The call of the open road

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And the road becomes my bride/I have stripped of all but pride/So in her I do confide/And she keeps me satisfied/Gives me all I need.” –From the song Wherever I May Roam by Metallica

Ah, driving: often times viewed as an onerous task; tedious in its routines; exasperating when conducted in heavy traffic, inching along mile after endless mile.

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And yet …

I put in close to 900 miles the last few days traveling large swaths of North Carolina and my native Virginia – piloting Ye Olde Minivan for some 700 of them, while riding shotgun with Volvo’s Ed Saxman in the cab of a relatively new 2010-compliant VN780 highway tractor for the rest (it’s been on some long test rides already and is probably out there on the road right now on yet another one).

Not huge miles by any stretch of the imagination for truckers ( I know more than a few that get in 3,000 miles a week, even in theese lean times) but enough to definitely understand the call of the open road.

I mean, combine almost picture-perfect spring weather with highways nearly devoid of traffic – along with some GREAT hard rock pumped out by radio stations like 96.3 ROV -- Journey, Rush, Pink Floyd, even a Metallica tune or two! -- as well as classic rock cranked out by 102.3 Generations – and you’ve got a mighty fine road trip.

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Even the interstate travel down to Greensboro, NC from Northern Virginia went smoothly – largely because I hit the road at 4 a.m. on a Sunday – breezing down I-95 to I-85.

Tooling around I-77 in the VN780 also proved painless, despite all sorts of lane closures due to highway expansion efforts.

Going home, I took Route 29, cutting up through central Virginia and getting a spectacular view of springtime foliage. I rode about 100 of those miles in the company of an Estes Express Lines LTL tractor hauling doubles (one of them an Estes-branded trailer, the other a G.I. Trucking labeled unit) handled by a real professional.

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He kept his rig firmly at the 60 mph speed limit, always used his indicators when changing lanes, and immediately popped the four-way flashers when climbing the hills at slow speeds. Hats off to you, sir.

“I really love our highway system in this country, because it takes you just about everywhere you’d want to go,” Volvo’s Saxman told me during our big rig ride. “Travel at the right time, on the right road with little traffic, and the drive itself can be a great experience.”

Even the rest areas that dot the major roadways can – at times – enhance the travelling experience. Yes, yes, I know – let’s not dredge up the stories about crime and other illicit activity that can go on at these locations. By and large, they fulfill their function – offering a place for commercial truckers and everyday motorists alike to stop, relax, and rest before continuing their various journeys.

The ones in Virginia and North Carolina lack the food and refueling options of the stopping centers found along the highways in Maryland, Delaware, and other nearby states, but they do offer vending machines for drinks and snacks along with restroom facilities (which I don’t think we need to describe in detail, now, do we?)

It just goes to show that highway driving, at times, can provide a great experience in and of itself. Not all the time and certainly not every time one hits the road, mind you; that goes without saying. Yet driving remains an experience that still calls people out onto the road and, at times, into the cab of a commercial truck – and that appeal is something worth remembering.

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