Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's SRO'ver

     SRO 2010 is over. We left the conference, the University of Louisville, and a dreary Bluegrass State on Sunday morning and started back to South Carolina.  Never saw a single blade of blue grass the entire trip.  Never saw a single blue sky either. 
      I grabbed a couple of free cups of coffee from the lobby of the Hilton, reprogrammed the GPS system to head for home and hopped onto the expressway leading out of Kentucky.  We perked down the highway, passed horse farms and pastures, passed signs pointing to  "The Bourbon Trail" and "The Kentucky Thoroughbred Retirement Farm,"  and marked off the drizzly miles as the GPS lady calculated our trip and navigated our route.
       I had been fighting with the GPS lady ever since we left the mountains of North Carolina on Friday. Seems she and I had differing opinions on how to get from point A to point B: when I wanted to take the scenic backroads, she wanted me to "make a legal U-turn, make a legal U-turn" and head towards the interstate; when I wanted to pull over for pictures, she insisted I "continue on the current route, continue on the current route." We had screamed and yelled at each other for the entire eight hour trip,  me banging on the dashboard as I continued down the backroads while she kept insisting  "make a legal U-turn, make a legal U-turn" and return to the interstate. It continued like that until we pulled into Louisville.
    For the trip home, I was tired from being on the road all week and  wanted to take the quickest, most direct interstate route back. I was also determined to patch things up with the GPS lady and have a pleasant ride home, so I decided to just go wherever she directed me, convinced I could become her new best friend. We were getting along famously as she directed me through Kentucky and Tennessee.   
      Once we passed Knoxville, a series of very large "DETOUR AHEAD" signs began to pop up along the side of the road. I continued to drive down the interstate, listening to the radio, ignoring the "Interstate Closed Ahead" and "Detour" signs, and believing that oh-so-obnoxious voice when she told me to "Continue on the current route. Continue on the Current Route."  I figured she would let me know when it was time to exit for the detour.
      I drove on until I reached the very end of the accessible interstate. There, in blazing orange, with lights flashing and barricades blocking the highway,  was a HUGE Detour sign, with the GPS lady calmly telling me to "Continue on the Current Route, Continue on the Current Route." Evidently, a rock slide on the North Carolina/Tennessee border had closed the interstate indefinitely, but not once, not a single time, did GPS lady warn me that the interstate was completely blocked and I had better turn around.
     Either no one had told the GPS lady that little important piece of navigational information, or she had an alterior motive. I realized at that point that perhaps GPS lady might be a little bit vindictive.
     Had I made her so mad on the trip out that she was going to take me straight down the interstate until I rammed into a rock slide while driving 70 MPH? Surely not! Surely she had just been misinformed by that great satellite in the sky which communicates all pertinent information to intelligent life forms below. Surely this was not a deliberate attempt to cause me bodily harm simply because I had questioned her navigational skills....
      I decided at that point that I was a little uncomfortable with her in the car, so I told her goodbye, flipped the GPS off, and  followed the detour route, thinking it would swing me around the blocked road and right back onto the interstate.  I quickly realized, however, that the detour was only a U-turn and I  was headed straight back up I-40, going back exactly the way I had just come, heading back towards Kentucky. GPS lady had gotten her revenge.
      Exasperated, I stopped at the next rest stop to pick up a map, hoping that old-fashioned method of navigating would be a little more friendly and a lot more accurate.  The attendant, an actual real-live, person, told me I had two options: drive all the way back up I-40 until it hit I-81, head north and then pick up 1-26, head back down to Asheville, pick up I-85 etc. etc. etc.  That was a whole lot of backtracking and extra mileage if you asked me. 
    She then said , "There's another way, a pretty drive, but it's a mountain road and you gotta go over the mountain to get there."
    She slapped an official Tennessee State Map on the counter, with the recommended route back to Interstate 81 highlighted in yellow. Taped to the map, however, was a small, handwritten note that gave directions to the "unofficial" mountain road detour: "Go five miles back up the road, turn right until it dead ends. Follow that road to I-26."
     I decided I liked the attendant a whole lot better than GPS lady. She actually wanted me to take a scenic route, plus I didn't think she wanted to kill me.
     When I got back in the car, Sissey just rolled her eyes when I told her which way we were going. It was a no-brainer. To heck with the faster route home. We had to take the mountain path, the road less travelled.
      And let me tell you something, I am so glad we did.  We followed the French Broad River as it wound through the valleys, then headed up a gorgeous mountain pass through the rolling hills of North Carolina. I was driving that mountain road with my camera propped on the driver's wheel, snapping pictures while I tried to negoatiate curves and narrow bridges, the GPS lady strangely silent. 
    I snapped pictures of the river and pastures and bridges, but I had to stop and turn around when I passed an old car jacked up a mile high on mud tires.
    "Sissey, look at that!" I yelled as we turned around on Pig Trot Road.  I'm still not quite certain what they planned to do with a '57 Chevy perched on some bodacious mud tires, but it was certainly a sight worth turning around for and capturing on digital. She made me promise at that point to just keep on driving, quit turning around for stupid pictures, and get her on home.  She had two tests the next week, one the day after Spring Break, which I'm not sure is completely legal, and the scenic route was not rocking her boat.
     We drove on until the road ran into I-26, made only one more quick detour in Spartanburg for me to drive Sissey through Converse College, my alma mater. I snapped a few more digital pictures, then drove non-stop down the western side of Highway Nine until we pulled into Chester.
    I apologized to the GPS lady for my poor behavior, gave her a little pat on the dashboard, and turned off the engine.   I was sorry to see spring break come to an end, but it was good to be off the road, alive and back home in the grand ole state of South Carolina.

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