Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dunkirk Travelogue 2008 - Part 1

Take The Long Way Home

On Thursday July 24th, my family loaded up the new van and began the 600 mile trek from Hickory, NC, to the town I grew up in - Dunkirk, NY. Of course, before we could even start out, I had to first drive an hour to the Boy Scout camp outside of Rutherfordton, NC, pick up my son who had been at camp since Sunday the 27th, drive the hour back to the house, unload his camp gear and load up our trip stuff. Good thing my wife was willing to drive the first leg when we left our house at 4pm.

Everything was going great until the tunnels of Virginia. First encountered on I-77 was the Big Walker tunnel. Now, my wife doesn't like going through them to begin with (she's a bit claustrophobic) but she was driving so she just dealt with it. After the first tunnel is about 10 miles of road before the second one. That ten miles took nearly an hour and 45 minutes to traverse, in part due to maintenance going on at the East River Mountain tunnel. Traffic was stopped completely for most of that period while two lanes of traffic slowly became one. Ugh. So, the first four hours of the trip we barely clocked in 160 miles total. Not good.

We ate a very late dinner and then I took over. The van GPS which, by the way, is a godsend, was pretty good about keeping us fully on track. However, it had clocked the trip for 9 hours, assuming a speed of 67 mph. Well, we still had another six and half hours to go, according to her, so I had to make up some time. The best laid plans of mice and men...

If you've never driven the Pennsylvania highways, I need to point out that they are always under construction. Every time I have made a trip back to New York since moving south 20 years ago, we always encounter construction in the Keystone State. This trip was no different. Lots of slowing down, narrowing of lanes with cement barriers, orange barrels, single lanes, etc. By midnight, we still had quite a good distance to go.

It was time to make a decision. Did we find a hotel, stop and get about five hours sleep and then do the final three hours in the morning, or did we just push on and drive the rest of the way? Either way we would only get five hours sleep at best. We had plans for Friday which didn't allow for much buffer. Also, at midnight the traffic was pretty much non-existent. Come morning, who knew what delays we'd hit? My wife called the hotel in Dunkirk, explained that we had a reservation beginning Friday night and asked if they had a room open should we arrive at 3am. They said they would have our room for us. We decided to press on!

Besides the GPS, the other blessing of the van is the XM radio system. Except in the mountain tunnels, we had clear single all the way. I love that! No fishing for stations, no settling for genres you don't want. At 11pm, XM 8 the 80's started an American Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem from 1980, so I had a soundtrack to drive to.

Even still, by 2am, my eyes were starting to get droopy. We pulled into a Sheetz gas station to top off the tank, use the bathroom, and refill on caffenated beverages. My wife took over to drive an hour while I allowed by eyes to relax a bit. Towards the end of her hour, the New York state border was just ahead. We pulled over just before getting on to the New York State Thruway, and I drove the final little bit. As we hit the Dunkirk exit, I had her turn off the GPS. I was back in the town I grew up in and knew my way around even after all this time.

We pulled up to the Clarion hotel on Lake Erie at 4am, did a quick check-in, hauled our stuff to the room and crashed. Okay, technically my son crashed again as he had slept nearly the whole trip in the car up (scout camp tends to wear him out). Still, it was great to be finally getting some sleep, as little as it would be. In a few hours, we'd have things to do for our 72 hours in Dunkirk.

(to be continued...)

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