We headed up to Blacksburg this week. The intern is a regular, and quickly recommended a simple route. He said, “Your GPS will route you through, but it’s easier to take the highways.” I said that no, I preferred the mountain routes, and I enjoy my sporty car with new tires, and he obliged. We set the address for Main Street and headed out into the dark.
We missed a couple turns early on, but we were in a good mood and simply let the machine “recalculate.” We planned to stop for burgers once we got a little ways out of town. The recalculations seemed to correspond to our mood, taking us casually through neighborhoods to get us back on track.
We did get out of town, but the burger opportunities went away, giving way only to repair shops and closed storefronts. We continued into the dark at a maximum competent speed until the road started winding. This is what I was looking forward to. I watched the signs, I held on to the brakes and the gears, and we rolled through. But the roads kept winding, I tried to maintain a comfortable cruising speed, turned the high-beams on to stay ahead of the curves. We slowed to avoid a possum. The road kept winding, the curves got tighter. The warning signs seemed to be less helpful, more occasional, and certainly redundant to the experience.
As the GPS narrated, the turns got harder to find. And then, the signs disappeared altogether. And then the painted lines in the road went away. And then we began to notice steep slopes without guardrails, just beyond the reach of the headlights. We found ourselves at what we hoped was the bottom of the valley, with shadowy mountain walls on either side, and pavement that looked like it was laid out directly from the back of a truck with the minimal amount of preparation made to the ground below. We dipped and rose on the contours and hugged tight to the edge of the route, hoping we wouldn’t encounter opposite traffic. My traveling partner said less and less, and in the dark, I imagined his face going a paler gray.
We began pondering our emergency options. Goolsby said, “If something happens down here, it’s going to take them a while to find us.” No cell phone reception, just a four-door sedan with electric locks and a half tank of gas. The homes on this route were infrequent and dimly lit.
At one point, we finally did see another vehicle coming our direction – a squared off pickup with an enormous grill and round headlights, exactly what the movies always show driving on dark winding roads at night. We pulled to the side to let them past with the least potential risk of introduction.
We hoped to be there by 9, and now it was 10, and the GPS was clear that we weren’t there yet. We started finding stoplights again. We finally found golden arches and got the burger. We found farmhouses that were less innovative, and Goolsby started to guess where we would come out. Finally, we appeared at the great gateway city of Christiansburg, and tagged onto the ultra-modern wide lanes that every alumnus knows, into Blacksburg proper. We turned off the GPS and went by smell to our destinations.
My son is 4, and he likes the GPS. When we arrived at our destination for the night, I checked to see if any of the settings had been changed that may have affected our route. nearly every Avoidance setting had been checked, including traffic and u-turns. Fortunately, however, “avoid unpaved roads” had also been checked, or we might have gone even further into the valley.
We did have an amazing day in Blacksburg – one of my favorite places in the world. Beautiful weather, wonderful meeting with the client, great conversations with old friends. On the way home, we took 81 to 77 to I-40, under four hours, and Goolsby slept from Greensboro to Durham.
Andy Osterlund AIA | LEED AP
Andrew Osterlund, Architect, PLLC
GREEN | URBAN | SMART ARCHITECTURE
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