Pyramids and highways...

Day 5: Everyone was up early Saturday, June 26 for the continental cereal and donuts. We loaded up the van, and headed out by 9:15, local time. We filled up Satori's gas tank, then took the Beltway out of Landover Hills, around the south end of the District and into Virginia. The sky was overcast, the sunlight diffused and scattered. We were on Interstate 95, which was really crowded for a Saturday morning. Traffic was awful; bumper-to-bumper all the way to the horizon. It would clear up every 10 minutes or so, and then clog up again. We drove through the Prince William Forest, which should have been neat, but all we saw were walls of trees alongside the rolling traffic jam. It took us over two hours to travel the 50 miles from Washington to Fredericksburg, where we got off the highway. 
Right in one 20-mile radius were the sites of the Battle of the Wilderness, the Battle of Chancellorsville, the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House and the Battle of Salem Church, all within driving distance of Fredericksburg. If we'd had time, I would've liked to have visited them all. 
I was hoping we'd have time to visit the battlefield on our way to the beach house, but the congestion on I-95 had put us way behind schedule. I stopped at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, where a nice lady gave us some good directions. She said Interstate 95, which runs from Maine all down the eastern seaboard to Florida, is "one big megapolis," and that traffic was snarled pretty much 24/7.

Everyone: Avoid Interstate 95 at all costs!

The battle of Fredericksburg was in and all around the little Virginia town, not just on one field, so deciding what to see was a little confusing. It was frustrating as I tried to navigate unfamiliar roads in busy traffic and read the conflicting battlefield maps. If you don't know where you're going, it's easy to be swept past by the traffic. We were supposed to take possession of the house at 4 PM, and time was marching onward. We ended up going down Lee's Drive, and the site of the Federal breakthrough on Prospect Hill.
At the end of Lee's Drive, across the fields, you can see the 30-foot square, 23-foot high pyramid that marks the left of the Northern penetration into Confederate lines on December 13, 1862. It was at this point that Federal troops under Gen. George Meade took advantage of an unprotected marshy woodland 500 yards wide, which jutted beyond the railroad tracks. About 4,500 Federals surged through the Rebel defensive line, but were soon driven out, after sustaining 40 percent casualties. In 1903, R.F. & P. railroadmen used unhewn Virginia granite to erect the pyramid  for the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, because they wanted to memorialize the battle in a location visible to train travelers.
I took some pictures, and almost got a picture of a deer and two fauns crossing the little road, if I hadn't been using my slow-as-molasses digital camera. Satori's odometer clicked over 111,111 miles. We found our way out of town, and following the volunteer lady's directions headed for state Highway 17 to Norfolk, by-passing Interstate 95 and Richmond all together. The difference was astounding.
Compare: Interstate 95...
...And Virginia Highway 17
A clear, 4-lane highway stretched ahead of us, with hardly and traffic at all, all the way to the coast. Patches of blue appeared in the sky. Fields of crops appeared, and it was like we'd finally found the real Virginia: not the tourist traps or expensive mansions, but the land of farms, family, and traditions. We passed a sign for one farm called "On Goldman Pond," and went through Port Royal at 1 :35 local time. About a half hour later, we stopped in the town of Tappahannock (on the Rappahannock) for some lunch. The Shoney's had good food, and the service was fast and friendly. The guys were enchanted by the claw machine in the lobby. We were tempted by a seafood restaurant down the street: The Crabby Oyster. Instead, we took the opportunity to hit the Wal-Mart across the highway for some beach towels (forgotten way back in Broken Arrow) and some sunglasses. From there, it was clear driving all the way to Hampton. Outside of the Gloucester County line, we went over a creek called Dragon Run. On the way, we went through the town of Ordinary, Virginia. That's all the city limit sign said: "Ordinary."I missed the turnoff for West Point, but my wife Donna saw it as we continued down the road. Late that afternoon, we crossed the York River, and caught up with Interstate 64 at Newport News. I-64 makes one big loop around the complicated conglomeration of towns at Hampton Roads, and it was a continuous source of confusion. We found ourselves going into the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Tunnel under the James River, which comes back up– in the middle of the bay! Whose bright idea was that? Only half the crossing is by tunnel, the rest is by bridge over the water. The highways right after we crossed became very confusing, and the maps were little or no help. Just then, we needed to make an emergency pit stop, but there was no place to go. Exits seemed to take people to different roads, not off the highway. I took an exit that claimed services, but once after going down the road for 5 minutes we saw no places to stop. We finally found a convenience store in what turned out to be Suffolk, Virginia, way off the beaten path. When we finally got back on the expressway, I took things nice and slow, checking all the signs and exits, and eventually we found our way out of the mish-mash of highways and on Highway 168 south.
We were almost in North Carolina... but Virginia had one more surprise for us. The last four miles of Highway 168 was a toll road– we had to pay to get out of Virginia! By that time, it was worth it. During the whole trip, events or places that got on our nerves would be excluded from our conversation by saying "...And we will never speak of this again." It got to be a running gag. Once we crossed the border into North Carolina, the road was free and clear. Not far into the state, Highway 168 turns into Highway 158, for no apparent reason.

We passed a town called Harbringer. The sun was starting to get low in the sky when we got to Point Harbor, the end of land. That's where we got on the Wright Memorial Bridge across Currituck Sound to Dare Island. We had done it! We had reached the Outer Banks!

We skipped the visitor center, and turned north on Highway 12. It was about 5 miles down the 2-lane road until we got to the tiny town of Duck, North Carolina. It was a small village with about a dozen stores, a convenience store, a post office, and several dozen neighborhoods. Our journey was not yet over. We still had to find the house. Donna had been trying to call her dad's cellphone, but apparently it was either turned off or the battery was run down. She tried to call the house, but kept getting an answering machine. She feared it was the phone number for the rental agency, and not the house itself. We stopped at the town's one convenience store for directions. The owner got out a map of Duck, and even though it listed the street index, it didn't seem to appear on the map. We tried three different neighborhoods, but didn't find the street we were looking for. Then, Donna had the brilliant idea of asking for directions from the one place that had to know where everything was: the delivery pizza place. They were able to point us in the right direction, and we pulled up into the driveway at 8:10 local time. We made it!
My wife's folks, her sister Dianne and her niece Kim were already at the rent house. It was good to finally get there. It was a three-story, 5-bedroom beach house, with two big balconies in the back, hot tub, private pool and cable TV. My wife and I had our own bedroom on the second floor. My in-laws took a room, and Will got his own room. Dianne and Kim took the top floor bedroom, and Nick & Zack shared the first floor bedroom. They had their own living room and big screen TV down there. The kitchen and main dining area was on the third floor. I cracked open a beer, relaxed in the hot tub, and took it easy the rest of the evening. 

I calculated we'd traveled 1,814 miles cross-country in five days from Broken Arrow to Duck.

Day 1 -- Day 2 -- Day 3 -- Day 4 -- Day 5 -- Day 6 -- Day 7 
Day 8 -- Day 9 -- Day 10 -- Day 11 -- Day 12 -- Day 13 
All original content copyright (c) 2004 by Tim Frayser