The Lessons Learned
This is the second time I’ve driven the Blue Ridge Parkway. The first time, it was more or less by default, and I drove only through the Shenandoah National Park; from Waynesboro to Front Royal.
Jim and I were leaving Round Rock, in the summer of 2003, to take Addy’s ashes to the spot where she and he had scattered Paul’s, several years before. Jim, thinking of driving this lovely road, bought a Miata.
Now, a Miata has rear wheel drive, which means it can’t be flat-towed, and requires a trailer. Jim’s motor home was not strong enough to pull a trailer through those mountains, so we bought a dolly. We never thought to try it out before leaving, so, come the morning of departure, we backed the Miata onto the dolly, only to find that the front end was only about 3” off the ground.
We had to go back in the house to have a cigarette and think about this. Finally, Jim said, “Well, we have two choices. Either you drive the Miata, or we leave it at home.”
You will never believe this, Dearly Beloved, but I actually had to think about that for a while. Like, ten minutes or so. I actually had to talk myself into driving the Miata along behind the motor home.
I was always a very nervous driver, having only finally got my license at the ripe old age of 45. It took me a further two years to actually get on the freeway.
So, I really had to think about whether or not I had the intestinal fortitude to drive the Miata behind the motor home, all the way to Gettysburg, down to Savannah, and back home to Round Rock. Once committed, there would be no backing out. What would we do, sell it in Georgia?
Finally, I felt a little nudge from Addy’s ghost. Addy wouldn’t have hesitated for so much as a heartbeat. Addy would have just put on some lipstick and fired ‘er up.
I knew Jim had bought the car for the express purpose of driving through the park. We had five days of reservations for an RV site at the Big Meadow campground, with plans to explore the Shenandoah Valley, Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, and other points of interest from that base.
So, I put on some chap stick, and got in the car and fired ‘er up.
We were off in a cloud of dust and eagle piss.
I was terrified. Jim was an excellent driver, and drove like a wild man. I had no idea that a motor home could go eighty-five miles an hour…ninety or more, if he had to pass an eighteen-wheeler!
I followed along as best I could, only losing him once, in Tennessee, when I accidentally got ahead of him.
After driving four thousand miles, I was no longer afraid to drive, but the main part of the lesson came during the time spent driving the steep and winding road through Shenandoah National Park. The views were breathtaking, but so was the fog. And the huge motorbus campers, the Harley riders who knew they owned the road, and the people who had to stop dead in the middle to take pictures of wandering wildlife.
Jim and I had always wanted to come back, but I never visualized it this way…with him in a box in the trunk.
So now it’s time for Brendan and me to bring Jim home to where his parents found their final resting place. Jim had always said that he wished he had had a chance to drive the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, so that’s what we are doing.
Today, something happened that didn’t when Jim and I made the trip. It rained. Long and hard.
The road through the park has a 35 mph speed limit, but the limit on the rest of the Parkway is 45. And there are people who want to go fifty or more, rain or no rain. It is a good thing there are many places to pull off, to look at the view and let impatient drivers behind me get ahead.
After driving all day in the rain, through water, standing and flowing, and through fog and places where the top layer of asphalt had washed out, I am hereby, officially, no longer afraid to drive in the rain.
Oh, I may go a bit more slowly than is required, but I have come to learn that I can do this.
Please, God, don’t let it snow!