The first day of my epic drive to Seattle got off to a slow start, despite waking up about 7 to say good-bye to Mom. It took about three hours of last-minute packing, double checking, and fidgeting with said packing before everything was either in or strapped to the car and I could see out the rear-view mirror. Then on my way out of town, I bought new glasses (to take advantage of the insurance plan I’ll lose at the end of the month), new shoes (to take advantage of a hefty gift card discovered during packing), and ran a few other last minute errands, so it was about 1:30 by the time I hit the open road.
I’m considering starting a stupid-driver index. It would measure the driving ability of each state by counting the number of drivers being idiotic (for example, doing 55 in the left lane), then dividing by the number of miles I travel in each state to get the stupid-driver index. Of the three states I’ve traveled so far (NC, VA, WV), so far NC is losing. (Gorramit, shift to the right if you’re going under the speed limit, people!)
I had planned to follow a 6-pm-hard-stop rule: each night, by 6 pm I need to a motel for the evening. However, today, shortly before 6, I found myself just inside the West Virginia border, in a town called Princeton. Princeton’s sole purpose, apparently, is to be an Interstate tourist trap: it’s a collection of chain hotels and restaurants, most if not all overpriced, sitting right on the Interstate exit. So I decided to keep going. I had visions of finding a friendly small town, with a nice little inexpensive mom-and-pop motel, and maybe a local diner where I could get some decent food and country-style Southern hospitality.
But small Appalachian towns exist on a broad spectrum, ranging between “Gaudy Tourist Trap” and “Get Me Out of Here I Hear Banjos.” I know there are plenty of towns between the two extremes; I stayed in many of them while hiking the Appalachian Trail. In West Virginia, however, I had trouble finding such places: I stopped in a little town called Ghent, but there wasn’t much there. The only motel had just two cars in front of it, and shared a parking lot with an adult video store, where several rednecks stood around a pickup truck talking. Cue the “Deliverance” music… time to hit the road again.
I was beginning to despair when I reached the town of Beckley; the number of billboards near the Interstate suggested I was back on the tourist-trap side of things. But I had a booklet of hotel coupons I had picked up at a Visitor Center, and there was one for Microtel Inn here, so I took the exit ramp.
I’m actually using a few different tools to find places to stay: in additions to booklets at Visitor Centers, I’m also using Google Maps on my phone and the Kayak Hotel-Finder application. (West Virginia has had remarkably solid cell connections so far). So I pulled up Kayak, found the Microtel, and let my GPS lead the way. It led me on a windy route through the center of town– which was odd, since I thought the hotel was right by the interstate. Still, the place had a nice vibe to it… it’s the home of MSU (Mountain State University), so it’s very much a college town. At last, I thought, an authentic West Virginia town that is neither a tourist-bilking operation nor a living demonstration of everything that’s wrong with Appalachia.
Unfortunately, what I found out about fifteen minutes of driving through narrow semi-urban streets was that there are two Microtel Inns in Beckley, and the one I wanted was back on the other side of town. Price difference between the two: thirty bucks (eighty versus fifty). So, I got in the car and drove back across town to the other Microtel, where upon entering I was greeted by a sign at the desk saying: “Coupon Rooms Sold Out”.
Fine. Whatever. It’s seventy bucks, but still cheaper than anywhere else, and now it’s 7:30. Give me the freaking room.
Despite the fact that I had given in, the clerk took pity on me and gave me the coupon rate anyway. Score one for southern hospitality. Score two for southern hospitality at the Cracker Barrel next door, where the waitress practically oozed southern charm and friendliness. Such a nice change from the West Virginia Visitor Center at Princeton, where I had the following exchange earlier that evening:
Me: “Hi, I’m driving up I-77, but would like to find a more scenic route that gets me to the same place, even if it takes longer. Any suggestions?”
Lady at the Desk: “No.”
But all in all, it’s been a good trip so far– I forgot to check the mileage before I came in, but I think I did a little over 300 miles today (though, admittedly, some of that was driving back and forth through Buckley). Looking at the map, big cities will be coming fast over the next day or two (Charleston, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee are only 2-3 hours apart each). Should be interesting, although like all my other previous trips, I may not do daily blog entries. Or I may write a few blog entries unrelated to travel. We shall see.
One last ironic note: I left Raleigh this morning and ended the day in Beckley, which is in Raleigh County.
All that travel, only to find myself back in Raleigh…