Go [North]West, Young [Wo]Man!

In which I fly cross-country, rent a car, and road trip through northern Washington, Victoria, and Vancouver. Dragging my parents along this time.

If you happened to read my travelogue from last year, you may have caught the flavor of my passion for road travel. April 2011 saw me finally realizing a long-cherished dream to drive the Atlantic coast all the way to Key West, Florida. It went so well, I thought I’d do it again.

But why British Columbia? Well, no particular reason. It is a quite lovely place, though.

Just your typical gorgeous view, wandering around gorgeous Whistler, BC.

As I write this, I’m actually still here. Imagine that – writing a travelogue whilst one is still traveling. It’s crazy, but I like it.

It Begins

Today is Wednesday, and we left Saturday morning. Dulles to Seatac and 5 hours later, we were picking up our rental car (a Chevy Impala – decent, but I wasn’t impressed) and cruising into the great outdoors. Only then did we realize all we had for music was Dad’s iPod, which was… well, it was better than nothing.

But seriously, Dad had some fun music loaded up for our trip. And so much more compact than the 20 CDs I brought with me last time! We entertained ourselves to the tune of They Might Be Giants while driving through some truly marvelous scenery.

I was driving by this time, so I don’t have pictures, but lavender fields abound.  We were gunning for a 4pm ferry ride from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, so we had to admire the fields from afar. They did look (and smell) enticing.

Water with mountains. A novel concept for this East Coast girl.

We made the ferry with time to spare (the GPS gave us an incredibly pokey arrival estimate, which made us a sweat a bit… but in the end, unnecessarily). I wandered over to the Port Angeles tour center just across the way, and met a charming couple. They moved to Washington from Chicago 38 years ago, and delighted themselves with directing bushy-tailed travelers such as ourselves.

Along with information for other hotspots in Victoria and Vancouver, they gave me a wall calendar featuring photos from Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Having needed a calendar since January 1, and recently despairing of ever finding one, I was thrilled.

It’s the small things, people.

So, it’s June 9 and at home in northern Virginia, the temps are edging up to and over 80 degrees with regularity. Here in Washington, however… not so much. Add to that the brisk “breeze” coming off the water in Port Angeles, and you’re looking at a group of shivering land-lubbers. I took a quick walk around the ferry to get some photos and when I came around to the port side, it was like an impression of a mime walking into the wind. Only I wasn’t pretending.

Needless to say, the entirety of the voyage was spent indoors.

We reached the harbor in Victoria without a hitch, located our hotel for the night, and briefly entertained the idea of going out again to explore when the fatigue and delirium took over. And just like that, it was Sunday.

I’ll stop here so I can get some shut-eye, but there are a few more stories (and loads of pictures!) to share.

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South… west?

In which things don’t go according to plan.

I was trying to stay away from making plans on this trip, because that was kind of the point of the trip itself. Just go – don’t think about the going any more than is absolutely necessary, just get out there and see what you see. But I did want some coffee.

Sourthern NORTH Carolina

Heading east of Havelock, I had visions of a quaint little shop on the boardwalk where I could sit on the beach and sip some liquid refreshment while the seagulls terrorize sea life and small children. I got a little misdirected trying to return to my route (West? Shouldn’t that be East?), so the sun was rather high in the sky by the time I saw signs for Atlantic Beach.

It came out blurry, but the sign says ‘Welcome to Atlantic Beach’

Atlantic Beach is one of the first beach opportunities you come to south of the Outer Banks. It’s a quick bridge crossing from highway 24 (heading West, which is kind of a strange concept, but take a look at the map… North Carolina dips in at that point, so the coast is almost doubling back). It is a tiny place with a tiny boardwalk surrounded by a spa and two or three eateries, none of which served coffee, and none of them open for business even if they had.

I walked the boardwalk – twice – greeted the friendly hangers about, admired the clump of houses hugging the shoreline and drove on.

It was after noon by the time I despaired of my seaside breakfast plans and settled for finding somewhere quick with good coffee. I passed several fast food places before pulling into a McDonald’s and then pulling back out as it was still under construction.

Perhaps I was making too big a deal of this, but prolonged hunger, fatigue, and stiffness were taking all the fun out of this day. I looked to the heavens and pled for mercy. Mercy answered in the form of the Java Bean.

Occupying the end of a strip mall across the street, the flow in and out of happy customers indicated two things: they had good stuff, and they were open. I got an iced coffee to go and took a seat outside. After an hour with my coffee, my journal and a seaworthy breeze, I was feeling adventurous again.

Ocean Isle Beach was my next intended destination, right at the bottom of North Carolina. I was surprised to again find indifferent shops, a few places to eat, and lots of beach houses. These I drove by for awhile, not finding any to be particularly spectacular, but different enough from each other that they were interesting for awhile.

Overcast in the afternoon – I’m noticing a pattern here

I bought a few postcards, managed to track down the lone public bathroom (sans stall doors or TP) and settled on the sand and wrote home to friends.

The beach itself was delightful, brimming with shells  and seaweed with a high dune of sand rimming the tide. Here I sat after taking the necessary walk on the beach. By the time I’d finished writing, it was nearly 5pm and I realized the mail would not go out until tomorrow (Thursday). Oh well.

South Carolina! Here I finally started seeing palm trees. I immediately hit the Myrtle Beach area, and with it miles and miles of off-shore entertainment. This was amusing, in contrast with all the sober stretches of lonely road I was about to traverse.

