CC Roadtrip: Shenandoah – Old Hills And Old Cars

During my bachelor days I was an avid road-tripper, having college buddies in Boston, Washington and all points on the eastern seacoast, and I managed to put an amazing 160k on my 1990 Mustang, all before its 8th birthday. Then came out of town assignments which necessitated more road trips to Boston, Charlotte, and more exotic locales such as Nashville that brought the odometer to over 200k.

But those wandering days came to a bit of halt since my nuptials in 2001.  Don’t get me wrong, I have not suddenly become an agoraphobic—it’s just that my gal, like many, prefers the relative speed and (in)convenience of air travel.  Since I would be traveling to Tally alone and a car is absolutely necessary down here, I flipped a coin and to make a long story short, I eschewed an opportunity to get reacquainted w/ my old running mate (the Mustang) and decided to take my visually challenged, more economical ’93 Corolla instead. Better for keeping an eye peeled for old cars.

The Corolla came to us in 2010 when, in the midst of a daily 150 mile commute (and getting tired of paying Enterprise $700 for a monthly rental), I started looking for a dependable road warrior. Months earlier, I had turned over our ’04 Honda Accord coupe with 84k over to my sister figuring that the Mustang would still haul me locally—never envisioning a 150 mile daily commute! Luckily, my car guy Ira had this Corolla sitting in one of his bays. Days earlier his 18 yr. Old son had done something 18-year-olds are famous for and had lost his license.  The son’s ill fortune was my good fortune; a super clean engine and a low 55k miles made the car a steal at $2.25k.

Having been assigned a long-term consultancy at a Florida State Agency, I quickly jumped on the idea of a road trip. Before setting out I decided to put the first bit of $$ into the car since its August 2010 purchase date. I threw on 4 new shoes, brake pads, determined that the timing belt was NOT original, changed the oil, and addressed a wonky brake light. I also studied the possibility of taking along our bulldog Rocco as a sort of ‘Travels with Charlie.’ He would be wonderful company and it would remove one item off my wife’s plate-however I quickly realized that once in Tallahassee he would be too lonely for my wife and daughter.

Finally, the jump off date: screwing up the courage to part with my 3-year-old daughter Gabriela was difficult and required that I drive her to preschool that one final time, so I didn’t hit the road until 11 am Monday. The route I chose was an alternative to the dependable-but-boring I95.  Being a civil war buff, I was looking to check off a few items off my bucket list: the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Shenandoah Valley/Skyline Drive.

It was at the NJ/PA border in Phillipsburg that I realized that Ira had not addressed the simple matter of the speedo–at highway speed it registered 0. Fearing a speed trap, I ducked into the first Target I could locate & purchased (yes, I did it) a GPS, our family’s first!

Accompanied by the music of assorted 1970s Grateful Dead shows, I took Rt. 81 south, essentially taking Lee’s northernmost march in reverse: Hagerstown, Martinsburg, Winchester, Strasburg east on Rt. 66 to Front Royal, then south on county road 340 thru Compton, Big Spring, Springfield, Luray, Shenandoah and Elkton, all the way down to the mythical Skyline Drive.

Once I made my way down to Shenandoah National Park I was faced with the bad news that the Drive was closed for the season- despite the presence of a single snowflake since our fluky autumnal snow/ice storm. But it is on County Road 340 that one gets a full sense of the valley’s beauty and sparse population. The area is beautiful, and the approach to the National Park features exhilaratingly twisty roads (I missed my Mustang’s manual transmission and superior suspension!), lush valleys, gentle rolling hills, and quirky hamlets. The drive reminded me of a similar drive I undertook in Tennessee (Knoxville to Blue Ridge/Smoky Mtns.) back in 1999-2000.

As beautiful as the Shenandoah was, I think the Blue Ridge/Smokys were that much more intense. The valley was wider and flatter, but once the Mountains arrived they were more dramatic. I would love to revisit that NC/Tenn. border so I can share the experience with my wife as I found it difficult not to get emotional at the TN/NC (Ashville) border.

Back to the Shenandoah: The highlight of the drive was a lonely outpost in Elkton, VA.

Red’s Auto Sales is a site to behold for its sundry and eclectic selection of vehicles.

I dared not get out of the car to snap these pictures as the place had a foreboding air.

However, I literally jumped out of my skin thinking how the CC community will love a record of such a place-such is the ‘bug’ that Paul‘s site has inflected on its readers.

To wrap up a long story, the ol’ Corolla with the drab white paint and undistinguished steely tires made it through Virginia, the Carolinas, a pit stop in SW Georgia to kibbutz a few hours w/ my younger sis, and ultimately to Tallahassee in 36 hours. Approximately 1300 miles with a gas bill of $200.00. Didn’t quite make it to Gettysburg thou–I suspect it was a subconscious decision that‘ll force me return to this beautiful and unspoiled region someday.