01 September 2009

Headed for the hills -- part II

As soon as we made the left out of the gas station and onto the highway leading back to the interstate, Jean leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Thanks for doing that," she said, leaning in close to my ear.

"Of course," I said, eyes smiling behind my sunglasses. "Why wouldn't I have?"

"We're in a hurry, for one thing," she said, settling back into the passenger seat. "We got a late start today, and it would have been easy just to go ahead and let somebody else bother with it because we needed to be back on the road. And you didn't know that woman. It's simple not to help, and sometimes with good reason."

"Well, sure... but it's the right thing to do. I'll help someone in a spot like that because there might be a time when I need someone to help me. And I've been in that spot."

"I hope it will rub off. We're nice to someone, maybe she'll do something for a stranger... who knows what can happen?"

"Who knows," I said. "Who knows."

The rest of the afternoon's drive went by quickly; our excitement regarding the trip built throughout the day, making time and the miles fly by. We talked, listened to music, heard a bit of Right Ho, Jeeves by Wodehouse on a CD, and even drove in pleasant silence for a time or two. "We're at that point in our relationship where we don't have to be talking all the time," Jean noted, and I agreed; the scenery spoke for itself and required no comment from us.

We stopped for a short picnic lunch at a rest area just south of Chattanooga, then it was into the mountains before we stopped again for a cup of coffee on the northern outskirts of Knoxville. Jean took over the driving duties for a while, until we made a final pit stop just inside the Virginia state line.

It was at this particular rest area where Muda made his appearance. Muda was the third member of our party, and an active traveler. It is probably worth mentioning here that Muda is also a small, magnetized onion-shaped knicknack souvenir from Bermuda which acts as the mascot for Jean's department at work. Whenever someone in the department goes on a trip, Muda often tags along, and members of the department bring back photos of Muda in various exotic locales. Jean figured it would be a hoot if Muda came along with us on our journey, and the great seal of the state of Virginia provided a perfect backdrop for Muda's first photo op.

Before we pulled back onto the highway, we took some time to review the map and directions we pulled from Google. Another two exits and we would be leaving the interstate near Abingdon to follow U.S. 58 through Damascus and on into Independence.

"This doesn't look so bad," I said to Jean. "According to the map, it's 50 miles or so. It's almost six o'clock. If we hurry, we might be able to get camp set and dinner on before nightfall. Let's get moving!"

And we were back on our way. There were some conversion jokes as we got onto the two-lane highway and headed toward the picturesque small town of Damascus, where we found a small path running alongside a river, quaint cabins, and half-a-dozen mountain bike rental shops.

To this point, the road had been fairly straight and well-maintained. Traffic was light, and we had been able to keep up a decent speed of sixty or so since leaving the interstate. But as we made our final turn out of Damascus, our swift driving came to a halt.

First, the rains showed up. It had been threatening rain for the majority of the trip, and it finally came down as twilight began to fall. But of more significant impact was the road itself. We were, without a doubt, in the mountains. Serious mountains. Rural, rural mountains where if you had a wreck it could be hours -- possibly even days -- before someone found you. Cell phone service was a fantasy. And this one main road snaked up, down, and through these mountains wherever and however it could. It was a series of switchbacks, hairpin turns and steep grades that limited driving -- in the rain and dark -- to a maximum of 35 miles per hour if you were lucky.

I would relate this part of the drive to a fellow camper later on during the trip. Upon hearing my tale, said camper smiled, nodded, and said, "yup, you'll see your own taillights driving down that road."

As such, it took us almost two hours to make it through the worst part of the mountains to Independence, and it was well past eight o'clock when we finally arrived, tired but thrilled, at the campsite.

To be continued

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