Thank goodness I filled up on gas! Having passed through Georgetown and then heading toward Charleston, US-17 took me through about 50 miles of quiet, nearly undisturbed country. As dark fell, I found myself to be driving the only car on the road, a realization that both concerned and comforted me.

One thing I figured out as Day 3 was nearing a close – road tripping is more fun in daylight. When you can see what’s happening around you, it’s exciting. When it’s dark, you’re just driving. It gets dull. Thankfully, I had my Great Expectations going by now, and Pip and Estella kept my brain engaged until I could reach my watering hole for the night.

Civilization snuck up on me and I quickly found my exit to 526, which lifted me into the air over large bodies of water which I couldn’t properly make out in the dark. But there were lots of lights below which I assigned to ships and boats and all kinds of watery engineering. Finally I reached my hotel in North Charleston and lugged my suitcase and myself into the Red Roof Inn.

So, so tired.

Day 3 stats:
Miles covered: 300
Coffees consumed: 1
Beaches: 2
Friendly strangers: 4
Chapters: 15
Next stop… REALLY Charleston!

Travelogue – The Road Trip Begins

In which the fun begins with surprise tolls and some crazy bridges.

Chesapeake Bay bridge

18 miles over water… do you hear angels?

My plane landed at BWI right on schedule, but due to some thunderstorms the airport had shuffled planes around to different gates. This left us sitting on the ground for nearly an hour, which I didn’t mind nearly as much as my fellow passengers. Probably because I kept falling asleep.

We stumbled off the plane around 1 am, and by then the Red Roof Inn shuttles were not picking up. At this time, I reflected that it would have been nice of them to point this out on their websiteBut I guess I looked helpless enough, because another shuttle driver took pity on me and offered to dropped me off on his way to delivering another passenger.

As we looped around the airport looking for her, I eagerly described my plans for the week. In kindness to my benefactor, I will refrain from posting his response, but basically he found the question of my sanity highly suspect.

The BWI Red Roof Inn is a recently updated accommodation, each room opening to the outdoors. I felt quite safe, even though I was rolling to my room around 2 am.

We bonded.

Monday came at me quicker than was probably healthy, but I was so eager to get going I didn’t care. The very friendly shuttle driver helped me get to the Avis counter, where I was outfitted with a Hyundai Elantra.

I quickly depopulated my suitcase of the 20 or so CDs I had packed, and aimed for the rising sun. The weather was perfect, the traffic nonexistent. What a great day for a road trip!

About 25 miles in to my journey, I came to a toll. Coming out of the toll plaza, I started going up. And up, and up and up. Without warning, I had come to the Chesapeake Bay, which meant I was now crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is a very high bridge with lots and lots of water underneath it.

I yelled.

It was super fun, scary, and awesome. Like a roller coaster, except I was the one driving it. I guess all the excitement was just too much for somebody, because on the way back down, traffic came to a halt behind a stopped vehicle. Eventually a police car stopped traffic in the other lane so we could all get by. I was supremely grateful that this occurred on the lower part of the bridge rather than its highest point.

Most of Maryland passed by uneventfully. Route 13 took me through lots of green and leafy surroundings, punctuated here and there with little bitty towns. It felt quite rural, though I was only an hour or so from the airport. I was making my way through a full audio recording of ‘Great Expectations’, and the Dickensian narrative suited my quiet drive.

My first stopping place was Chincoteague Island in Virginia, which meant I had to leave 13 and hang a left on 175 (which I missed until about 10 miles later, but what are U-turns for?). The drive to the island was the best part of that detour – a fresh, cool breeze off the marsh that lines the two-lane highway.

Come back in the spring!

I’m disappointed to say that Chincoteague did not make much of an impression on me apart from the lovely drive and the quaint little houses of Church Street. But this could be partly attributed to timing.

I had multiple failed attempts to find a place for lunch, since three of the four restaurants I tried were closed. The café is only open for breakfast. J&B’s only works Wednesday to Sunday (this was a Monday). Another place claimed it was ‘closed til spring’.

I only mention this because it means I lost a lot of time driving around looking for food, when I could rather have been exploring the charming little town where people ride bicycles from one end to the other and a lot of the houses look like this:

      

And I thought this was amusing:

…and quite possibly the only one.

I walked around a bit and browsed the shops, but I really didn’t catch Chincoteague at its finest. I have a feeling the number of folks riding bikes will multiply once school lets out. And if you crop your photos just right, the water looks quite inviting.

That’s 175 you see in the background

Then on to Virginia Beach! I’ve been here before, but not like this. Coming down 13 puts you right on the path to an unsettling toll ($12 if you please) and this gem:

One of the more impressive engineering feats on the East Coast is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, which opened in 1964 at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and was effectively doubled in 1997 by the addition of an extra set of driving lanes. Almost 18 miles long … the structure consists of one high-level bridge, two deep tunnels, four islands, and many miles of raised causeway.

Pretty! Oh, it was so cool.

As the sun was setting I made a quick stop at the beach before heading to Rita’s to meet my friends Tessa and Abigail, who obliged me with a quick catch-up and Rita’s famous Italian ice/frozen custard. The day ended around midnight at Abi’s house.

Virginia Beach

The bank of hotels and resorts against the glow of the setting sun.

Day 1 stats:
Miles covered: 327.5
Thrilling visions encountered: 2
Chapters ‘read’: 9

Next stop… OBX!