Blue Ridge Parkway

By Michael J. Legeros

The Day Before Halloween.  A bright, wispy blue-sky morning.  The
air's aromatic, the backyard's bathed in rays, and the local flora
is a dramatic, chromatic cornucopia of red, brown, and orange.
Some of the leaves are leaving the trees, but not en masse.  Rak-
ing and/or Leaf-Blowing Hell is still a week or two or three away.
Where *I* want to be, though, is the Blue Ridge Parkway and so I
go there, despite temptations to either stay in town (Falls Fire
Department Public Safety Day) or go *east* young man (air show at
Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base).  Feed the cat, de-squirrel the
attic, grab the requisite mix of film, pens, and Cincinnati Pops
CDs, and I'm outta there before 10.  No co-pilot this time, but
that's okay-- a day spent with oneself is also a day spent think-
ing of your favorite friends or family members.  They'll be gentle
on my mind.  Plus, I have my notepad...

  9:45 a.m. - I-40 at Harrison Avenue in Cary.  Lots of green.
  Less orange and red.  Light mist over the treetops.  First in
  the player is the British Rock Symphony.   Roger Daltrey and
  Ann Wilson compete on "Kashmir."  Second track is an instru-
  mental version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

  10:05 a.m. - I-40 at Highway 54 in Chapel Hill.  Only one cop
  spotted so far.  Traffic medium to medium-well.  Seeing more
  orange and red and an awful lot of green.  Paul Rodgers sings
  "Imagine."  John Lennon is still dead.

  10:13 a.m. - I-40 at Exit 263 in Orange County.  A cluster of
  yellow so bright it blinds.  The tree line is transforming
  into a mesmerizing, multicolored, twig-stitched tapestry.
  "All in all it's just another brick in the wall."

  10:35 a.m. - I-40 in Burlington.  Pit stop for food.  Steak
  'n' Shake.  Wacky bumper music on WUNC.  No Click 'n' Clack
  yet.  Still seeing some green trees.  Maybe there's hope that
  Parkway isn't barren.  Pop the Pops into the player.  "Jungle
  Book" suite.  Trust in me...  No line at the drive-through.
  There is a God.

  10:54 a.m. - I-40 at Exit 132 outside Greensboro.  Mount Hope
  Pleasant Church Road.  Reason for exiting:  The Covered Wag-
  on.  A toy store.  While browsing, I dip a toe into a decade-
  old pool of memories.  My ex-wife was raised not too far from
  here.  Has it really been ten years?  No, not quite.  Final
  total of toy purchases:  $0.00.  Tom and Ray are cackling as
  I exit.

  11:22 a.m. - I-40 at Exit 206 on the west side of Greensboro.
  Survive the work zone, including a few too many minutes fol-
  lowing a tanker truck with a "1203" hazardous materials plac-
  ard.  (Gasoline.)  Today is not a good day to die.  Fewer
  trees on this stretch and they're all orange and red.  Not a
  good sign.  The Magliozzi Brothers answer last week's puz-

  11:34 a.m. - I-40 Business onto Highway 52 in Winston-Salem.
  Pass under a bridge with a parade going over.  See float but
  no fire truck.  Merge into bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Is
  *everyone* going to see the leaves?  Pass under parade again.
  See marching band but no fire truck.  Ten minutes later the
  traffic's thinned and the foliage is flaming.  Blazing shades
  of orange cause spontaneous smiling.  Orange-yellow.  Orange-
  green.  Orange-brown.  And some patches of purple-red.  Wow.

  11:50 a.m. - Highway 52 at Exit 123.  King and Tobaccoville.
  Once dated a girl from King while in college.  Remember her
  receiving a scathing letter from her Southern Baptist mom,
  after learning that her Dear One wasn't exactly acting Godly.
  As I recall, Dear Mom threatened Yours Truly with castration.
  Ouch...  Knob on the horizon.  Pilot Knob.  Surrounding the
  mountain is a shaggy orange carpet that doesn't look all that
  different from what covers the walls at the Colony Theater in
  Raleigh.  Fifteen minutes further is Mt. Airy.  A suite from
  "Snow White" is playing, but I hear the voice of Aunt Bea.
  Pass on the scenic overpass.  I'm holding out for the Park-

  12:17 p.m. - "Like a bolt out of the blue..."  I-74 is now o-
  pen between Highway 52 and Interstate 77.  And I finally see
  them in the hazy distance:  the Blue Ridge Mountains.  What
  more do you need?  Pass farms and fields and flocks of shorn
  sheep.  (Memo to self:  watch Wallace and Grommet's "A Close
  Shave.")  Construction on I-77 causes a slow-down, but I'm
  too busy with the trees to care.  Cross into Virginia.  Radar
  Detectors Illegal.  Watch for Crosswinds.  Falling Rocks Next
  Umpteen Miles.  Both cars *and* trucks going slower as the
  incline increases.  I begin shoulder-stopping to snap pics.
  Trucks whoosh not-so-swiftly by.  Need gas.  Need caffeine.
  Food in one mile.  Verdi's "Requiem" on the player.

  12:45 p.m. - I-77 outside Fancy Gap and I've just passed un-
  der the Parkway.  Exit at Exit 1.  Turn left, get gas, and
  buy a couple scratch-and-win's.  (Spend $5 and win $3.  That
  means I'm ahead, right?)  Next door is Mayberry Station, a
  rag-tag roadside cafe complete with full-sized replica of
  Barney Fife's squad car.  I snap pics, swig a Diet Coke, and
  slime myself with an order of the Greasiest French Fries in
  History.  (Memo to self:  schedule angioplasty upon return.)
  Drive into Fancy Gap and, by 1:16 p.m., I'm on the Parkway.
  Headed South.

I want to take a hike.  That was the morning thought that got my
ass moving and, now, finds me at Cumberland Knob, elevation 2,885
feet.  The Park Ranger points out the paths-- a 20-minute walk-
through-the-trees-for-sissies and a 90-more-or-more "strenuous"
hike with 800-some feet in elevation changes.  "How strenuous is
strenuous?"  "Very strenuous."  But he's mentioned a waterfall and
I'm hooked.  (Gotta get those pictures!)  With an idea of what
I'll be seeing and where I'll be stepping, I begin wondering what
it is I'll be thinking.  The week that was?  The holiday that's
coming??  Non-specific musings on the meaning of life???  Nope.
Injuries.  I think about injuries.  The rocky path is coated with
slippery leaves and my mind's eye envisions sprains and strains
and fractures of all kinds.  I imagine stokes baskets and rescue
choppers and all the other dramatic scenarios that this former EMT
can conjure up.

The path's pretty deserted, save for a couple people I pass at
either end of the trail.  (Sad-looking older woman in red and a
husband, wife, and baby.)  So I sing or whistle or just flat-out
talk to myself.  (But... does he *answer* himself?)  During the
two-hour hike, I also discover the remarkable value of a walking
stick, which I fashion from a downed limb.  I even get to fjord a
(shallow) stream a few times!  And without even once getting wet!!
Leaves and rocks and trees and breeze and then it's over.  Back up
and up and up and *up* the mountainside and I finally spot a sign.
Walk what feels like *another* mile and there, through the trees,
is the reflection of metal.  Cars.  Civilization.  Flashbacks to
"Gilligan's Island."   Within fifteen minutes, I'm back in the
Bluesmobile, heading back to a place that's nothing like this one.
I suppose I'm ready to reclaim my Earthy life.  But I'll be back;
next year, if not sooner.

Copyright 1999 by Michael J. Legeros


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