Planned spontaneity


Sometimes it pays not to have a plan when you leave town. Flexibility, spontaneity, surprises abound if you’re not locked into coordinating with someone else’s plans. Air travel is the essence of inflexibility, driving is almost the opposite.

My husband Dave is a chemical engineer by training and happy to have rules, dependable time tables, reliable schedules. To a degree, we are diametrical opposites. I’m less bound by the clock, and he’s learned not to count on an early getaway for a road trip.

What’s early? Well, the drive to our daughter’s place in northern Virginia takes two days. To Dave, that means leaving about 6 a.m. and getting to Leesburg in time for lunch on the second day.

To me, it means letting the early morning rush thin out and trying to stay out of cities, and certainly, letting Jean know she needn’t plan on our getting there in time to eat.

My early? Get up at 8:30 and pack the last of what we need, throwing out what won’t keep in the fridge, and try to get through Atlanta before the evening rush hour. How does a 2 o’clock departure sound?

When we first discussed going up to see Jean and her boys this fall, we talked about adding to the trip by visiting an elderly friend in central Ohio and then attending the wedding of a dear friend in Madison, Wis.

I was all for making that extended route, but I envisioned using our little motor home, which would guarantee we wouldn’t have to sleep in motels. Dave, on the other hand, felt like it was just too long a trip in an old vehicle that already has 106,000 miles on the odometer. Besides, the RV gets terrible gas mileage and is not the smoothest-riding hay-burner in the stable. Dave countered an argument for the dark green Toyota Echo, great for running around town (30-40 mpg), too small to survive a crash on the heavily traveled Interstates.

We must have made a dozen arguments for or against each vehicle, and Dave didn’t make the choice until the evening before our departure. The cost of gas was certainly a determining factor, but at our age, so was comfort, and the 1998 Grand Cherokee got the nod. It has relatively new rubber and certainly more room to stretch our legs during hours of driving.

We sent regrets to the elderly landlady and the bride, instead making a sweep through some potential boat sites on Lakes Martin and Guntersville.
The weather was perfect throughout the 3-week trip, except for a couple of little rainstorms after dark. Traffic was heavy but orderly.

And we found a new spot to add to our “Don’t miss” list.

We used our normal itinerary: I-85 through Atlanta, I-77 in Charlotte, N.C, then I-81 to Winchester, Va., and state road 7 to Leesburg. That put us north on I-77 late in the afternoon and we began thinking about where we would eat and sleep. With the RV, that’s a no-brainer, but we were traveling via motels this trip, and have had little experience seeking conventional lodging.

Bingo. (Here, picture a light bulb blinking over my head.)

“Dave, we’re near the Blue Ridge Parkway exit. The lodges the feds run are usually very nice, and priced better, and we could both eat and sleep in the same place.”

He liked the idea. If I had thought of it earlier, he’d have tried to talk me out of it, but for some reason he was feeling amenable. We exited and drove up to the Parkway.

I won’t bother you with a commercial – you’ve read plenty of them – but when you get up on the Blue Ridge, you can almost feel the tension slide away and disappear in the foggy valley. Forget it if you’re on a schedule – the speed limit is 40 mph.

Early on, we spotted the first and only wildlife we’d see on this route: A chipmunk ran across the road with his antenna straight up, and a little later a groundhog lumbered by.

Then there it was: The Woodberry Inn, just yards outside the National Park property line, which means it is privately owned and under no obligation to the feds.

Innkeepers Shep and Angie Nance discovered the place on the market at about the time they were retiring from the 9-to-5 world and thinking about running a bed and breakfast in the mountains.

The inn started life as a gas station/convenience store. Much of the renovation had been accomplished before the Nances bought it and upgraded it significantly. I could describe it, but you’ll find all you need to know at (Don’t be put off by the über-quaint picture on their website.)

Our white-tablecloth dinner was superb, our room very comfortable. Both were near the top of our budget, but they were perfect.

The parkway is not traveled at night; hence the quiet. I can hardly wait for another reason to drive north. I want to spend a day or two at the inn.
Just don’t tell Dave how much I enjoyed it. He still prefers planning.