Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving 2005 - Day One

Well, it’s Thanksgiving time again, and we are tripping up to my in-laws’ this November. Day one was fun. I had hoped to get on the road by 10:30 AM or so, since that would get us there pretty early and I wouldn’t have to do much driving after dark. I’m getting nearsighted and driving unfamiliar roads in the dark is not my idea of fun.

So, since I had laundry to do the night before, I was up until almost 2:30 AM. Yeah, not a bedtime conducive to midmorning roadtripping. Once we got everything packed up and in the car, we realized that we were going to have to go to WallyWorld (Walmart) for this and that before leaving. All told, we didn’t leave town until after 12:30. With a typical trip being about five hours and holiday traffic adding time, I was figuring that we would get to the inlaws by around 6:00 PM. That’s a little later than I was hoping for, but hey, I can hack it. I’ve driven these roads off and on for years. I shouldn’t have had any problems.

Around hour two of the drive north, about fifteen miles south of Wytheville on I-77, traffic slowed down. And then it slowed down some more. And then it almost stopped for a few minutes. And then we rounded a curve and I saw a line of traffic at least two hours long. I promptly began cursing. My wife, who felt responsible for us being so late, started to sink down in her seat. I (figuratively) bit my tongue and stopped cursing, causing my blood pressure to shoot up about 100 points. I felt the headache start right about then.

Well, once we got into Wytheville, where I-77 and I-81 meet, traffic sped up, since we had passed the bottleneck. A white truck was on its side, facing the wrong direction by the road and the cops had one lane of the interstate blocked off. Now, if you’ve ever been on I-77 heading north into Wytheville, you know that the interstate actually narrows down to one lane there in a sort of on ramp to the combined interstates as they run through town. The police had about two feet of road blocked off AFTER the road had narrowed to one lane. When I actually got up to the blockage, I had no trouble getting past it. Hell, big rigs shouldn’t have had any trouble. So, the best guess I have is that those fifteen miles of slowed traffic was caused by pure rubbernecking. And the wreck, despite the obvious violence of it, didn’t LOOK particularly gruesome, so I guess people were taking a little extra time to try and see something icky.

So, smooth sailing from here on out, right? Wrong. Right after we hit Wytheville, the snow started. Now, I grew up in West Virginia, so a few snow flurries were actually a welcome sight to me. I love snow, as long as I don’t have to drive on two inches of it compacted into solid ice. Since we don’t get much snow without ice in NC, and we don’t get home for Christmas much, I was actually kind of excited. As I said, a few snow flurries were welcome.

Now, there are two tunnels on that stretch of interstate, where they just bored through the mountain instead of cutting a notch. By the time we reached the first one the flurries had kicked up to actual snow, although light snow. There was some mild accumulation along the roadside, but the road itself was actually still dry. We hit the first tunnel and I saw something I’d never seen before. It was snowing IN THE TUNNEL! Now, I know that what was actually happening was that the wind was just blowing snow into the tunnel, but it continued for quite a bit, and it looked like it was snowing in the tunnel. It was pretty cool.

By the time we hit the second tunnel, the one that starts in Virginia and ends in West Virginia, the roads were wet and the accumulation by the roadside was starting to actually pile up. But we got the same snow-in-the-tunnel phenomenon. I’ve never seen that before, and I still think it’s pretty neat. But with the temperatures dropping, the day’s light starting to fade and the snow getting heavier, I was starting to worry. The rest of our trip would be in West Virginia, and I knew the state would treat the roads early, unlike the wonks in NC that wait until the last minute. So, I wasn’t particularly worried about the road conditions. The worst I would have to deal with would be some occasional slush and maybe some slick bridges. After all, brine works down to about minus 20°C or so. It was nowhere near that cold. But I knew that visibility would get worse as it got darker, and we had a few hours of driving left.

And I was right. It continued to get worse for a couple of hours, and never really let up at all. By the time we got off the highway and onto the secondary roads leading to my inlaws place, my eyes were starting to play tricks on me, making the road look like it was jumping a little. I loved every red light we hit, since it gave me a chance to close my eyes for a bit and rest them. I wasn’t particularly physically tired, but my eye-strain was getting pretty severe. I really shouldn’t have been driving for that last forty-five minutes or so, but with L’s eyes doing their funky after-dark thing, there really wasn’t an option. Especially since the snow was still blowing and cutting visibility.

During the entire snowy part of the trip, my visibility would go from a half-mile to 100 feet or so and then back to a quarter-mile, then down to 200 feet, then back up to a half-mile and so on. By the time we got home, all I wanted was a nice little dark corner to rest my eyes. I packed some stuff into the house, said my greetings and then went to find a dark room. I promptly fell asleep, was awakened for some of my father-in-law’s 3-alarm chili, ate, promptly fell back asleep, was awakened to go to bed, and woke up at 3:30 am the next day. I’ve been up, except for some light dozing, ever since.

I love Thanksgiving.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu