There’s no place like home


Phew…it took me nearly a day to recover, but I’m now able to post again.  Why nothing yesterday nor until late today?  Read on…

I decided to bring the Grand Road Trip to a close about a day and a half early.  Several considerations went into the decision, which we’ll get into briefly next.

By day 8, my fifth in D.C., I was getting a bit homesick.  Not that there was not still plenty to see and do in D.C., but a number of things added together took their toll.

I don’t know whether it was the cold, the air mattress, all the walking or a wonderful blending of all three, but the last two days in D.C. my lower back was in considerable pain.  You’ve probably had it once or twice yourself…trying to sit or stand or turn gives you a flare of pain that makes you jump and wince.  It was not getting better.

As to the cold, well, the air mattress just happened to be right next to the A/C vent.  I spent most of the days sleeping in my jacket.  Heck, that was okay, it was a “road trip” after all, so there should be some aspect of “roughing it”.  As to that, jeepers, what a small shower!.  Even in my college dorm days I’ve never had to try and (not) move in something like that.  I guess that’s the price you pay for prime living in the heart of the city.  Regarding the cold, for some reason, as the week wore on, I began to feel cold all the time I was in the apartment.

Which wasn’t all that often, since my hosts were still trying to sell it, so I was supposed to be out of there during a chunk of the midday time.  Not a major problem early on, while I was still full of vim and vigor, but in the latter stages, when my feet and back suggested an early return, it became a tad problematic.

I had looked ahead to my next stop, Charleston, and seen some not-so-encouraging weather news.  Watching the prediction stay gloomy three days in a row, I concluded the trip to Charleston might not be the most rewarding.

Upon further thinking about Charleston, I came to realize that I would be hard pressed to get there before 3:30 pm even in good weather conditions.  One of the peculiarities of this part of D.C. was that nothing opened early (and not much stayed open late).  My hosts claimed that’s because we were in the downtown, where stores and such would not have the traffic after hours to warrant staying open.

This also followed with the parking garages.  They closed shortly after close of business and most didn’t even open until 7 am.  No early morning departure for me.  Waiting outside the door for it to open Tuesday morning, they opened with pinpoint precision at 7 am, not a minute earlier.  Add travel time to South Carolina and I was left with – maybe – being able to take an evening tour through the haunted houses and graveyards…presuming they still did it in rainy, 50 degree weather.

Another reason to cut out a day early was that the weather forecast for D.C. on Wednesday was for rain.  Having witnessed the torrential D.C. rains on my first day there, I did not want to be driving through that in unknown areas.

Finally, I was just pooped.  I missed my bed, my shower and my humidity.  Therefore, I decided to call it a day in D.C.  But that wasn’t the end of my adventure, for now I intended to do an authentic road trip…I planned to make a straight run all the way back home.  That was maybe a 14-15 hour trip (with no stops) all alone.  Leaving at 7 am meant I would be stuck  driving the last few hours in the dark, but I figured at least those would be in my stomping grounds so it shouldn’t be too bad.  Ha!

One thing you can say about having a navigation system in your car, it takes a lot of uncertainty out of driving on uncertain roads.  As I was leaving Washington (down the omni-present I-95), I noticed a long line of traffic heading into the city.  Washington, like many other densely built cities, has most of its workforce come in from other areas.

As I rode on, I continued to see the line of traffic.  I observed that it was not actually moving.  I couldn’t recall seeing an accident, but the four (I think, could have been five) lanes were filled with stationary cars.  Mile after mile, I noticed this same situation.  Finally, I got to a point where there were cars “pulling up” to the long line of traffic.  I looked at my trip odometer; it read 27 miles.  Good gravy!  A 27 mile traffic jam?  I sure hope that’s not a regular occurence!

For the next several hours, I ran the roads at peace.  Once past the outskirts of the traffic pattern, there were no cities in my path for a while (and by then, rush hour was over).  There was one other slow up (again, fortuitously, in the other direction).  A tractor trailer was crushed like a folded-up paper lantern.  I don’t care to rubber neck, so I have no idea what else was going on.  It was a disturbing sight, though.

About halfway down, around 1:30 pm, I decided to grab a bite (Arby’s potato triangles!).  In a strang quirk of fate as happens on these types of trips, I was actually in South Carolina at the time (though far from Charleston).  I was only slightly nervous wearing my Florida Gator shirt and I did get some looks, but no fights broke out and I was on my way within a half-hour.

I had a headache by then, possibly caused by hunger, but more likely simply from eye strain.  Although I wear glasses for distance and night, if I wear them too long my eyes get tired (particularly my right eye).  Though my optometrist has never found anything to indicate why that eye would weaken more, I get pretty bad pain that can only be alleviated by closing my eyes…not highly recommended at 70 miles an hour.

Shortly thereafter, as predicted, the rains came.  Except, they were predicted for the next day so I was surprised and disappointed.  We’ve already discussed my feelings about driving in the rain.

The rains passed after a while and I made it a little south of Savannah before I stopped for my (hopefully) last fill-up.  The Avalon had performed amazing so far, but the rains and inconsistent speeds they forced had dropped my average MPG below 30.  I made some quick mental calculations and figured I could pull into the driveway on something just a little more than fumes…if I had a reasonably unimpeded run from there.

It was anything but reasonable.

Leaving the Orlando area, I hit some more rain.  This stuff was a bit harder than the previous rain and the roads were also aleady wet.  It was now borderline nighttime and the rain clouds pushed the sky the rest of the way there.

About 200 miles out, the weather went from unpleasant to ridiculous.  I honestly had no idea what was going on.  I had slowed to 10 mph under the speed limit and the car was still hydroplaning.  I couldn’t believe the conditions.  Was there a tropical depression that no one mentioned?  This was worse than the usual toad-strangler I expect during late summer/early fall.

So there I was, in sheeting rain on slippery roads with a pain in my head that kept trying to get me to close my eye.  I’m glad I left early to avoid the bad weather!  Then I got the punchline.  After miles of seeing the overhead electronic signs asking me to keep an eye out for a white Honda (like I could see more than a couple car lengths ahead of me), the next lit sign said “Warning!  Entering Tornado Warning Area!”.

Oh yeah, that’s what you want to see when you still have two hours of driving to go.

Of course, the strain of that erratic driving put me in the unenviable position of needing to pull into one of the Tunpike filling stations to get some gas.  Considering the torrential (“Warning!”) conditions at the time, I decided to gamble on the next plaza.

Midway there, the orange fuel light came on.  Okay, let me see.  If I get 28 miles to the gallon and I’ve got a gallon left and I’m 26 miles away, I should be okay.  Yeah.  Now my head hurt along with my eye.

I coasted into the station and slipped the credit card into the pump as the rains began to pick up again.  Thankfully, the pumps were covered.  After pumching in my zip code, the machine told me to go pay the cashier.  Sigh.

When I got home, it was absolutely pouring.  I struggled into my rain jacket inside the car, took my phone, my (now off) glasses and nothing else and ran for the door.  I remembered to turn back on the water before I entered and then I simply stood, exhausted but happy, in the middle of my hallway.

I was so tired I couldn’t actually get to sleep, so I fired up a micro meal (thank goodness I had one left; I had really tried to empty the fridge and freezer before leaving) and had a glass of iced tea.

The rain had now nearly stopped, so I stole back outside and brought my stuff inside.  I took a deep breath, let it out and then curled up in my bed.

The trip was a lot of fun and I discovered all sorts of things I didn’t know before, including about myself.  Tomorrow, some final thoughts on the Grand Road Trip and then it’s on to an extended series of posts about Halloween!

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