Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blast from the Past - Road to Richmond

It's hard for me to believe that I've never written this story before.   There are a couple of road trips that I've wanted to write about.

(Yes, I said "road trip" which might tempt you to click somewhere else...but I think they're tales worth telling that will be enjoyable)

The year was 2009.  I was trying to stay active and still have fun (mostly with Sean) during our year of living with Laura and her daughters.  That June, Sean and I went to Richmond (ah...R-Va) to hang with Jon, Rebecca, Rose, and Lilah.  There are posts from there on the blog for your review.

Anyway, as the summer of '09 moved along, I decided to go back again that August.  That's where our story begins.

I didn't need to be in Richmond (I thought) until after 5:00, so I had time to either meander along the route. My intention was to hit a few road spots, with a shopping break at the VF Factory outlet in Reading, PA. After Reading, I felt I could roll to Richmond with ease.

Best laid plans and such. Ugh.

I got Sean squared away at his daycare just up the street from the house and climbed into the car.

It was 7:52 AM.

The plan was to get gas (funds were tight but there's a station in Brewster that is reasonable and only a few miles away). The road lineup was set to be I-684 to Saw Mill Parkwy (which becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway) to I-95 to I-80 (with a few stops around the Delaware Water Gap area) to PA 611 and work my way to US 22 to US 222 to Reading. Then it would be US 222 to US 30 to I-81 to I-695 to I-70 to US 29 to I-495 to I-95.

Easy, right? What could possibly go wrong on a hot Friday in summer?

Again. Ugh.

Oh, it started off well enough. To be honest, other than dropping off Sean and getting gas in Brewster, I don't really remember much of the drive until I was on I-80 towards western New Jersey. This, by the way, is remarkably rare for me.
Brewster, NY.  It's 8:16 AM, according to the time stamp on the camera.
All of the pictures are available on my Flickr site here.

After that, the details are quite clear. I reached my first stop – Columbia, NJ. A tiny hamlet that is ringed by I-80, US 46, NJ 94 and the Delaware River, the population is just 229 (per the 2010 Census).
Stay to the left...
My goal here was to see one of the road peeps sites (a Holy Grail, if you will). For a stretch, US 611 crossed the Portland-Columbia Toll Bridge into New Jersey.  A sign hung near the bridge, and still stands there, even though the road was decommissioned in 1972, and exists only in Pennsylvania as PA 611.

This is one of those road stops that I had heard about, but had never pursued it.  Traveling alone, I knew I could.  Finding it isn't too difficult, though some in the "community" don't want to publish the details for fear some "pirate" might go steal the shield (again, the "Holy Grail" comparison.  I sense an Indiana Jones reference).

It took me no time to find it.  Might seem foolish to you, but I was pleased.
US 611 doesn't exist anymore.  It's 10:07 AM.
Seeing the pictures reminds me how cloudy it was that day, although it cleared up at times.  The weather would soon play a role in the day.

I crossed into Pennsylvania via I-80 and stopped at the welcome center for a few maps.  Of particular interest to me (besides the fact that there was a rare line to get into the men's room) was that the welcome center had a rooftop garden on it!  That being said, I didn't take any pictures of interest while I walked around up there.

My next stop was the small town of Portland, PA (population 520).  A foot bridge sits just up the river from the vehicle toll bridge.  It was time to walk back into New Jersey.

Across the river sat Columbia, and I strolled a few blocks of the town, taking a few pictures before crossing back to Pennsylvania.
This is New Jersey.  Pennsylvania is straight ahead.
It was just about 11 when I returned to the car and began to work my way down PA 611.  I didn't plan on any stops between Portland and Reading.  I figured I would get something to eat there, and probably get some gas, but just intended to enjoy the scenery.

In fact, I even backed down on taking pictures for this stretch.

I used a GPS for this trip, for the heck of it.  Do I need a GPS?  No.  Do I enjoy it?  Sure, it's handy at times.  Of course I argue with it, but that's OK.

Planning to take PA 611 straight into Easton, the GPS suggested I turn into Stockertown, which would take me to PA 33, and on my merry way.

Things came to a stop.  Nothing was moving.  I watched a delivery man jump out of his truck and run into Tony's Pizza on Main Street and return empty-handed.

He needed a restroom break.  Whatever was going on probably wasn't good.  I needed to turn around.  My first attempt put me on Buskill Street, which would serve as an alternate to get to PA 33.  Except the bridge that was on Buskill St. was no more.  Fail.

I retraced my steps and found my way onto PA 33.  I hoped that this would be my only blip on the day.

As I approached US 22 near Allentown, it was 11:53.  I probably lingered too long around the Portland/Columbia area, I thought, but I could make up for it.

But as I roared along US 22, to the merge with Interstate 78 west, traffic...slowed...down.  Temporary signage screamed that the road was closed a few exits ahead.  I jumped off at the first exit and (PA 100), as all traffic went south, I went north.

I worked my way back to US 22 East, jumped on PA 309, merged onto I-78 East and grabbed the exit to US 222. But I knew - with all certainty - that I was going to run into a wall of cars.

I know now that this is the point when I should have abandoned ship.  Reading and their inexpensive Yankees and Steelers merchandise could wait.  I could use any number of other roads to get to I-95 and go onto Richmond.  I kept going.

US 222 is mostly a two-lane road between Allentown and Reading, save for a few stretches around Kutztown and just outside of Allentown.  All of that traffic on I-78 needed a place to be dumped.  It went to US 222.

With the GPS, a map, and my brain, I found the first turn to a town called Topton.  The road opened up again.  I'd have to take the long way, but I would get to Reading and out of the 78/222 mess via side roads, PA 662 and PA 12.

And then the skies opened.  Impressively.  Just as I was heading into Reading.

I now realized that I would have to be quick in the VF Outlet.  I made it as the rain let up for a few minutes and did my thing, determined to not let this trip pass.  I had tried to go the VF store in Reading a few weeks earlier, on my way back from a weekend in Aberdeen, MD, but the store was just about to close when I drove up.

A few polo shirts with the beloved interlocking NY on it were purchased (might have cost $8 each) and I was back on the road, along with a quick gas stop.  The next picture I took, back on US 222, was at 2:24 PM, after I had been back in the car for about 20 minutes.

I passed on eating, eager to get some driving done, now concerned about my time.  It was after 2:00, and, in theory, Richmond was approximately four hours away.  But it was also Friday, and raining.  Oh and I still had Baltimore and Washington to contend with.

My father was cringing somewhere.  As travelers, Pop and I had a rule: avoid Washington rush hour at all costs.  Now I was staring the beast in the eye.

I passed a line of traffic going the opposite way outside of Lancaster on 222.  They only had one lane open while construction went on.  My first break of the day, I thought.  I moved through Lancaster around 2:40 and into York, dealing with traffic lights along US 30, at 3:15.  At 3:52, I moved onto I-695, the Baltimore Beltway.

Things were slow on the Beltway, with me reaching the eastern end of I-70 at 4:18. I-70 is known for ending at a park-and-ride due to local opposition.  The road was one of several canceled projects in Baltimore.  Scott Kozel's excellent website, Roads to the Future, details the canceled projects.  AA Roads has plenty more.

I didn't have time to visit the park-and-ride, but I did snap this sign.
Columbus 420...St. Louis 845...Denver 1700...Cove Fort (where I-70 ends) 2200.

Feeling good after getting off the Baltimore Beltway, I knew I still had Washington to deal with.

US 29 started out good, as an expressway, then becomes a collection of traffic lights.  Still it beat being stuck in traffic, which I feared would be the case on I-495, the Capital Beltway.

And I was.

We moved like turtles.  It didn't matter which side of the Beltway I was on.  It was jammed.  Just after 5:10, I cross the Potomac into Virginia.  But the traffic - a Friday, trying to get to the shore, home, wherever - was unrelenting.  I thought maybe the traffic gods were trying to show me a good sign as I approached I-95 near Springfield...
A rainbow, at 5:34.
I-95, my dear friend, would surely be the answer to speeding things up.

No shot.  I tried the Fairfax County Parkway to US 1 to get back to 95.  Not so good, as I had done this once before with a little success.  This time, I sat for lights and slow drivers.  My blood pressure spiked.  I began to go stir crazy.

I stopped taking pictures, since dusk was causing the picture quality to be poor.  And I truly began to understand how people can feel road rage.  It didn't make sense.  Why were we moving so slowly?

Finally, at 7:00, after five hours in the car, with nothing to eat since breakfast, I pulled off in Fredericksburg at a Target.

I needed shaving cream.

The stop was like magic.  I got back on 95, maybe 10 minutes later, and it was a new road.  The traffic had mostly let up, and what was on there was moving, albeit fast.  Either I flew with it, or there would be trouble.

It was pure bliss.  In fact, after this long day, I felt the greatest relief.  It was driving as I wanted it to be.  The windows were open.  The roof was open.  The music was blaring.  I roared into Richmond triumphantly (I'll ignore the urge to use a lame Civil War General reference).  I reached my destination and turned off the car.

It was 7:52 PM.  Twelve hours - EXACTLY - after  I left Carmel, NY that morning.

The road home, while interesting, couldn't be nearly as interesting as this.  It wasn't.

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