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I love virtually everything about the beach.
I love the constant crash of the waves. I love the soft grittiness of the sand between my toes. I love the salty warmth of the air, almost thick and heavy and full of saline moisture. I love the prickly heat of the sun, and the explosively colorful beauty in the twice-daily shows it puts on as it rises and sets. I love the ever-present cooling breeze coming off the ocean. I especially love sitting in my beach chair at the edge of the surf, relaxing completely as the water washes all my cares away.
There is one thing about the beach, however, that I do not love at all. In fact, with very few exceptions, it’s something that I really hate. Like an every fiber of my being, all-consuming, I would rather avoid it at all costs if I could kind of hatred.
I hate driving to (and from) the beach.
The teeth-grinding, head-splitting, foul language and foul mood inducing madness of beach traffic is the most obvious component of this hatred. There’s more to it than that, though. It seems like virtually every beach that we’ve been to requires multiple hours of highway drudgery, and when you get within range of the beach (the home stretch, as my dad calls it) and are finally starting to feel the excitement of the vacation ahead…. you’re stuck taking two-lane red-light filled back roads the rest of the way.
This is a remarkably hypocritical thing for the host of Take Back Roads to be complaining about, but the truth of the matter is, when you’ve just spent six or eight hours battling the misery of highway driving you’re simply ready for the trip to be done. No more sight-seeing or detour meandering or anything other than let’s just get there already. Needing two hours to crawl through the final 30 miles is not what TBR is about anyway.
I digress. It’s a bitch driving to the beach – there’s no other way to put it. Until this most recent trip, that is. A few years back, our extended family got together and decided that, instead of continuing to go to Duck NC (on the Outer Banks – one of my favorite places) we would mix it up every year and try some place different. This was primarily presented for the benefit of the kids, and my daughter in particular, so that they could have similar experiences as my brother and I did when we were growing up: the ability to travel the country and see many new and different things. Our first venture to a new beach took us through NYC on our way up to Cape Cod Massachusetts. The year after that was Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia.
After a year off, during which my wife and I took a three-week “Jeep Beach” coastal hop together, the family reconvened for a trip to Myrtle Beach. As always, our week in the rental house ran from Saturday to Saturday. Our original plan for the drive down was to do like we usually do: get the majority of the drive out of the way on Friday, stay somewhere 2-3 hours from the beach, and complete the remainder of the drive early Saturday morning. The drive home would follow our typical pattern of staying through Saturday morning, having one last lunch at the beach, then drive the bulk of the way home. We would decide Saturday evening whether to crash somewhere or drive the whole way.
We ended up deviating from the plan on both trips, and had significantly better experiences both times as a result. I won’t spend too much time on the trip down, as the majority of it was driven on the highway and was, from a travel perspective, not terribly interesting. The trip home, however, consisted of a good deal of back roads driving, and was significantly more fascinating and enjoyable as a result.
We left Pittsburgh Friday after lunch instead of after work – the first deviation from our typical travel pattern. This allowed us a lot more time during the day to get the driving done – which was needed, as the trip to Myrtle is several hours longer than our usual journey. As a result of leaving so early, the drive down Friday afternoon and evening went seamlessly: No traffic, no accidents, no rush hour misery, just smooth sailing and easy highway driving. It was a cloudy and stormy afternoon, and the rolling wooded hills of West Virginia were dotted with low-lying patches of mist hanging in the trees (“Those are clouds” my meteorologically-challenged wife insisted). Aside from this, and the mountainous stretch of 77S surrounding Wytheville VA, the drive down was generally uneventful and uninteresting.
We made a quick stop for dinner at a Bojangles just across the NC border near Mt Airy. Yeah, it’s a chain, but it’s one we’ve never had before, so it was close enough for us to trying something unique. After eating we felt inspired to drive the rest of the way to Myrtle. We were making really good time, my parents were nearly there themselves, and they were able to get two hotel rooms at a Comfort Inn virtually around the corner from our beach house. This turned out to be a fantastic decision.
After long stretches on Interstates 77 & 74, we got off the highway just north of I95 (which I will avoid at all costs for the rest of my life) and got onto US 501 outside of Laurinberg NC. We and my parents both had been warned that US 501 can get nightmarishly clogged with beach traffic headed into Myrtle, but because we didn’t reach 501 until approximately 10PM or later, we had the road virtually to ourselves.
As a result, instead of the “home stretch” of our drive being a nightmarish misery to suffer through, it was a gorgeous southern evening’s drive through the low country. We had the windows down, enjoying the loud croaks of toads and urgent chirps of crickets peppering the cool breeze blowing through the Jeep. Instead of sitting at red lights and staring at a Christmas-tree string of brake lights, we were enjoying the dark beauty of a nighttime country drive.
The drive home was even better. However, for the sake of your interest and my own sanity, I’m going to split the story in two sections. Thus endeth the first section. Until we meet again!