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Meanwhile, on Wednesday…

December 15, 2005, 10:45 PM

On Wednesday, I went up to northern Virginia, though not like you’d expect. This was by no means a “DC trip” like I usually do. Like my “accidental” DC trip in August, this was an off-week trip, but this time it didn’t involve the Metro at all (closest I got was driving past the 1C bus on two occasions), nor did it involve Pentagon City.

The official purpose of the trip was to make a run up to the DC metro area using US 29 via Charlottesville to see how well it would do as an alternate route. I also tested a variation on that route via Harrisonburg. Then while I was up that way, I also had a surprise in store for a friend.

So my trip went like so: I-64 westbound from Fishersville to Staunton. Swing north onto I-81, and take that as far as Harrisonburg. Here, we said goodbye to the Interstates for a while, which honestly are boring roads. I took a pass through JMU for old times’ sake, and ended up down near Valley Mall in Harrisonburg, at US 33. I took US 33 eastbound for a while. This took me through Elkton, in the eastern part of Rockingham County, and then up a mountain to Skyline Drive at Swift Run Gap. At the top of the mountain, we entered Greene County, and got into a monster of a backup. Two trucks were doing the safe thing – going down the mountain very slowly. We can’t fault them for that. Well, we could, but it wouldn’t be fair. Besides, the runaway truck ramp was snowed over, and looked pretty short anyway. I wouldn’t want to be a runaway truck and have to use that…

After what seemed like an eternity, the road widened, and we cleared the trucks. I caught US 29 at the intersection of US 29 and US 33 in Ruckersville, and headed north. This took me through Ruckersville, more of Greene County, Madison County, Culpeper County (bypassing the actual town for now), and Fauquier County, before finally entering Prince William County, which I consider the “boundary” for northern Virginia. My days as a directory assistance operator have wired me as defining “northern Virginia” as that area which falls within the 703 area code. Suburban sprawl may make that definition obsolete one day, but that’s how I see it.

I-66 was backed up when I got there, and I got stuck on an on-ramp with nowhere to go. Turns out that they were doing blasting work on I-66 eastbound as part of a construction project, so traffic was briefly stopped. Once traffic resumed, we were in good shape. So I took I-66 past Manassas and such, and got off at Fairfax County Parkway.

Here’s where I started laying the groundwork for my surprise. I called my friend Matthew Tilley on the phone, since I’d mentioned the day before that I was planning on calling him on Wednesday. Turns out he was at work that day. Okay, good deal. I could surprise him live and in person.

Now getting there was a joy and a half, as I got the motor tour of the northern part of Fairfax County, and a little bit of Loudoun County. I will admit up front – I had no idea where the heck I was going. I went so far that Fairfax County Parkway turned into Algonkian Parkway, and I crossed into Loudoun County. Now is finally when I stopped for directions, pulling into a Rite-Aid, where I got what could be nicely described as BAD DIRECTIONS. Their directions landed me in the middle of a residential neighborhood. But I managed to recover, and found the place – a hotel in Reston. So I asked the ladies at the front desk if this was the place where Matthew Tilley worked. They confirmed, but that he wasn’t in at the time (as I’d expected). So I sat down and played Tetris while I waited. No problem. Then I saw the hotel’s shuttle van pull up. I put my cell phone away. Here he comes.

I said, “Surprise!” I said it kind of like Robin Williams on Mrs. Doubtfire, talking to the boss in the restaurant.

Either way, he was very pleasantly surprised.

After he finished at work, we went to his house for a bit, where I had two more surprises – I brought a CD containing the BVE cues I was working on, and I also brought up my FliteStar vest on this trip. A fun time was had by all as Matthew, his mother, and I talked about Metro and various other topics. And we loaded in the BVE cues I did. Fun stuff.

I got going just after 9:00, and got some help getting back to Fairfax County Parkway (after which I knew where I was going). I also realized I’d blown right past where I’d needed to get off earlier without realizing it.

From there, I got I-66 and took it the short distance to US 29, and went home via US 29, taking the business route through Culpeper, and then reaching Charlottesville, where suburban sprawl has reached the airport. When we moved to the airport, the sprawl hadn’t gotten quite that far, and the airport was pretty much out in the country. At Charlottesville, I changed from mainline 29 (which I’d been on since Culpeper) to the 29 bypass. If that sounds confusing, let me explain – 29 only splits into bypass and business routes at Charlottesville’s actual city limits. North of the city limits, mainline 29 goes through all that sprawl.

Then from the bypass, I caught I-64, took it to Waynesboro, and then from there back home. Not a bad trip. I certainly made Matthew Tilley’s day, and I had fun myself. And I also learned quite a bit about Fairfax County, which I’d previously seen very little of – just along various Interstate highway corridors, and the areas that the Metro goes through.

Web site: Roads to the Future about Fairfax County Parkway

Song: Too much Christmas music... make it stop…

Quote: "Surprise!"

Categories: DC trips, Driving, Matthew