Sometimes it seems like my life has been defined by the highways and byways of North America.
As I grew up, I watched Interstate 81 as it snaked its way up the backbone of Virginia. When in military school in Chattanooga, many times I rumbled up Route 11 and the pieces of Interstate 81 as they were drilled out of the mountains.
When I was in college in Boston I would time my return trips homes so that I arrived at the upper reaches of Virginia just as the sun began to rise. I had many magical road trips along the east coast.
I have also driven across the country three times and made it to Alaska by road back when the ALCAN Highway was not paved.
In my Canadian days, I made the drive/ferry ride to Newfoundland three or four times. Once the ice breaking ferry I was riding became stuck in the ice for a few hours.
This past weekend's trip was more important than many of the trips I have made. I worked until early Saturday afternoon and managed to head out of Cape Carteret around 4:30 pm. That meant that I got to watch the sun dropping behind the horizon not far from Pittsboro, NC. That is along Route 64 which is one of my favorite highways.
As is often the case when I drive late into the night, sleep doesn't come easily. It's hard to decompress from the drive and have sound sleep. That Saturday night after driving to Roanoke was no exception. I was awake from one to three am worrying about those things that stalk when you cannot sleep.
It was a stark change from the night before in Cape Carteret when I slept like a baby after several hours of yard work.
Still lack of sleep does not bother me when driving if I have someone along whose driving I trust. My wife is one of those people. About an hour after putting the sun to our backs and heading south from Roanoke on Interstate 81 towards North Carolina, I pulled into the Austinville, Va. exit on Interstate 77 just after we had crossed the New River. We switched drivers, and I put my traveling pillow behind my head. I slept for the next forty five minutes as we drove down Fancy Gap into the North Carolina foothills close to our former home in Mount Airy.
I often think that if I have to die in accident, I would want to go at one of those times when I have managed to be deep in sleep in the passenger seat.
We had a good visit with my daughter and her new baby. My daughter is still having challenges, but her baby is thriving.
I brought a new portable Canon Pixma photo printer (which I will review soon).
My daughter and I had a lot of fun picking photos to print from the hundreds that we have taken. It is amazing how five or six hours can melt away when you are with ones whose company make your life so interesting.
By seven pm it was time once again to head into the sunset. Except that night we were heading east towards the coast into the darkness. It didn't take long for me to get into my nighttime groove of driving. We stopped for a burger at Cook-out in Asheboro, but other than that, driving became all that mattered.
There's something special about driving at night. All distractions are removed. There's no more beautiful scenery to take your attention from the road. All you have is that pure cone of focus which your headlights create. I rarely let my mind wander beyond that. Driving is what it is all about at night.
My wife and I make small talk on trips like this. It's not the time for life changing decisions. Making it through the darkness of night to the safety of home is the real concern.
After Route 64 runs into Interstate 40 in Cary, life speeds up. As you get east of Raleigh, 70 miles per hour is slow even if it is the speed limit. Cars and trucks zoom past regularly. Still even at just 70 mph, the miles melt away, and soon we are ready to make the transition.
As we get off Interstate 40 at exit 373, the darkness has deepened but the world has become different in other ways. The land and the people are much more intertwined than on the Interstates. Interstates are like tunnels through the land. Along Route 24 people and history make for roots that grow deep in the dark soils.
Though the day's journey of nearly five hundred miles is just sixty miles from being over, I relinquish control of the car and let my wife drive. She often drives this section. I think she knows it much better than me.
Highway 24 which we picked up as we quickly slowed from Interstate speeds is not a highway that can be divorced from its people Towns are the reason Route 24 is there.
While the Interstate is the quickest way to get through an area. Route 24 is a way to get from one place to another while sampling the life along the road.
We glide through Beulahville and then Richlands, noting what is new since the last time we came through together. As the towns fade we fall back into our cone of light piercing the countryside.
It is not a journey that we rush. We try to drive just three or four miles per hour over the 55 miles per hour speed limit. It is a comfortable and safe speed to traverse the night.
On our recent trip we noticed at least one patrolman parked in the dark shadows of a strip maill just before town. A speed over sixty would have surely coaxed him from his hiding place in the dark shadows.
Jacksonville which we reach just after midnight looks as deserted as I have ever seen it. I think my eyes are tricking me when I see a barber shop that appears to be open. I wonder out loud if Marines need haircuts after midnight.
In just a few short minutes we are in Swansboro where we slow to 35 mph until we cross the bridges over the White Oak. There is a lone fisherman anchored and fishing by the bridges. Only his navigation lights give him away. I wonder what he might be catching.
In under ten mintues we are unpacking the car. We have come nearly five hundred miles All those miles are harder on my wife, who cannot sleep in the car. She also doesn't let the driving take the place of her cares. To me a long car trip takes me back to high school and college when you sometimes drove just for the sake of driving.
I don't do that anymore, but I admit to enjoying the times when the drive becomes larger than life. When miles need to be covered with as little effort and as much focus as possible, it then that I really like my place at the wheel.
The bed as I settle in signals me that I am home. My pillow retrieved from the car feels just right and sleep comes fairly quickly. It isn't as sound as it might be, but there's always the chance for another ride and perhaps another opportunity to slip into that deep Interstate sleep if I end up in the passenger's seat.
I wonder how long it will be before I head off into the sunset once again?