In seven days we traveled through ten different states (but who’s counting?). Rhode Islanders are accustomed to moving among the states quite easily; we’ve driven to Stockbridge in western Massachusetts for lunch, visited the Vermont Country Store on a day trip, taken the ferry from Connecticut to Long Island and back in a day and thought nothing of it. Get out of New England, though, and all of a sudden the states seem a lot bigger. I guess they are. Rhode Island’s area is just over 1,000 square miles, Pennsylvania’s is just over 46,000, and Virginia’s is slightly less. So there was a lot of ground to cover on this trip! We left Rhode Island, drove through Connecticut, down Route 95 and the stress-filled area through New York and New Jersey, into the rich green farmland of Pennsylvania, landscapes dotted with neatly rolled bales of hay, black cows, a red barn, and a gray silo. All visible from the window of a car traveling at 65 mph. There’s a tiny part of West Virginia that juts out into Route 81, so anyone traveling that stretch of highway will pass through Martinsburg, and perhaps visit the very clean Welcome Center. West Virginia may not have much real estate along Route 81, but they sure make the best of it!
It’s a long drive through Virginia, passing towns with names familiar to any Civil War buff: Front Royal, Shenandoah, Staunton. And some intriguing names, like Burnt Factory, Quicksburg, Fort Defiance, Steeles Tavern. As we turned onto Route 77 towards North Carolina, we passed Fancy Gap and Crooked Oak and we neared Mount Airy, which lies close to the border with Virginia. Mount Airy was the hometown of Andy Griffith, and everywhere you look, there are tributes to this favorite son. Although the town bears little resemblance to Mayberry of TV fame, the downtown area has been preserved and features the Snappy Lunch, Opie’s Candy Store, Floyd’s Barber Shop, and Barney’s Cafe. A sweet place.
We drove to Galax, Virginia, and our trusty GPS told us to follow back roads instead of the highway. Of course, this made us happy, as we love the back roads! Jim handled this leg, thankfully, and maneuvered through Piper’s Gap, one of dozens of mountain roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Galax, we enjoyed the best barbeque (brisket, not pork!) at the Galax Smokehouse, then continued along the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail (a 300+-mile route in southwestern Virginia) to the town of Floyd, a regional destination for bluegrass and old-time mountain music.
The following day we drove part of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Back in 2005, we drove the Parkway north from Roanoke to Winchester; this time, we traveled from Fancy Gap south to Boone, stopping at the Blue Ridge Music Center to see the wonderful exhibits and listen to Scott Freeman and his father-in-law Willard Gayheart, Scott on mandolin and Willard on guitar, both in very fine voice. We wanted to stay all day, but the road beckoned. If you’ve never had the opportunity to drive or bike the Blue Ridge Parkway, put it on your list. We drove through the clouds at times, but there are so many overlooks, we found plenty of clear views of the valleys below.
When we left Mount Airy and North Carolina, there was the long drive back through Virginia (in a driving rainstorm) that brought us back to Gettysburg for the night. And with that much driving ahead of us, we decided to make one more stop before heading home, so we chose Rome, New York, east of Syracuse (we had our little dog with us, so our hotel choices were limited, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way). Our final drive was on the New York Thruway down to the familiar Massachusetts Turnpike, crossing over the Housatonic and Westfield Rivers, through Chicopee and Olde Sturbridge Village, into northern Rhode Island and home at last. Back to where it’s less than five miles to church, market, and gasoline.