Fog loomed in the darkness as I packed the Liberty for a day trip to Washington.
Leaving at oh-dark-thirty means getting through Roanoke before morning rush-hour traffic fills the roads. Yet rush hour traffic in the Star City is nothing to someone who endured the National Capital Regionâ€™s roadway nightmares for 23 years.
I fired up the Liberty and let the engine warm up while sipping coffee and punching the address for my meeting in Falls Church into the GPS. It took a few seconds to calculate the route and the Garmin showed an anticipated arrival time at the location at 11:15 a.m. â€“ 15 minutes late for the appointment. Iâ€™d have to make up the time en route.
Fog hugged U.S. 221 as I headed north. I played fast and loose with the speed limit in the dark, hoping local law enforcement enjoyed a cup of coffee somewhere. Hope realized. By the time I hit I-81 outside of Roanoke, the GPS showed I had made up five minutes. I set the cruise control on 73 and joined the long line of trucks headed north.
By Harrisonburg, the GPS arrival time said 10:55. Good. Iâ€™d need that cushion and more when Washington-area traffic came into the mix. Iâ€™d planned the trip to hit at the tail end of rush hour, hoping for a smoother-than-normal ride into Falls Church.
I had a 20-minute cushion at Gainesville and breezed past Manassas. Flipped on the traffic channel on XM sat radio. Condition green the announcer said. No significant backups. Good, I thought. Iâ€™d have time to refill my coffee cup before the meeting.
Then luck ran out. Just past U.S. 50, traffic on I-66 slowed, then came to a dead stop. Odd. The traffic channel still reported condition green but somebody wasnâ€™t telling them about the Interstate-turned-parking lot. My 20 minute cushion evaporated as we inched along for four miles. The arrival time went back into the red. Picked up my cell phone to let them know I would be late.
Just before the intersection with the Beltway, the culprit emerged: An 18-wheeler with an oversized load, broken down in one of the middle lanes. Clear sailing past that but arrived at the 11 a.m. meeting at 11:35.
By the time I finished up my last meeting of the day in Merrifield that 35-minute delay turned into two hours. I wanted to avoid evening rush hour traffic getting out of the DC area. Too late. At 4:45 p.m. I headed up U.S. 50 towards I-66. Then XM delivered the October surprise: a wreck blocked all but one lane of Westbound 66 at Virginia 28. Headed for alternate route on U.S. 29. Unfortunately, others must have been listening to the traffic reports. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Took four and five cycles to get through each stop light. Two hours later, finally turned onto I-66 Westbound at Gainesville.
Stopped for gas in Woodstock. Eighteen and a half gallons of regular at $2.61.9. Not bad, considering the prices closer to Washington were $2.99. Spotted a Five Guys hamburger stand next to the gas station. Ah, grease for the road.
Munched on a bacon cheeseburger and some fantastic fries as I headed onto I-81 South. The GPS estimated arrival home at 11:37 p.m. I can beat that. Set the cruise control at 75.
By Lexington, ETA said 10:55. Looking better. Hit 419 in Roanoke at 10:05 and headed up Bent Mountain at 10:20. Slowed suddenly just past Copper Hill for a deer in the road. Good thing. Met a State Trooper while speed still under 55. He kept going. So did I.
Pulled into the driveway at 10:45. Fog. Again. Eleven plus hours on the road for four-and-a-half hours of business.