Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pedro's Highway

I always leave any place with a tinge of sadness.  It's a little stronger when I drive out of Richmond, VA.  Yet I had to go if I wanted to get to Charleston at a reasonable hour.

Carrie had made one request of me before the trip: Be safe and be smart. In other words, don't push yourself too hard. Take breaks. Don't drive tired. Get to Charleston whenever. In her mind, she was in her conference (the reason for the trip) on Thursday, so it wasn't like we would spend the day together.

In fact, there were different versions of the game plan for this trip right up until the day I left. In one version, I would leave after work and drive until I couldn't go any longer and pull off (either cheap motel or grab a few winks in a parking lot). In another, I would leave as I did and get into North Carolina to stay with my niece. The problem was that my niece hadn't moved to NC. That plan got scratched. Plan three had me getting to NC and staying over until Thursday morning in a motel.

Then plan four. Drive to Charleston in one day, just as we originally planned.

So it was that I said fare thee well to Richmond (not without grabbing a Krispy Kreme coffee and taking a picture of Broad Street).
(Broad Street, Richmond)

I just had to tell myself "I'll be back."  I want my friends to meet Carrie. I want to take Sean back. I want to go back. Hell, it's no secret that I'd consider living there.

So yes. I'll be back.


This is where the trip would get good...despite the now dicey weather. The forecast was very clear: I would hit rain during the day somewhere. That somewhere was right around Richmond, and it would stay with me into North Carolina. I hadn't been to NC since a trip to the Outer Banks in 2001, and hadn't driven south of Petersburg, VA on I-95 since 1992. I was looking forward to seeing what had changed!

Answer: very little. Almost nothing.

Granted, the number of South of the Border billboards had dwindled, but otherwise...

Oh sure, there's VA 895, and I-795 and FUTURE(!) I-295 in North Carolina, but overall, things are virtually identical to what I used to see out my window in the 1980's. Still I was excited to be back there, reliving the times with my family on our multiple drives to Florida.

I stopped in the rain as I crossed into North Carolina. A quick visit to the welcome center and I was right back at it. I felt like I was surrounded by virtually nothing back Canadians (and a hello to all of them!). By the time I approached Rocky Mount, the rain was heavier.
(Near Gold Rock, NC)

At this point, it became fairly useless to take pictures (although it was only around 3:30 or so). That spot in the picture was where I-95 ended in the 70's, and it's funny how things haven't developed between here and the Kenly-Smithfield area since then. To that end, my next stop was at Smithfield, where we spent many nights during those 80's trips to and from Florida. Things have built up a little since then, with outlets and more restaurants (we'll stop here on the way back also).

I was beginning to feel run down, and it was time for some gas, but I just couldn't do coffee again - I had a cup at in Delaware at Wawa...and one in Richmond. I'd hit my limit!

At this point, it was a mere 95 miles to Pedro. But first, a pull off stop for a picture of North Carolina route 55.
(Pretty cool flash photo)

And then...that's right. South of the Border! It had been almost 19 years since my last visit, and almost 23 years since I had been through the area at night. I couldn't resist stopping quickly, if only to stretch. I knew Carrie had never been to SOB, so I kept my visit short, knowing we would be back.

I remembered Carrie's words about being smart, and realized that I should probably have some dinner before I reached Charleston, since I knew she was meeting a former coworker and probably wouldn't be hungry when I rolled into town. So it was that I faced my rule: eat nothing that I can eat in New York. I wanted road food - something I could keep in the car - but I didn't want McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, etc. I hasten to say what I opted for ("Eat More Chikin") because I don't believe in their politics and realized later on that I can get them in Paramus, NJ. Fail on me.

South Carolina always was a state of survival. By that I mean that there aren't the cities on I-95 that you hit in North Carolina, Virginia, and so on. Florence, Manning, and Santee are really the only places to stop, and after I stopped for chicken in Florence, I was on a mission to reach Charleston. I finally left I-95 just south of Santee - a mere 86 miles from Georgia - when I turned onto I-26 at just about 8:00 - nearly 16 hours after leaving New York.

I truly believe that had I minimized my stops, I could have made Charleston in about 13 hours. But that would have required major minimizing.

I-26 between I-95 and its end at Chrleston is anything but riveting. I had only used the cruise control on the Galant once - back in New Jersey. I set it to 73 MPH, and felt like I was flying. Yet people passed me like I was standing still. Finally, businesses and lights began to appear, and I was close to Charleston once and for all - the end was in sight.

In truth, I could have gone a lot farther. Dinner gave me a new amount of energy. I probably could have made it to Savannah had I continued on I-95!

But Charleston was the destination, and my Carrie awaited. I parked the car at the garage near the Charleston Place Hotel at 8:47 PM. I had been at it for 16 hours and 25 minutes, and almost 900 miles (893.7 to be exact). It was, by far, the most and longest I had driven in one day.

And I loved it.

But I was thrilled to see Carrie, and we celebrated with a drink in the hotel lounge. She showed me around the block at the hotel and we called it a night in a wonderful hotel room in Charleston, SC.

A fine day, indeed.  Now I had two full days to check out Charleston before the return trip would begin.

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