DAY ONE - Friday, 20 February.
Destination: Harman's North Fork Cottages in Hopeville, West Virginia.
Miles traveled: 647.6
The traveling Gleckfolk hauled out of the driveway in Rincon, Georgia at exactly 4:43 a.m. Our first stop, some 45 minutes later, was the Denny's on I-95 at Exit 33 in South Carolina. We started our day and vacation with a Grand Slam breakfast. The food was good, but the coffee was less than perfect. "Craptastic", as Seraphim called it.
And "craptastic" was our word of the day. My wife was now jonesin' for some good coffee. Sera's favorite coffee is found at Pilot, a chain of ‘travel stores' found along the interstates mainly in the Southeast. "Truckers' Coffee", in her words. We saw the billboard for Pilot along I-26 advertising one just past the I-77 turnoff before Columbia, S.C. (and advertising gas at $1.66/9). Not wanting to burn a lot of time early on with doubling back on I-26 to get back to I-77, we passed it up, saying "There's sure to be at least one Pilot between Columbia and Charlotte."
Guess again. There wasn't a single one. Arriving at the outskirts of Charlotte, just exits from leaving South Carolina, we now were faced with having to stop for gasoline before entering North Carolina, where gas is at least 10-15 cents a gallon higher than in S.C.
We stopped at the Gate station off I-77 in Fort Mill, which didn't have very cheap gas - at least compared to Columbia. Shell and Exxon were asking $1.81/9, but out of interstate earshot Gate was selling for $1.75/9. Well, fine. It beats the $1.89.9 par for the course we found north of the border (apologies to Pedro).
After getting past the muck of Charlotte, we returned to our Craptastic Coffee Crusade. SURELY there had to be a Pilot somewhere along this freeway.
Aaaaand there wasn't. We settled for the Wilco Hess at Exit 42 along I-77, south of Statesville. It seemed to be like a Pilot — maybe their coffee would be good, plus have Diet Mountain Dew in the fountain (heretoforth known as "Diet Fountain Dew", or DFD).
No on both counts. No DFD. And the coffee experience .... let's just say it was a different kind of craptastic. We'll call it "Crappucino." Yeeeesh. Sera didn't finish it. Me, I settled for a Diet Mountain Dew in a standard bottle. I suppose that would get us to Wytheville, Va., where we planned on chowing down on lunch, and filling Rupert's tank with cheap Virginny petrol.
Entering God's Country
It was 34 degrees when we crossed the state line into Virginia, and what I live for each year: the 1,500-foot ascent up Fancy Gap, one of the most dramatic changes in geography along the interstate highway system. Once we reached the top, the temperature dropped well into the 20s, as low as 23 degrees in places. And we started seeing some light snow patches in the shady areas.
Once at the watering hole of Wytheville (where I-77 and 81 meet), we embarked on a search for lunch and gasoline. First, gas. We hit the Go-Mart across from Wendy's (where I saw gas go up as we ate lunch last year). Filled up Rupert to the tune of $1.75/9. Went inside to buy a couple of Virginia scratch-off tickets, and saw that Go-Mart had DFD. Yes!! Exiting the building with our tickets, my wife's Coke Zero and my ‘Dew, we went across the street to Wendy's to get our lunch. This time, we got it to go, as we wanted to get to the cabin before dark.
You can't tell in this picture, but this guy still had his truck running while pumping gas.
But everything is okay. Safety is his goal.
But everything is okay. Safety is his goal.
Oh, and I happened to look up at the Go-Mart sign as we left the station. Gas had just gone down – it was now $1.71/9. @#$%!! Let's call that a "craptastic tank of fuel."
Seraphim busted on her ticket, but I won two bucks on mine. I decided against returning to the Go-Mart to cash it in – it wasn't worth it for the measly two-dollar win. We'd just give it to Susan and Mike, since we wouldn't be returning to Virginia - at least long enough to matter - for this trip.
This time, Big Walker Mountain had both lanes open, and traffic was running at a regular clip. And then came our beloved East River Mountain tunnel, the portal into our Wild and Wonderful Wonderland.
We turned off I-77 at the Princeton exit (US-421), and went northward to pick up US-219, our route up to Elkins. A quirk in the route put us back into Virginia for a very short time, and now it was back into West Virginia for good. I was looking very forward to this 140-mile stretch of two-lane through The Mountain State. It was everything I wanted and then some.
However, the smell in places was, shall we say, less than fragrant. Or, since our word of the day is "Craptastic", we'll call it that. Loudon Wainwright III put it nicely in his 1973 hit single, "Dead Skunk." We experienced no fewer than five (5) such occurrences along 219. Peeeee-ew.
The next pit stop had us at the Go-Mart in Lewisburg. They also had DFD, and Sera made her some coffee, hoping for the best. And this time it was FANtastic. Or, as I termed it, Go-tastic. Gasoline, as typical in West Virginia, was craptastic. While a few stores went for $1.99/9, the vast majority of WV gas stations' prices began with a 2.
The further north we went on Highway 219, the lower the temperature ... 21, 20, 19, and a low of 18. The coldest we've ever seen Rupert's thermometer (a/k/a The Rupometer). And we started seeing some serious white stuff from a days-earlier winter storm. (The forecast called for some more snow by Sunday). The roads, for the most part, were all clear ... but as we approached Elkins, we did begin to see slushy spots here and there.
AHHHHH ... magnolias??
