Quick Road Trip: Washington, D.C. Part One

As I struck out for Washington, D.C. two Thursdays ago today with my 14 year-old daughter and her best friend settled into the back seat of our car with their array of pillows, snack foods, MP3 player, head phones, Map Quest directions and who knows what else –there was so much back there, I felt that sense of freedom and adventure that gives me an energy boost.

I knew we were heading to Washington, D.C., but as we followed the Map Quest route, I turned the car in a direction I hadn’t gone before. The last time I went to Washington, D.C. I also drove. That was nine years ago. Back then, I followed I-70 East until we hit I-270 South. It was a fairly boring, tedious drive. This time Map Quest sent us down to Morgantown, West Virginia and on through Cumberland, Maryland on I-68. [I-68 is in the background of this Flickr photo by On Withering Hills. This is a section we passed through.) At first, I doubted what we were doing since I knew we were to hook up with I-70 further east. But, since I was driving, I called out a quick lesson to my daughter on how to read the mileage markers of the Rand McNally Road Atlas and to find the highways based on where we were. I wanted to make sure we weren’t going so far out of our way it would be the middle of the night before I reached my friend’s apartment in the Georgetown section of D.C. Since my printer was broken, I had scrawled the Map Quest directions on a piece of paper and, now that we were on the road, doubted my own writing.

This trip was to be a quick one–just two nights and one day–long enough to catch up with one of my cousins and meet his wife, reconnect with one of my friends who I taught with in India, and see some friends of ours from Vietnam who are visiting the United States. This was a lot of people to see in a short time, so I didn’t want to be wandering all over West Virginia by mistake. Plus, my husband and my mother thought I was nuts for making the drive, but being that I just read a series of essays about sudden journeys in National Geographic Traveler, and Neil’s post about his spontaneous trip to San Francisco, I figured I was in good company with my thinking. At least some people in the world would understand.

Sure enough, we were heading the right way. Instead of the tedious drive I remembered from the past, we traveled through gorgous mountains. Along the way I made some observations.

#1. If you only stop once at a gas station to: fill the tank, so everyone can pee, and so the driver can get a cup of coffee, you can make it door to door in 6 1/2 hours. (Most of the time we stayed within the 65-to 70 mph range. Hey, people were passing me.)

#2. There are some places in West Virginia where the speed limit says 70, but then it switches to 65 soon after.

#3. Cumberland, Maryland is a lovely historic town of red brick buildings and church steeples set into the mountains. You can only go 40 mph for a good part of the trip through it since the highway passes smack dab through the middle of downtown.

#4. At every county border across Maryland, the county has a sign that welcomes you. This makes Maryland seem like a very friendly place.

#5. Maryland loves to put elevation signs on each mountain peak. This was a very hilly drive so there were a lot of highway markers with the names of a particular mountian and it’s elevation.

#6. There are many signs in Maryland that say: Watch for Maryland’s Wildlife (or something like that).

#7. It’s a good thing there are the signs since a BLACK BEAR RAN ACROSS THE HIGHWAY in front of us!!!

#8. Once you get to Georgetown, just blocks from the endpoint, it will take you a long time to make it down M Street. There are a lot of traffic lights, people and cars. My daughter and her friend said it looks like Easton Town Center, a shopping mall in Columbus. I said, “Yeah, but this is a real town. Easton Town Center is fake.

#9. It’s great to sit down in a lovely apartment with friends and a glass of wine for some long overdue catching up time while the teenagers unload the car without even being asked.

Stayed tuned for Part Two this afternoon for the what we did portion.