in the process (he only suffered minor cuts and bruises). "Now I'm officially a redneck," Ricky joked. At one point, Little Jimmy raided a tool shed in the yard, using a golf club as a shovel, and opening a gas can. I feared he might drink gasoline, but, as Big Jimmy ran toward him, Little Jimmy said in a southern drawl, "Don't worry, it's empty!"
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
With Thanksgiving approaching, both of us had four days off again, and really wanted to go to West Virginia. This time, we did - the difference was we were on four wheels instead of two. We found out that travelling some 750 miles continuously is challenging, even in a car.
Anna and I had to work Wednesday, so by the time we left Rhode Island, it was 5:30 p.m. My car is a 17-year-old Nissan with 142,000 miles and a non-functional radio, so I brought my iPod for Anna's son, Ricky, and loaded up on snacks. A guy I work with also let me borrow his Dewalt battery-operated jobsite radio so we could have music in the car.
I had wanted to buy a GPS, but Anna said I shouldn't waste my money, since she printed directions on Mapquest (I'm not too keen on Mapquest, but, okay). Traffic on Interstate 95 was heavy, but flowed well, even when we reached New Haven, Conn. Anna said she usually goes over the George Washington Bridge to get past New York, but Mapquest put us over the Tappan Zee Bridge instead. We took Interstate 287 into New Jersey, and then got on Interstate 78 west, crossing into Pennsylvania. We stopped for gas and food at a highway service area in Shartlesville, Penn. around 10:30 p.m., continuing on 78 west until it joined Interstate 81 west, which is a lonely stretch of road through the wilderness. About the only traffic in the early-morning hours was the occasional 18-wheeler.
It was around this point that the driving became more challenging, because it began to rain and the terrain became very hilly. We were continuously climbing or descending long grades. Anna had wanted to give me a No-Doz pill to help keep me alert, but I was not feeling tired at this point (I had been relying on caffiene). The driving was, however, very stressful because of poor visibility: unlike most of Rhode Island, the highway here was unlit, and the paint on the lines in the road was very faded. Also, the rain made it harder to see. I had meant to replace my wiper blades before the trip, but I kept putting it off, so I relied on the reflectors just to stay in my lane. I had to keep my speeds between 45-50 mph. To say the miles dragged by slowly was an understatement. After crossing the West Virginia state line, we stopped at a welcome center before we tackled the longest leg of our trip, about 150 miles on Interstate 79. Like I-68, that highway is also hilly (and constantly curvy). Some hills are so steep that there is a "runaway truck" lane.
By now, I was becoming too tired to drive safely, so at the next rest area, I let Anna drive for about 50 miles. That was enough of a break for me to revive a bit, so I drove the last 50 miles or so into Charleston, the capitol city of West Virgina, as day began to break. We arrived in South Charleston, W. Va. around 7:30 a.m. and met Anna's sister, Tonya, at the hotel where she had just finished working the overnight shift. Then we followed Tonya back to her house, where we we got a few hours of sleep before we had to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.
"Try doing that on a Harley," said Andy Beaulieu, our friend and member of the Romans 8 Riders chapter of the Christian Motorcyclists Association.
The trip up took us about 13 hours, not counting bathroom, gas and food stops. It can be done in 10-12 hours, Anna said, but between the poor visibility from the rain and the anemic hill-climbing power of my four cylinder Nissan (gettting it to go faster than 60 or 65 mph on some of the steeper hills was impossible), I was thankful we got there safely instead of quickly.