Too Much of a Good Thing

I love to drive. As I have said before, I will drive 50 miles out of my way just for the fun of it. But, as I learned this past weekend, I do have my limits. I just can’t drive like I used too.

It is college tour season (second round); My daughter was accepted into the Honors College at George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia and subsequently invited to a reception/open house/information session. So it was decided we would go, and, after looking at several options for getting there and back, I decided I would make the drive. The drive up was fine; 9+ hours of drive time turned into almost 12 hours by the time we stopped to eat, fuel up, and stop at rest areas, but we had a nice hotel room and a fine dinner when we finally made it.

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Every year for the last seven years, I have made the trek to Gatlinburg to attend our utility association conference. I always learn something at the conference that makes the trip worth while and I get to see friends and colleagues that I don’t see often enough, so I keep coming back. I usually take Highway 11 from Chattanooga up to Lenoir City and then Hwy 321 across to Pigeon Forge and on into Gatlinburg. US 11 is one of the old grand highways that was THE highway before Interstate 75 came along. It passes through some beautiful countryside and towns that you will miss if you travel via the Interstate. In total, the trip takes a little over three hours, which, in and of itself is no big deal. But is the last 30 miles that I really dread. That is the home stretch from Pigeon Forge into Gatlinburg.

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I am a gadget freak. I like all things electronica, except music (with the possible exception of “Warm Leatherette” by The Normal and a few songs by Heaven 17), so it is even better when I can combine my love of gadgets with the joy of driving. My faithful Garmin Nuvi 255 finally gave up the ghost after almost 5 years of service, which is a full life for a small electronic device. In my quest for a replacement, I was leaning toward Garmin, but did not rule any available model out. At a minimum, any new unit would at least have to have to all the features I liked on the 255, plus the ability to import a custom route via computer and some kind of warning about which lane to get into for an upcoming exit.

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Road Warrior

I have always enjoyed traveling by car, either as the driver or a passenger. I come from a car-centric family; at one time my dad had over 50 cars in various states of disrepair scattered around his “yard”. I grew up working on cars and taking long road trips with my family. I remember riding around Europe in a VW microbus from campsite to campsite, seeing the sights with my family. We would regularly make the long haul from and Alabama to North Carolina to see relatives, sometimes only for the weekend. Ever since I got my license, I would use any excuse to get on the road. Even now, I don’t think twice about jumping in the car and driving 45 minutes to an hour each way to go grocery shopping.

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Creature of Habit

As much as I hate to admit it, my wife is right. Every year we go to the same beach for vacation, mostly because she doesn’t like change.  This year, as in years past, I gave in to her wishes, mostly because it is an argument I would lose anyway. A normal beach vacation for my family goes something like this; drive like hell to get to the beach (no stops except for gas and you had better take your bathroom break then too), then lounge around for a week, and then drive like hell to get back home.

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Getting ready to go

I am taking a little trip this weekend back to Mississippi. I haven’t been in almost 25 years and am really looking forward to it. It sort of seems strange that I spent a great deal of my youth in Alabama, but never went to Mississippi until I was out of high school and living in Tennessee. This will be only my fourth time there.

I don’t remember anything about the first time I went. I took a friend back to school in Oxford and the passage of time has erased everything except for the memory that I went.

I remember a few more things about the trip I took to Greenville. At the time I was a Navy A-6 mechanic stationed in Virginia Beach and was “chosen” to go retrieve a plane that had not been flown in years. The aircraft’s manufacturer had a rework facility there and the plane had been flown there to serve as a facilities planning tool and then forgotten. The facility was closing down and the Navy wanted its plane back. It took us a week to get it flying again, and I remember the Master Chief telling us “If it clears the Mississippi, it belongs to the West Coast.” It actually made it to NAS Coronado before we had our tools packed up and loaded for the trip back home. I remember Greenville was flat and there wasn’t a whole lot going on there.

Of my three trips to Mississippi, I remember the last time I was there best. It was the most recent, and it was the most significant. My wife and I took a train from Birmingham Alabama to New Orleans for our honeymoon. Mississippi was flat along that route as well. There were lots of fields, rundown shacks, swamps and (presumably) snakes. We made it back alive; hopefully we will retrace our steps soon.

On this trip I am traveling by myself and, since I have almost a whole day to get there, the possibilities are endless. I have been spending the last several days planning my route. I like taking the backroads to see the “real” countryside as opposed to the sanitized version you get from Interstate highway travel. This is the kind of rambling that drives my wife crazy. She believes that when you go somewhere, you get in the car and drive until you get there, taking the fastest and most direct route. You can only go to the bathroom when you stop to put gas in the car and most meals are taken in the car. On a previous family vacation, logistical circumstances forced us to take two cars. We left about the same time, but she arrived hours before I did; I took the scenic route.

Hopefully I will see things that I have never seen before; I will definitely be going places I have never been. The anticipation is almost as much fun as the journey!