Monday, September 3, 2012

Notes From The Road (labor day version)

It's Labor Day and, again, I find myself driving the work truck. This time, unlike the last post, I'm not towing a boat -- I'm hauling a 32' trailer filled with geophysical survey equipment. I'm halfway to Camp Lejeune NC, having stopped in Dover, Delaware for the night.

In my last post, I enumerated the terrors of towing the boat over the George Washington Bridge (replete with my trailer disintegrating at the most inopportune of moments) and swore I'd never do it again. True to my word, this time I took the Tappan Zee Bridge. Problem is, if you're driving a commercial vehicle (much less a commercial vehicle towing a 32' trailer) and you need to head south of NYC, you can't take the Garden State Parkway or the Palisades Parkway, or any parkway; those are for passenger cars only. But this time I took the Tappan Zee to I287 to route 17, which was a very manageable roughly 20 miles of two and three lane road that gets you to I80 to the Jersey Turnpike. I'd highly recommend this route to anyone looking to bypass not only the GWB but also the terrible roads the GWB feeds north of NYC. 

The only downside was that I left at 7AM and kept waiting to see a service plaza with a big Starbucks sign on it. I didn't remember which plazas on the Mass Pike or on the NY roads have Starbucks in them, but I can now report that if you take I80 to I84 to I684 to I287 over the Tappan Zee, there aren't any. Finally I saw the sign for the Sloatsburg Service Plaza with a Starbucks logo (yay!), then realized it was just after the exit for route 17 (boo!). I toughed it out, got on 17, took it to the Jersey Turnpike, and had to pass the Vince Lombardi, Alexander Hamilton, and Grover Cleveland service areas before good old Thomas Edison flashed the familiar green and white goddess-of-coffee logo, thereby further cementing ol' Tom Edison's place in my heart. When you're towing a trailer, you have to be careful not to overdrive the speed rating of the tires; 55mph is a good goal. But, as this is less than the speed limit, you see the projected arrival time on the GPS recede like Tantalus bending to cup his hand in the water. It was five hours before I had a break for  my traditional two doppios.

The problem with driving to anyplace on the mid-Atlantic coast south of the mouth of the Chesapeake is that there are two ways to get there, and they both suck. There's the inner route, where you take Rt 95 or one of its beltway variants and go around DC. I've done this several times, and have sworn a blood oath that I will never, ever do it again unless it is on a weekend and very early in the morning. And there's the outer route down the Delmarva (Delaware Maryland Virginia) Peninsula which forms the outer side of the Chesapeake. When you get off the Jersey Turnpike and cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge, you immediately have to choose which of these routes you're going to take. The Peninsula route is 200 miles down route 13. At the end you're rewarded with the Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel, which is 20 miles of post bridges across the mouth of the Chesapeake with occasional submerged sections (if it were all bridge, the big ships couldn't get through) and is absolutely spectacular. But to reach it you have to run the gauntlet of route 13, which at times is a limited access 2 or 3 lane highway surrounded by bucolic farmland but for long stretches is like Route 9 just outside of Boston -- a blur of stop lights and strip malls. Among the more, ah, pleasant attractions slaps you in the face when you cross from Maryland into Virginia. There's a souvenir store with a big sign that says "THE SOUTH BEGINS HERE" and a big Confederate flag. Really? Really? The warm welcome of the Confederate flag notwithstanding, towing a trailer and getting up to speed to have to slam on the brakes for a light every mile is no fun. I've taken this route too, and swore that -- you guessed it -- I'll never do it again. Plus, this being Labor Day weekend, I didn't know what would await me for beach traffic.

But, like Captain Lucky Jack in Master and Commander, I was forced to choose the lesser of two weevils, so the Peninsula it was. Fortunately, the beaches are at the south end of the Peninsula, and I stopped for the night in Dover which is closer to the north end, so I hit absolutely no traffic, but not so lucky were those coming home from Labor Day and headed north -- I passed a 50 mile long backup.

So far the only surprise has been the restaurant. When I'm towing, I try to stay in hotels with a restaurant either inside or directly across the street so I can park the rig at the hotel and leave it there. Unfortunately the hotel restaurant has a "closed for the evening sign." I assume that Labor Day evening is the official start of the slow season. Fortunately, this is what takeout and delivery is for.

Here's hoping tomorrow's trek to Camp Lejeune is equally as uneventful.