My old girlfriend, Jenny, had gotten back to me and was excited about the idea of seeing me again, even if it was only for a night. We hadn’t been in touch much for the past thirty years, but every once-in-a-while, we’d exchange emails. From what I understood she was teaching English and living with her two kids in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was only a day away. After thirty years that had come up rather sudden, but it was what it was.
I was really pushing it on this trip, already up to around nine thousand miles on the rental car. The agreement had been unlimited mileage, but did that mean no cap on common sense? Ever since leaving Huntington Beach, I’d been driving nearly sixteen hours a day.
The Mountain Bluebird, by now, had become a popular hero in my own personal folklore, but were there no limits to what it could endure? The Sierra Range, the Rocky Mountains, now the Appalachians? Why not? As long as there was money to put gas in the tank we’d go on flying, around the world, east to west, north to south. We’d fly up to heaven and visit the Thunder Beings, bring back light and understanding to all mankind. Something like that.
It was already past noon, and I had no idea where I was going, just east, towards Virginia. It was two and a half hours to Charlestown, West Virginia. I continued on the 64 to Beckley. There I was directed to the Coal Mining Campground, which seemed promising at first. There was an Exhibition Coal Mine and little prop village when I pulled up. When I got to the campground in back, however, reservations were required and there didn’t seem to be any spaces open. A few locals stood around gawking at me, as I tried to back out. I got back on the road and started to drive, although by now my head was starting to spin.
The next place that came up was called the Beaver Creek Campground, another two hours away, back again on the 64 to the 219. By now I’d reached the rounded mountains of the Appalachians. Some local radio station was playing bluegrass music, the perfect soundtrack to the rambling turn of events, the galloping banjo, mandolin, and guitar, leaping forward in a three-legged race, a rickety wheelbarrow ride of a good time. Wow. Was I having a flashback? I slapped my knee in time to the music and the Mountain Bluebird surged forward.
It was a wonderful relief to find that they did indeed have open campsites at Beaver Creek. Not only that, there were no reservations required. They also sold firewood. The site that I claimed seemed to be a half an acre, with trees all around, a table, and a firepit, which for only the second time on the whole trip I was able to use. Camping isn’t really camping without a fire. What I’d been doing so far was mostly crashing.
On this night I had time to gather up some kindling and branches, however, and keep a fire going for a few hours with the wood I’d bought. In the night air, I could hear another group. It sounded like they were singing hymns. I got my ukelele out and sat plucking along to the music.
In the morning, I was up at six and back on the road again. The fog was so thick it was almost like driving through a blizzard. There was only about twenty feet of visibility ahead of me. Suddenly, I came over a rise and there was the sun, looking like the ghostly light at the end of the tunnel. The stripes on the road were white, the fog was white, and the sun was even whiter. The whole of my time and attention were being sucked into it. It felt like I was driving straight into the light that never dies.