The trip takes about six and a half hours, if you go straight through without really stopping. It can be sort of meditative sometimes, with long stretches of road filled with... I'd like to say filled with nothing, because that would be artistic and all, but I'll have to say "stuffed with cars everywhere." I wouldn't think the roads would be quite so crowded in-between the cities, but they are. (And in the middle of the day. On Tuesday for crying out loud.) It may be because there are so many trucks. Why in the world do so many things get shipped by trucks, instead of something a little more efficient, like rail? Or passenger pigeon? (You know, lots and lots of them, all tied with little strings. But then I guess we'd have a serious bird poop problem in this country, and I'm not sure that's better. Although broad, white, crispy plains have a certain flair, it could be like driving through a sticky rainstorm all the time.)
I was greatly disappointed to find that a wonderful Indian restaurant we used to visit in south Atlanta has apparently folded and been replaced with some sort of Barbecue place. It may be a chain. That's sort of heart-breaking, since the food was almost transcendent. Best Indian I've ever had, although I'm hardly a world-traveling
The meditative nature of the trip was enhanced by the fact that I went sans AC to save gas, and just left the windows down, and if you haven't noticed, it's hot out there. And humid. It's actually not too bad to me; growing up in Texas attending marching band practice through the month of August for 2-3 hours a day on an asphalt parking lot has left me with a high heat tolerance. I must leave the windows down 'though, and that means no music. (Try listening to something in your car with the windows down doing about 70. If I do, I usually forget the radio is on until I slow down or stop somewhere, at which point I get startled when I suddenly start hearing voices.) But it leaves me a lot of time to think. Not necessarily about anything, mind, but think nonetheless.
The scenery can be fairly entertaining though. Let me give you the brief tour of my trip up from Atlanta today...
We begin up 85 through the heart of Atlanta. Since I left mid-day, I didn't hit major traffic snarls, which is good. Just general traffic, which is plenty. Winding our way out and into the Georgia countryside, we find ourselves passing billboards for upcoming quaint and rustic country stores. There's one: "TOPLESS! TOPLESS!" And another which says "TOPLESS/TOPLESS" (I'm assuming there are two halves which are topless in this case, and I don't know what sort of person that refers to.) Also: "Topless Adult Toys!" (I figured this one out: A convertible is a topless adult toy. I'm sure there's a car lot on site.) Yes, we are approaching the "Cafe Risque", one of several pornogruffy stops heavily advertised on the way. These seem to appear from about North Carolina on down. (We discovered this summer that they also exist all the way down 85 in Georgia into Florida, culminating in the "X-Mart" somewhere near Orlando, which advertises itself as an Adult Discount Super-Store. I'm not sure what one of these would look like, but I'm guessing a lot of latex is involved.) And yes, in case you're wondering, the "Cafe" does in fact advertise food, which leaves us all wondering: Who eats at some place like this? ("Here's you're soup--oops! Sorry about that... Let me get that out...")
The Cafe is exit 173 on the way out of Georgia. It's almost the last stop, and it's a stop I usually make, because it's also the last Chevron available until at least North Carolina. (They are not apparently in SC.) I like Chevron for long trips, since they claim it helps clean your engine. I also like it because the major US manufacturers import it into Detroit for their federal emissions tests, so it must be fairly clean-burning. Is Chevron evil? Who knows. Odds are excellent given that it is an oil company.
Then across the border into South Carolina, where I pass Walhalla at Exit 1. (This is where Elmer Fudd goes if he dies in battle.) Exit 2 is Fair Play, where there is a giant red box of a building, maybe 5 or 6 stories tall in the middle of nowhere, with a gigantic yellow sign shouting "FIREWORKS" at the top, which is easy to read from the road. Also easy to read from the road is an only slightly smaller sign over the front entrance reading "NO SMOKING". (I swear, the letters are maybe 3 feet tall.) There's another of these buildings as you exit South Carolina on the other side, except it doesn't have the giant "no smoking" sign. Maybe the first building learned from experience at some point.
South Carolina has another smut shop, "Bedtyme Stories", which is oddly enough in Blacksburg, SC. I always find myself wondering if maybe there's is a magic portal that connects all towns of the same name, so I could just slip through to Blacksburg, VA, and be a lot closer to home. I never tried. If I do, I'll let you know how it goes. I also pass by "Dallas" at one point on my trip, and when I enter North Carolina I pass through "Cleveland County." I get around a lot on this trip. Oh and there's plenty more fireworks sites, like Shelton's ("Party down with a big bang!"), and roadside stores that sell both fireworks and peaches, which I suppose is only natural if you're a little insane. The latter is in Gaffney, SC, which features the "Peachoid", a water tower made to look like a peach. (Pictures included at the link.) I remember being a little nonplussed the first time I saw this wonder on the way down to Georgia a few years ago, and now you can all share the experience. (We saw a second, smaller peach-shaped water tower on the way down to Florida this summer, but the Gaffney one is definitely of higher quality.)
Then it's into North Carolina and through Charlotte, and we switch to I-75, at what used to be a fairly scary junction, but which is now fairly easy thanks to some construction finally finishing. (And is it just me or is everything everywhere under construction this summer? A few weeks ago I found myself being directed into a detour in the middle of another detour.)
A bit further, and we reach Lake Norman-Cornelius, which is apparently a semi-major vacation spot for people who like lakes. I like it because there is a K&W cafeteria there at a good place for a break and I like to eat some vegetables occasionally when I'm riding for a long time in the car, in the hopes that I might one day have a bowel movement after all that sitting. There is also a really great Indian place, but I tend not to be to adventuresome in meals while on the road in case I encourage aforementioned movement to come a little earlier than planned, and possibly between rest stops.
Then it's the home stretch: Into Virginia, where we're immediately climbing a massive mountain and watching the poor truckies sort of grind to a halt. There's a great view into the valley at one point, but when you're driving alone, the great view is likely to turn into a really spectacular view and brief, much-too-thrilling ride, followed by a crunch and a splat, so I don't spend too much time looking. When I reach the shot tower state park, I know I'm almost to I-81, which will finish my journey. (Did you know shot towers worked by dropping hot metal from a great height and letting it cool while it fell so that the metal formed a round and mostly-solid ball by the time it hit bottom? I didn't know that, until my partner explained what the shot tower was on one trip.)
So finally I'm home, where I can finally feel sure that yes, I unplugged the iron, and no, I didn't leave the door unlocked. And if the description seemed long, you really gotta try the trip sometime.