Wednesday, November 24, 2010

West Viriginia Road Trip - Day 1 - Wednesday

This past summer, Anna and I considered riding a motorcycle 700 miles to see her sister in West Virginia, but scrapped the idea since we only had four days available. We decided we didn't have enough experience to ride that many miles in one day.

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.

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