22 February 2008

WV-08 DAY 1: Countin' Counties

Tal & Sera's Excellent 2008 West Virginia Adventure

DAY ONE - Friday, 15 February.
Destination: Knoxville, Tennessee.

We pulled out of our driveway at exactly 5:35 a.m., and headed north on Highway 21 through the foggy darkness. Our first stop was at the IHOP in Statesboro, which is now open 24/7 -- a nice change from when it used to open at the ungawdly hour of 7 AM. Sirius 118 "Radio Classics" was wrapping up a day-long tribute to Jack Benny's "39th" birthday, and after a good dose of Jack, Mary, Rochester, Don, Phil and Dennis, we had a vintage Bob Hope Show to listen to as we got into the 'Boro.

There's nothing like a good breakfast while traveling. I love it. And IHOP did not disappoint! By the time we finished, the sun returned from Europe and we continued on our merry way.

Seraphim had the bright idea of us listening to Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" as our trip began. Since I didn't have a copy of that record to my name, I did the next best thing: I lifted the song off our copy of Vacation and bumped it to a CD (Say, does anyone have the long out-of-print soundtrack?). Leaving Statesboro after breakfast, with daylight, was the perfect time to play it. It fit the mood, even though we were not driving a 'metallic pea' Wagon Queen Family Truckster™ ("You think you hate it now ... just wait'll you drive it!")

The route we took was a meandering journey, for a very important reason. In nearly 10 years of having Seraphim at my side, we'd traveled in 158 of Georgia's 159 counties together. That day started with us lacking one: Hancock. So I plotted a route that would finally conquer her.

We made it there at about 9:30 a.m., took pictures for the occasion, and continued on our trek. But were we through with counties? Hell, no! Now that we had Jawja all covered, our attention turned to South Carolina. We lacked three counties (Abbeville, Union, Saluda), plus three others (Oconee, Spartanburg, Cherokee) that I'd last visited in 1987 when returning from Washington D.C. with Gran Lera. I wanted to revisit those counties with Sera, to make them truly "count" (why do you think they're called COUNTies, anyway??). The route we'd be taking, both to and from, would take us closer to that goal.

159 out of 159: Seraphim and Talmadge have now traveled all of Georgia together!

Nothing could be finer...

Crossing the Savannah River east of Elberton, Ga., Georgia 72 became South Carolina 72 and we entered the small town of Calhoun Falls. Okay, cross Abbeville County off our list!

And since we were in South Carolina, that meant CHEAP GAS (in a manner of speaking). A small convenience store was asking $2.70/9, so we relieved 'em of some of their supply.

Any doubts as to what state we were in evaporated by a sign on the door:

If it weren't close to lunchtime, I would've relieved them of some of that supply, too! After paying for our petrol, I bought us a couple of scratch-offs (or, as my brother's ex-wife called 'em, "scratch-and-sniffs"). And we relieved the South Carolina Education Lottery of a $12 payout. Yee to the haw.

Skirting Nettie-land

The route I plotted for us was to take us back into Georgia for a northward run toward I-85, then back into S.C. to take in Oconee County. However, I decided on a diversion -- we stayed inside the Palmetto State, going northward on S.C. 81 and what turned out to be a nice, picturesque route.

Our stomachs were going "Rumble-rumble-rumble! Mutiny-mutiny-mutiny!" as the outskirts of Anderson greeted us. The city's dining options were limited to the usual, basic fast-food guano .... so we Had It Our Way. Both of us ordered a world-famous dish, Le Whopper a la Regal.

Leaving the Burger King parking lot, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. I let out a "whoop!!", as Seraphim wondered just what in tarnation was going on. I addressed this discovery in a previous post, but I'll recap: South Carolina now has a new design for their state highway markers. And they shore are purty. I love the blue, really I do.

We left Anderson to the west on S.C. 24, and after crossing I-85, the sight I'd been waiting for finally greeted us: mountains!! And joining US-76 at Westminster gave us our first taste of curvy roads for this trip, plus Oconee for the South Carolina county tote board.

Back in Georgia we turned back northward on US-23/441 at the town of Clayton. Our next pit stop was in Rabun Gap. Bought a couple of scratch-off tickets at a small convenience store ... Seraphim busted on her ticket, but I rubbed off a $50 winner. Holy crap, this bodes well; now that North Carolina and Tennessee both have lotteries, we'll see if we can go 4-for-4.

The Pilot has turned on the Smoking sign

The Traveling Gleckfolk picked up I-40 near Waynesville, N.C. It was time for a bathroom break before tackling the Great Smoky Mountains. We were due in Knoxville at about suppertime, so we had just enough time for one more stop -- there was a Pilot station where we got onto the interstate, so that's where we went (my wife loves their coffee).

What I noticed about their bathrooms were the ashtrays in the stalls. Yeech!! (At least mine didn't have smoldering remains from a previous squatter; Sera, alas, got a healthy dose of Marlboro carcinogens as she did her business). Welcome to North Carolina......

I would've sat all broken-hearted, were it not from a personal message from Him, written in a celestial black Sharpie on the bathroom stall door in front of me: "SEE YOU SOON. LOVE, GOD." It even had a heart drawn beside His name. Seeing as how one of the most treacherous stretches of interstate loomed before us, I didn't know how to take that. A loving message from My Creator? Or an ugly premonition?

After our respective Necessary Visits, Seraphim poured a cup full of what she calls "Truckers' Coffee", and I found a 20-oz. bottle of The Grapefruit Nectar Of The Heavens (read: Squirt). That, and a couple of $2 North Carolina scratch-'em-offs, and we were out the door.

In the car, we rubbed 'em off. Success! Well, not as much as we had further south, but we cleared $5.00 from our $4.00 investment. Okay, I guess. Instead of redeeming at the Pilot, we chose to save 'em for our return journey, as the clock was beginning to catch up with us. We'd done enough "dawdling" for now.

Smoky-Dokey

With a "truckers' coffee" resting in the missus' cupholder, and a Squirt in mine, we tackled I-40. Now, most of you know that I love a good mountain road. Love it, I tell you. But this is a little different. It's a freeway, and we had to share it with a buttload of 18-wheelers going I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can.... in the right-hand lane, while I'm trying to pass 'em on the left. That stretch of interstate has what's a called a "Jersey barrier" separating the two roadways, and brother is that part of I-40 n-a-r-r-o-w. Concrete to the left of me, truckers to the right ... here I am, stuck in the middle with Seraphim.

There's a brief tunnel in the middle of the mountainous area (eastbound lanes have another tunnel). I was amused by a sign which read "TUNNEL AHEAD: REMOVE SUNGLASSES."

A dilemma, I'm certain, for Corey Hart.

We crossed into Tennessee, the first time I'd entered on I-40 from that side, compared with maybe hundreds of times entering the state at I-40's other entry point, Memphis. It's nearly 445 miles from there to the pyramid next to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge ... but the terrain made it feel like ten times that.

The exit for Cherokee Foothills Parkway told us we were out of the more rugged part of I-40 ... and from there it was mostly flat going into K-town. All told, a fun (if sometimes nerve-wracking) drive. I'd always wanted to drive through the Smoky Mountains, so that's one longtime "to-do" on my travel list crossed off.

Downtown Knoxville proved a challenge, as they're rebuilding the interstate from the ground up. More than once I felt like Dick Van Dyke sidestepping that ottoman. Crazy as that was, it sure as hell beat the "other" intro.

It was right at 6:20 when we arrived at Seraphim's high school friends' house, where they were grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. The supper was great and the company was even better. We were up late talking a storm ... but I was beginning to conk out by 11:30, so I called it a night. Sera did so soon after. We had another long, exciting day of driving ahead of us tomorrow!

CONTINUED

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