On the Road Again

LA QUINTA INNS & SUITES ROANOKE-SALEM, VA —

Winter seems forgotten now in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I’ve stopped for my first evening on the road en route to procure a 1967 Avion C 10 truck-bed camper, sight unseen, from a section of Louisiana that for 15 years was an unclaimed no-man’s-land between Spanish Texas and the Louisiana Purchase. For those of you who have not been apprised of this adventure, which is most, I offer this as warning and hello. For those who have, I’ll confirm that my other new possession, a 1994 electric-blue Ford F250 whose accoutrements I can best describe as estilo viejito mexicano, has survived the first 400 miles but consumed a truly alarming amount of gasoline, first one tank then the other, in great slurps that I can practically hear every time I start up a beautiful, rolling Appalachian hill.

Wind resistance is a thing. Driving a car, you forget how much engineering went into shaping its exterior into some wind-tunnel-friendly contour that all but obliterates road noise and drift. Not so in a three-quarter-ton pickup with trailer-towing mirrors, fenders, and a stupid little cab hat (see picture) that acts like a parachute and which I must remove at once. That said, the appeal of truck driving is incredible. This is why America is a nation of pickup drivers: once you switch, you won’t want to go back. You stop seeing roads as a collection of lanes and tracks, and start seeing the world as a great, flat expanse over which one can, and certainly should, drive with great vigor and minimal discretion.

I’m staying outside Salem, a town of historical interest and fast-food restaurants along the Roanoke River. I walked the dog down a side road late this afternoon, as the sun beamed low over a deep, wooded valley and illuminated the pointillist greens and yellows in the trees that mean springtime is good and here in western Virginia. The flowering trees are in full blossom. We followed the lane as it dipped below the sunlit driveway of a red-faced man playing perfect catch with his son. Below, in a shaded yard, a man was grilling dinner. Walked along some more and looked out over a clutch of prefab homes and parked trucks, all warm and illuminated. As I’m looking out the window now, sunset is finally hitting the ridgeline at the other side of the valley.

Tomorrow I will try to make it as far as Birmingham. That leaves eight hours more to Louisiana, which at my rate will be more like nine or ten. And yes, it’s nice to be out in the world again.

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