The Longest Day

Today we made it to Nashville TN from Virginia Beach.

I knew going into the day that it was going to be the longest stretch in the car that we have done or will have to do; but I had no idea just how long it would end up being.

On Thursday of last week I picked up the RoadGypsy wagon in Hagerstown Maryland that will be my home on wheels for the foreseeable future. With no experience towing, it is a daunting task to bring the wagon back home over 3000 miles to the west coast. I spent a few hours that day just driving around mall parking lots and then the back roads of Hagerstown. The roads were reminiscent of when I drove around Ireland for two weeks – narrow, winding roads through beautiful, green landscapes. It was a pretty good crash course on towing an 8ft wide, 10ft long trailer; but I wouldn’t say that I was totally confident at the end of the day and backing up was still giving me a rough time.

I knew the concept that you have to do the opposite turn to get the trailer to go where you want it to; but making it happen in the real world is a whole lot different than conceptualizing it.

That day I made a deal with the universe :

I’ll plan the best route I can. I’ll drive slow. I’ll leave early to get the most daylight. – Just help me get Bruce home safe.

Simple enough.

The next day, I went down to Virginia Beach to spend the father’s day weekend with one of my best friends that I haven’t seen in years. I got to see his dad briefly, who we all just call ‘Pops’, I got some pointers on where to go with Bruce in Virginia Beach to experience the area, we had some really good meals, and spent time with his good friend and her daughters who are really amazing people and they’re into board games (especially strategy based games!) so all around it was a pretty perfect weekend.

The one thing that I didn’t do was practice driving the trailer around; but the most helpful thing I remembered from driving school all those years ago was that they made us learn how to control our lane position by taking note of exactly where the lines on the road intersect with the dash. In other words, if you get right up close to the line on the left using your mirrors and sit in your standard driving position you can see the line disappearing near the corner of the windshield and make a mental note of where that is. Then you should never have to check the wheels in your mirror while you’re driving – you just keep track of the left hand line and never let it get closer to you than that spot. And the same with the right side – it will be closer to the center of the windshield than the corner but it still works the same.

Early this morning, we woke up and I made sure to get Bruce ready for the long haul to Nashville. He got a walk in and got his breakfast and then a few minutes to digest before we got started.

It took another few minutes for me to get the trailer hooked up and then a few more to get it safely out of the parking lot without making contact with any vehicles – but we made it.

From there, I got myself a smoothie from an AMAZING spot called Tropical Smoothie Cafe (I went there every day I was in Virginia Beach) and deposited a check at the Navy Fed before we got on the road.

The Google Maps directions told me that we would take 11 hours to get to our destination, and I knew that we were going to gain an hour of daylight heading west; so I thought we’d be able to get in at a reasonable time.

I also accounted for :

  • Bruce’s meals
  • Bruce’s walks
  • Gas Stops
  • The slower speed of towing a trailer

What I did NOT account for :

  • Multiple 30 min delays from accidents
  • A massive storm through most of Tennessee
  • Power outages stretching for over 20 miles
  • The full effect of the trailer on my fuel efficiency

Things got rocky right off the bat. We waited nearly a half hour at the first freeway on ramp to get out of Virginia Beach due to an accident on the ramp. Maps suggested another route that would save a few minutes but at the time it seemed like a small inconvenience and I didn’t want to drive around the city streets with the trailer if I could just get in the freeway.

After that, it went fairly smoothly for awhile. I couldn’t go much over 50 mph without pushing my engine so I kept it pretty slow, especially if there was any headwinds. And it seemed like as the day warmed up my engine complained more about the hills. We were also climbing into Appalachia; so there’s that. But the van did really well and I didn’t have any issues towing.

I did have to make a lot more gas stops than I had planned on; although that is partially because I wasn’t letting the tank get under the halfway mark just in case I hit a long stretch without gas stations.

Around 1:30, we got to a rest stop where there was a small trail to explore and some fields to run around in.  I decided that was as good a place as any to have lunch and Bruce scarfed down his chow.

At this point we were nearing 90° and I was eager to keep moving; but I had no idea how short on time we would end up being.  I considered taking a few sips of one of the 5 hour energy drinks that I’d picked up but decided to wait.

We made some more stops in Charlottesville and a few other small towns but didn’t take the time to explore the area. I was watching the time on my Maps and realized that at 55mph as opposed to 70, we were falling behind schedule.

There was also another big accident that got us off the freeway and I ended up on a narrow, winding 25 mph road going up the mountain. But after getting through that without incident I felt a lot more comfortable with the trailer.

It was around that time that I noticed a strong headwind that was making it even more difficult to climb the hills. Even trying to maintain speed going down hill was a challenge without putting my RPMs over what I was comfortable with. Luckily, at no point during the trip did my temperature gauge even think about moving. We were slowed down, but the van was doing its job.

Then I noticed what the wind was bringing our way. To be honest I thought there was a possibility of a tornado; but it didn’t reach that extreme.

Instead, we got a solid hour of downpour and lightning followed by a couple hours of heavy rain in an area where people obviously had no idea how to drive in rain.

I hate driving around other drivers. I don’t have a problem with there being occasional traffic – it’s the people.

It got dark, and the rain was falling hard in waves that definitely forced me to adapt. I’m used to this. I drive in Seattle. But I was nervous about how it would effect the trailer.

  • I reduced my speed
  • I increased my following distance
  • I cranked my window wipers
  • I focused in on the lines on the road
  • And I turned up the music

There was some crazy lightning that cut through the sudden, all encompassing darkness and the rain just wouldn’t let up; but again I got through it without incident.

What pissed me off nearly to my limits was the stupidity of the other drivers. I can understand putting your hazards on if visibility was at zero and we were in a blizzard or something; but in this situation, it only served to cause confusion and create an extremely unsafe environment. People would be driving down the center lane at 60 mph with their hazards on, changing lanes with no way of signalling their intent, and in the darkness and the rain the bright blinking actually made it more difficult to see than if they’d trusted that people would see their break lights. Visibility was low but not that low.

Cars did it, semi trucks did it, it’s like everyone took the same stupid pill this morning. And to top it off they didn’t have the presence of mind to turn the hazards off in areas that the rain was less heavy so you just had a bunch of people driving down the road with their hazards still on for no reason… I was shocked.

Luckily, we got through the worst of it pretty quickly and once we were out of whatever city it was that was getting battered, the herd thinned significantly.

I waited for the rain to die down some before trying to find a good place to gas up and feed Bruce dinner.  I was hoping to find a conveniently placed BK Lounge to grab an impossible burger but I had some snacks and a parfait as a back up.

From the point that I first decided to get off the freeway and get gas; it was at least another 20 miles before I found a town with a gas station that had power. Everything was dark.

And of course no one knew how to treat a stop light as a stop sign so people just barrelled through if they felt that they were on the more main road.

I did find a shell gas station and I still could have gone another 80 miles before I would have had to park at a gas station and wait for the power to come back on. And then I saw a break in the clouds ahead of me that nearly brought a tear to my eye.

After 15 hours. We arrived in Nashville.

And we don’t have nearly as far to go on any single day between here and home.

This was ‘the big one’.

Now, time to sleep.

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