Westward bound...


Saturday, July 3rd, was our last day on the Outer Banks. It was time to go home. An almost completely full Moon greeted me when I got up at 4:30, Oklahoma time. We had to start early, if we wanted to get enough miles behind us that day. The guys were very sleepy, and had to be poured into the car. We finished loading up the van, said our goodbyes, and headed out at a quarter after 5. The sun was just peeking over the dunes when we turned west at Nag's Head. We crossed the Washington Baum Bridge over Roanoke Sound and passes an accident on the other side of the bridge. It was the Fourth of July Weekend, and the networks were estimating there would be 33 million people on the nation's highways  us among them. Crossing another bridge from Roanoke Island, we were finally on the continent again. We were westbound on Highway 64, "The Historic Albemarle Highway." The road took us through long stretches of tall trees and muggy flatlands.
The last sunrise over the Outer Banks
It was a pleasant morning. The landscape smelled fresh and morning-dewy. We passed Dillon's Ridge, and went through Columbia at 6:22 (OK time). A side road named Sprull Loop caught my attention. While going through the next town, Pleasant Grove, I noticed several Sprulls in the church cemetery. About a half-hour later, we went through Plymouth, North Carolina, home of the First Original Free Will Baptist Church. At Jamesville, the road turned 4-lane, but fog began to rise from the nearby marshes. By Williamston, visibility was down to about a half mile. We found ourselves on the Dr. Moses A. Ray Highway which, a number of miles down the road, turned into the Congressman L. H. Fountain Highway. We went through the town of Rocky Mount, and about 15 minutes later we passed under the dreaded Interstate 95.
 
Big accident ahead on interstate through Raleigh
By mid-morning, the fog had cleared, and we made it to Raleigh, North Carolina, where we turned north. Interstate 440 makes a big loop over the north side of Raleigh. Alongside the highway, the city had erected big sound-muffling walls, like so many cities had done. Raleigh's, however, were built not of concrete but of stylish brick  very classy, and much less an impersonal assault on the eyes. We rounded around to the west side of the city, where we hooked up with Interstate 40... and slowed to a halt. Traffic was backed up for miles. After a few minutes, we heard the sound of emergency vehicles coming up behind us. Slowly, cars and trucks inched out of the way as an ambulance and a fire truck moved forward in the inside lane. This had the effect of creating a hole for traffic, so following a couple other cars, I moved in behind the ambulance. We were moving again... except, the accident the vehicles were aiming for was less than a half mile ahead of us, at the crest of a hill. It looked bad. There was even a fire truck on the overpass over the site. A friendly semi let me pull Satori back into the outside lane, where traffic began to get moving again. As we passed the accident itself, two cars were smashed up against each other in the inside lane, with a third car rear-ended in front of them. It looked ugly. It had taken a half hour to go about a tenth of a mile, but once we were past the accident it was clear sailing.
 
As we entered Orange County, a sign predicted, "You'll Be a Fan for Life." It took about an hour to make it to Winston-Salem. Storm clouds circled overhead, and we thought we had driven around them, but a half hour later we caught some rain. Just before noon (OK time), we stopped to top off the tank just outside Statesville. At the Drexel exit, we started to see mountains alongside the highway. We were moving into the Great Smoky Mountains, and the sights were very dramatic. Clouds hung low over the peaks, crawling over the crests. They looked like a friendly version of Mordor. I remembered the Starfleet Marine Wilderness Challenge was in these mountains back in 2000, and could only imagine what an adventure it must have been.
 
Driving through the Great Smoky Mountains
 
Just east of Asheville, we crossed over the Eastern Continental Divide, at an elevation of 2,700 or so feet. Being from the Midwest, I had never heard of an Eastern Continental Divide before.
It seems the Continental Divide in New Mexico, which I had crossed several times, marked the runoff between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans... but the Eastern Continental Divide marked where water ran off to Atlantic and where it went to the Gulf of Mexico.There are also other great divides, which designate the watersheds of the St. Lawerence Seaway, and where water flows north to the Hudson Bay, Labrador Sea and the Beaufort Sea. You learn something new every day, I guess. 
Four miles from the North Carolina border, we went through a tunnel through a mountain. We emerged on the other side on the floor of a high, wooded valley. Just after 9 hours on the road, we crossed the border into Tennessee. We found ourselves on the Senator Albert Gore Highway. The hills of Tennessee spread out into a vibrant, green landscape of orderly hedges and neat emerald fields, surrounded by majestic hills of forest. I really, really liked Tennessee. Compared to the Mordor-ish mountains we'd just passed, it was very Shire-ish. Just beautiful.
 
We crossed the French Broad River, and down the road made a pit stop in Knoxville. An hour later, about Mile Marker 340, we crossed back over into the Central Time Zone. It was late afternoon when we made Nashville, and I was starting to get really tired. Donna wanted to stop somewhere, but I figured the hotels on the far side of Nashville would be cheaper than the ones inside Nashville. So, we drove through. Downtown Nashville is dominated by one of the ugliest skyscrapers we'd ever seen, something that looked like it belonged in Batman's Gotham City. We later found out it was the Bell South building, and that our opinions were widely shared by the locals. I started looking for motels, and pulled over at a Hampton Inn. They were full, but the clerk suggested another one about 10 miles down the road. About two miles down the road, however, we found a Best Western in Kingston Springs, and it suited us just fine.

We'd driven 773 miles in 14 hours. There was an Arby's across the road, so we ate some supper, washed up, and took it easy the rest of the evening. I was surprised to look out the window about 9 or so and find it pouring down rain outside. I sure didn't see that coming. I called my friend Chester, who was house-sitting for us, and told him we'd be coming back home a day or so early. I had a beer, and in no time at all I was fast asleep.

 
 
 
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 All original content copyright 2004 (c) by Tim Frayser