It was along about Marlinton we came upon a GMC Suburban with a different country's tag — the Nation of Mississippi (you might've heard of it; the state militia's uniform is white, with a conical-shaped headgear, but anyway.....) This guy didn't go any faster than 40 on the straightaways - yes, West Virginia has a few - and didn't push it past 15 on the curves. Yes, I know Mississippi has no real mountains to speak of (its highest point, Woodall "Mountain", offers a craptastic summit of 806 feet), but obviously this galoot was out of his element in The Mountain State. "Oh! My! Gawd! It's HILLLLLLLLS!!!!!!" (Cue horror screams and closet killer music)
We (finally!) managed to pass our Magnolia Meanderer — and, at the same time, the Toyota RAV4 behind us zoomed past us both. Phew, talk about feast or famine. Folks seem either to want to poke along at a speed that would shame any 90-year-old (except my wife's grandmother; but that's another story!), or they're driving as if qualifying for Talladega.
A nice surprise lurked around one curve: the Indian Creek Covered Bridge. The first of two we saw today. Nothing craptastic about covered bridges, either; this, friends, was bridge-tastic.
And 5:30 saw us entering the nice village of Elkins. The temperature was hovering around 20, and snow was plentiful. There was a Kroger at the intersection of 219 and 33, with a gas station out front.
[For the benefit of those Kroger-challenged, the grocery chain has a deal whereby for each $100 in groceries you purchase with your "Kroger Plus" loyalty (read: big-brother) card, you get a 15 cent a gallon discount on a tank of gas at any Kroger gas kiosks. In addition, for each two prescriptions filled in a Kroger pharmacy, one also earns a discounted fillup. The totals reset each month, and you have until the end of the following month to use your discounts].
Well, with Sera's Rx cocktail (I think she's taking 12 prescriptions ... no kidding), we rack up a lot of those suckers on a regular basis. And since we had three (3) ‘cheap' fillups to burn before the end of February, we used one right there and now. Kroger had gas for $1.99/9 in Elkins. Correction: $1.84/9. Heh.
After feeding The Rupe', we headed across the way to a Chevron station. There, we got ourselves liquid refreshment for the final 47 mile trek to our cabin. And, as a cool surprise, Chevron had DFD. Yeah, boy. We had a signal on our cellphones, so we took that opportunity to call Annette, Susan and Melissa to let ‘em know (read: warn them – here's your final chance to bail out!) we were about an hour away. Voice mail on all three numbers .... guess that means the cabin is out of cellphone range. Big shocker, there. (Or, as we'd find out, they were eating supper at Pizza Hut)
Just 47 more miles and we're running out of daylight...
Let's hit the road. We're ready to get to the cabin and finally meet our "new friend" in the flesh. US-33 is quite the treacherous roadway, except for a curious 5-mile stretch of four-lane just east of Elkins. 33 was starting to get a little nerve-wracking; there was a lot of slush still on the highway, and with nightfall beginning, it would start refreezing in short order.
Crossing the Allegheny Mountain peak – the "Eastern Continental Divide" – was a sweet experience, ditto for the mean 10% downhill slalom (complete with ominous ALL TRUCKS MUST STOP AND CHECK BRAKES regulatory signage).
Once at Seneca Rocks — with the Drew Carey Show theme music in our heads – we made a left turn from 33 onto WV 28/55 for the final leg toward the town of Cabins. Yes, that's the name of it. But Harman's North Fork is not in Cabins, proper. According to our West Virginia Gazetteer, it's in the settlement of Hopeville. In any case, it's just before the turnoff to Dolly Sods, and roughly two miles away from the famed - and heavily billboarded - Smoke Hole Caverns.
I was aiming for 6:30 to get to our destination (just about dark – although I failed to account for the higher latitude, hence a slightly earlier sunset time), and we pulled in front of Rainbow Trout - Cabin #1 of Harman's North Fork Cabins at exactly 6:36 p.m. Not bad, no?
Did we scare 'em off??
We arrived to an empty cabin ... the key was on the kitchen table, and we saw little else of evidence that our friends had gotten there first. Ummm, there's something in the kitchen, a cardboard box containing some grocery items, some of which came from Wegman's. Yes, Miss Amory was definitely in the building!
All there was to do now is wait for ‘em. We agreed at the onset to be on our own for supper this evening. By 7:45, a blue Saturn Vue pulled into the driveway ... Melissa, Susan and Mike were back. We finally made a ‘live' acquaintance, sat around and talked as we waited for Annette to get there, which she did maybe 30 minutes later.
With all of us there, and all except the two of us having eaten, we went into Petersburg to procure us some dinner-type morsels. One of the first things we saw upon getting into town was a Chinese place. Sera wanted that, however the Arby's in the distance piqued my palate. We went in to order my wife's stuff, and then in the tee meenet it usually takes, it was down the street to Arby's. Which was closed. WTF?? Arby's closes at 8:00 in this place!! Well, ain't that a craptastic surprise.
Guess it was either Subway or McDonald's. And Mickey D's won out. I got my stuff, then went back to the Chinese place for Sera's food, and finally to get some drinkstuffs next door at a convenience store called Sheetz. That's a really cool place ... they have a Subway-type deli inside which also sells fresh fruit. Yes, at a convenience store. And they had DFD. I like Sheetz.
Then back to our cabin we went, parking our dark red SUV between Nettie's white Taurus and Melissa's blue Vue. Well, ain't that all nice and patriotic. I almost felt like breaking out in Lee Greenwood song.
Which would've been appropriate, given we were driving the RED vehicle. *gag*
We've all arrived. Let "Blogfest 09" begin.
The hot tub called, but since I didn't have a bathing suit to my name (right now, I really don't), I wisely chose not to skinny-dip in front of the rest of our contingent. Would not have been pretty.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Dead skunks spotted and/or smelled: 5
Covered bridges spotted: 2
"Mail Pouch" barns spotted: 5
Bob Evans restaurants passed: 7
Diet Mountain Dews consumed: 6
To be continued........