Take Me Home

Take Me Home

Had some real John Denver moments today as I made my way north and east along winding country roads through Kentucky horse country and then into West Virginia. Despite the torrential rains that pounded out a drumbeat on the windshield for the first 100 miles or so, it was a gorgeous drive.

From Lexington, Kentucky’s rolling horse farms, outlined by black creosoted fences, (“Bluegrass Country”) through the wooded mountains and hollows of the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian foothills, this stretch of I-64 is probably one of the most beautiful interstates in the country.

The landscape seemed to throb with the green pulse of new life in grasses, vines, moss and trees, accented by the deep pink of redbuds and white dogwood blooms. In places, the highway seemed to have been newly carved out of the mountains, and rushing streams of rainwater tumbled down over the steep rocky ledges on each side of the road.

As I rounded a bend in I-64 just before the Ohio River crossing where Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia meet, the massive Marathon oil storage tanks sitting high on a ridge were my first clue that the Catlettsburg Refinery was just ahead. The refinery’s smokestacks rise up out of the landscape belching fire and steam, with tiny lights twinkling at the tops. Year ago, when the kids were little, we drove to Kentucky from Pennsylvania and passed the refinery at night. All of those smoke-belching stacks and pipes were lit with these tiny twinkling lights, giving it a bizarre “Christmas at the refinery” effect. .

After crossing into West Virginia, the landscape became a study in contrasts – from nuclear power plants, large rail yards, chemical plants and refineries to bucolic rural villages nestled into narrow valleys. Each village had a little church tucked between modest houses, tiny farms outlined with split rail fences, and mobile homes perched on rocky hillsides.

Even the town names reflected these contrasts – from Nitro, Hurricane, Scary and Institute to Teays Valley, Mink Shoals, Big Chimney and Flatwoods.

I made a quick stop for lunch in Charleston, WV, at a 60’s diner that somehow didn’t seem like much of a throwback here. The jukebox looked like it was in the very spot where it had been well-used for decades. The waitress sported a big teased hairdo that appeared to be her everyday style, rather than something she does just to coordinate with the restaurant’s theme. I ordered the “Suzie Q” – a BBQ sandwich with slaw. All of the sandwiches on the menu were named for 60’s songs: O Donna (ham & cheese) . . . Yellow Submarine (Italian sub) . . . Brown Eyed Girl (Reuben) . . . Hound Dog (a hot dog, of course) . . . you get the idea . . .

When the waitress brought my sandwich, my surprise at the size of it must have been obvious. “Here ya go, sweetheart,” she said in a Southern drawl. “Yer gonna hafta climb up on that sandwich to git ‘er down.” She slapped the bill down with the sandwich and sauntered back to the counter, where she exchanged friendly banter with several of the two-name locals (“Donna Jo”, “Jimmy Todd” and “Mary Kathryn” were engaged in a heated conversation about local candidates in the upcoming primaries) I wrapped both hands around that sandwich and “got ‘er down.” It was, of course, delicious! I wiped the barbeque sauce from my chin and fingers and got back on the road.

Outside of Charleston, I picked up I-79, which turned almost due north, with similar scenery – mountains, rivers, narrow valleys with a winding ribbon of highway through it all.

I stopped frequently to take pictures, often pulling off the highway, putting my hazard lights on, rolling down the passenger side window and snapping a few shots by standing between the two seats, bending across the passenger seat and leaning out of the window. At one such photo stop, a knock on the driver’s side window scared the daylights out of me. It was a state trooper. I quickly lowered my butt back into the driver’s seat and rolled down my window.

“Everything okay here, ma’am?” he asked in a charming drawl, with just the slightest hint of a smirk.

“Yessir, just taking some photos of the scenery.”

He raised his eyebrows and peered around me, as if to see what could possibly be scenic along the interstate. He shrugged, touched his fingers to the brim of his hat, said “Drive carefully” and strode back to his car (the one parked at an angle behind me, with lights flashing!!)

Who knows what he thought when he got to my window, peered in and saw my backside facing him, with me leaning out the passenger window… I decided that should probably be my last photo stop of the day.

(you can see this and the other photos I took by hanging out the passenger side window and other bizarre techniques HERE)

I reached Morgantown, WV, home of West Virginia University, on the banks of the Monongahela River, in time for a late dinner and decided to stop for the night. It’s been a long day of driving.

But tomorrow, these country roads will finally take me HOME!

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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