483 miles traveled today; 2,861 miles total
Long day, long drive. 6:30 pm EST and we’re finally parked. We had intended on staying at Douthat State Park VA, and actually tried to make that work. AAA camp guide says they’re open March 1, but just to make sure I phoned them yesterday. I couldn’t get the park directly, but did speak to someone in reservations, who assured me that the campground was open. We drove the 5 miles into the park and turned off to the campground entrance only to find a closed/locked gate with a “campground closed” sign on it. It was not quite 6 pm. Time to switch to Plan B. We turned around and backtracked to a small commercial campground we’d passed on our way in. That’s where we are right now. No one around at the office, and only one side of the restrooms is unlocked (I stand guard for Sandy). I’ll worry about registering in the morning. Also, the electric service pedestal only accommodates a 50 amp connection. I dove into the bowels of the king berth and retrieved my adapter, only to discover that it doesn’t fit this campground’s outlets. We’ll get by on battery power and stove heat. It’s 40 degrees outside, not that cold.
It rained most of the day, and I pounded the roads hard getting this far. We got an early start (7:30 am), but lost an hour to the time change. We stuck with I-64 across the remainder of southern Indiana, all of Kentucky, and parts of West Virginia. We played hopscotch with chuckholes in Kentucky which were of epic proportions and frighteningly deep. All of the rivers we crossed were in full flood and out of their banks. You can’t see much of the country when driving the interstates, and even less when it’s rainy outside. We crossed the mighty Ohio River at Louisville in rain and fog. We crossed the eastern continental divide (the Alleghenys) in rain, fog and gathering dusk. The cities of Louisville, Frankfort, Lexington, Huntington, and Charleston all zipped by in turn. We learned the names of some of their favorite sons from street names on exit signs. Roy Wilkens, long time NAACP director, must have come from Louisville, and Huntington WV has laid claim to NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer. Louisville also proudly proclaimed its connection to Louisville Slugger baseball bats on their minor league ballpark, and acknowledges Colonel Sanders on what looks to be a convention center. I wonder if they offer complementary chicken wings there.
After more than 5 hours of monotonous interstate driving, I was more than ready to add a little interest to the trip as Charleston WV approached. I-64 takes an odd southerly dive just east of Charleston,and adding to the inconvenience of heading in the wrong direction, it also transforms itself into a turnpike. I’ll go to almost any length to pick a route to avoid driving a turnpike, especially when towing a tandem axle trailer, since the toll is usually based on number of axles. In this case it looked like a no brainer. US 60 cuts due east from Charleston, reconnecting with I-64 about 60 miles due east. Highway 60 also appears as a nearly straight line on the map, and many miles shorter than the West Virginia Turnpike. Who cares if the road goes through a few towns and has a few stoplights, I figure. I save time, distance, toll fees, and get a closer look at the country as bonus. Well, I was right on most of the above points.
US 60 starts out as a nice 4 lane divided highway as it follows the Kanahwa River into the West Virginia hills. The valley constricts, leaving just enough room for river, railroad track, highway, and a narrow strip of development. It’s soon apparent that this is coal country, with loaded coal cars parked on sidings, coal barges pushing upriver, and virtually every side canyon gated off, with a large coal company sign at the entrance. The highway transitions to 2 lane after a few miles and gets progressively more crooked, as the river valley narrows. Finally, the road abandons the river bottom completely and climbs into the hills. At that point things get interesting. The road twists its way up hogbacks, clings to ridges and dives into hollows as it struggles mightily to hold an east-west course in mountains which are anything but east-west. Posted 25 mile curves are typical, and one aptly bears a 15 mph warning. Most grades are 8 %. One spectacular stretch follows the New River Gorge while perched high on a ridge above the river. We were above snow level before the road finally descended one last time, down to a town along I-64. I thoroughly enjoyed the break from interstate driving. Sandy, however, vows that if we ever travel this way again, we’re paying the tolls.