Fogged hugged the edges of U.S. 221 as I turned South towards Roanoke at 4:01 a.m. for the four-hour drive to Richmond. Bluegrass blared from the XM radio and I sipped coffee while watching the fog lights from the Wrangler cut through the murk.
Traffic is seldom a problem on 221 between Bent Mountain and Floyd and I didn’t meet a single car on the road during the wee hours Tuesday. In fact, I didn’t encounter a single set of headlights on 221 or the stretch of Blue Ridge Parkway from Bent Mountain to U.S. 220 south of Roanoke. The fog dissipated at the bottom of the mountain and I could see, sadly, the lights of the ever-encroaching subdivisions that are too visible from the Parkway at the bottom of the mountain.
The headlights of other cars shared the road shortly before 5 as I drove through Roanoke on the short stretch of Interstate 581 to I-81. I refilled the gas tank and my coffee cup at the TA Truckstop in Troutville before heading north on 81 at 5:30, just as the light of day began to appear over the mountains. Trucks, the dominators of I-81 day or night, sped downhill and then slowed on the long uphill stretches of the Interstate. I stayed in the passing lane with the speed set at 70 as the Wrangler ate up the miles.
Rays of sunlight illuminated Afton Mountain as I turned west on I-64 at Staunton. Early commuters into Charlottesville replaced the heavy trucks as companions on the roadway but the long line of cars turned off at U.S. 29 and, once again, I rode an empty road for a few miles before those headed for work in Richmond began appearing on the entrance ramps.
Traffic intensified about 40 miles west of Virginia’s capital city and slowed almost to a standstill as we approached I-295, the bypass to points North, South and East of the city. By the time we reached downtown at 7:45 a.m., Richmond’s rush hour was in full swing, complete with frequent lane changes, honking horns and short tempers.
I nosed the Wrangler into the parking garage for St. Paul’s Church on Ninth Street at 8:14 a.m. From there it would be a short walk to the Virginia Supreme Court building and a court hearing that required coverage for The Floyd Press.
The parking attendant handed over the ticket.
“How long you going to be buddy?”
“Only as long as I have to.”
Eight hours later, I nosed the Wrangler back into Richmond rush hour traffic. My day was 12 hours old and I still faced a four-hour drive back to the mountains. The day had taken its toll and I pulled off the road West of Richmond to close my eyes for 30 minutes and then give my body a sugar jolt from a Coke and a candy bar.
At 7:51 p.m. I turned the Wrangler off U.S. 221 onto Poor Farm Road and the final leg of the trip home, pulling into the driveway four minutes later. I turned the ignition off and listened to the pops and cracks that come from an engine trying to cool down after four hours and 200 miles of constant driving.
Then it hit me. Damn, I was tired.