Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Take Highway 412. Or, How to Get Lost

Up a tree without a post

I'm out of pocket for the next few days, doing my "good mother" deeds by taking care of my daughter's home and animals (2 dogs and 5 cats) until the weekend. She and her children are going to Texas to attend the funeral and burial of her mother-in-law, who passed away unexpectedly last Saturday morning. Her husband is already there, having left immediately after receiving the news.

To keep up my resolve to post something every day this new year, I've pulled up a post I started drafting last summer but hadn't posted, until now (you will see that I am desperate for something to post about. )

Here followeth the long tale:

The Adult Bible Study Group at my church is comprised of some interesting characters. Nearly all of us are in the "over 50" category and, thus, have a lot of living under our belts. We get into some interesting conversations. Our group leader, one of our deacons, does his best to keep us in line, but along with learning a bit more about the Gospel reading for the day, we somehow learn more about each other. Not a bad thing, when you come to think about it. We share sometimes very personal information, and just like Las Vegas, what happens in Bible Study stays in Bible Study.

Deacon Richard is fond of the discussion guidelines from the Serendipity Bible, and generally prepares those in the form of a handout to get us started. Sometimes, the questions appear to be far off the topic of the text at hand. Such was the case one Sunday this past summer. The Gospel reading was Matthew 7:21-27 in which Jesus talks about the wise man building his house upon a rock. The opening question from the Serendipity Bible was "If you should become lost while driving, how hard would it be for you to stop and ask for directions?" "Depends upon your gender," one said, and went on to relate how her husband would rather drive 20 miles in the wrong direction than to stop and ask for assistance.

Which recalled to me my own "lost" story, which I had previously shared with the group when it occurred, about 4 years ago. All I had to say was "Highway 412," and everybody just grinned at me. Unfortunately, they all remembered this embarrassing episode.

I had been to visit my youngest sister who lives in northern Virginia. I can drive the 1,000 miles between our homes in two days, stopping the first night after I have about 600 miles behind me. The second day is then a relative breeze. As I do most of the time, I made the trip alone; I like the solitude and a chance to just think. I usually don't even turn on the radio, since the highways I travel run smack-dab through the Country Music Corridor and I can wear my finger out trying to find a station that plays something else (almost anything else.) Sometimes I take along a few audio tapes of my preferred music, just in case. For this trip, I had also checked out a couple of Books-on-Tape from my library, but didn't listen to them on the way up; too much pretty scenery to see and think about.

Blue Ridge Mountains - Photo from Wikipedia Commons

When I leave home, I drive east on Interstate 40 all the way through Tennessee, then turn north on I-81 along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I dog-leg a bit through some beautiful 'horse country' and on into the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to my sister's home. When I return, I usually just reverse directions and come back on the same highways.

On this particular trip, however, I decided to take a different route for the return journey. The route was through somewhat unfamiliar territory, down through West Virginia and into Kentucky. At the close of the first day, I found a hotel room in Elizabethtown, KY. While studying the map to plan the next day's journey, I decided that there must be an even shorter (and new) way to get home, and called a friend who frequently travels Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas to ask him for a recommendation. He told me "take U.S. Highway 412 when you get to Dyersburg, TN. It'll cut off 60 or 70 miles." OK, Gene, Highway 412 it is!

At dawn the next morning, -- I guess it was dawn; it was hard to tell through the heavy fog that had materialized overnight. The clock said it was time to be moving down the road, and it wasn't what you'd actually call "dark" outside, although I did have to use my headlights. So, I loaded up and headed out toward Dyersburg, TN and U.S. Highway 412, just like Gene told me to do.

I drove along in a fog so thick it was hard (impossible for me) to tell which direction I was going; the whole sky was the same gray all over; no sun to be seen anywhere, not even a lighter gray where the sun was (presumably) in the sky. Since there was no scenery to view on this new route home, I popped in one of the Books-on-Tape, a mystery story. And so I drove along, listening to the tape and watching the highway for signs indicating Highway 412.

There it was! I exited the main highway and set off to travel through new territory. I couldn't really tell where I was because of the fog, but just kept an eye peeled for highway signs; couldn't go wrong that way, could I?

I travelled along in the fog, making sure I didn't get too close to anyone's tail lights, listening to the story and checking the signs as I came across them. US Hwy 412. Yessir! Right on track! I still don't know where I am, but I definitely am on Highway 412.

The story coming from my speakers was engrossing. Time passed; I rolled along in the fog, putting miles of highway behind me. Surely I should be getting close to the Mississippi River by now. I know I have to cross a big bridge to get over into Arkansas. No Mississippi River, but part of my mind (not occupied with the mystery story) noted that I had crossed the Tennessee River. ??? I don't remember the Tennessee River as being on my way back to Arkansas. Then I noticed that I had entered the city limits of Jackson, TN! Hmmmm? Jackson, TN is definitely not supposed to be located on my way back to Arkansas! Where in the heck am I?

Pulling myself out of the physical and mental fog I was in, I stopped at a service station to check a map. Well... I was on Highway 412, alright! 412 EAST, instead of 412 WEST! I had driven a good 100 miles in the wrong direction! Talk about being disgusted with one's self! I could have banged my head against the fender!! I filled up the tank with gasoline, got back in the car, took out the tape and stashed it in a box in the back seat. I never did hear the end of that story.

Needless to say, by the time I back-tracked to where I should have turned (I'm stubborn that way), I drove a long way before I got back home! My desire for a short cut cost me about 4 hours and over 200 extra miles.

I don't think I'm quite ready to have my car and driver's license taken away, but I do more fully understand the stories about people who set out to go to Florida and end up in Canada. I don't intend to ever pull such a stunt again, even in a fog so thick I can't tell east from west! When I traded cars a year or so later, I was most adamant that it have a compass -- and I check it often!


Betsy from Tennessee said...

What a cute story, Pat... I've never been on 412---but I live in that country music area off of I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville. Thank Goodness that I like country music now... HA HA...

It's true though that most men would rather drive hundreds of miles out of the way than to stop and ask for directions--my husband included.

Have a nice visit 'house-sitting.' By the way, how is your weather today? Got ice or snow??? We've had heavy rains ALL DAY.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This reminds me of the time Michael and I were driving across Kentucky listening to a book on tape. We became so engrossed we ran out of gas. I was behind the wheel, I'm ashamed to admit, and I didn't even have fog as an excuse.

Marvin said...

Cute story, Pat. (Easy for me to say, huh?) I've gotten onto highways heading the wrong direction more than once, but
I've never gone 100 miles before seeing the error of my ways.

And no, I am not quick to pull over and ask for directions. The average direction-giver usually gets me more confused than I already am.

jinksy said...

Not being a driver, I can only imagine what this experience was like. But isn't it a bit like life? We may set off with something in our sights, but life can often throw us a detour. Sometimes we may be fogbound, I agree, but sometime a bright, new day of extreme clarity dawns and we see a whole unexpected vista of amazing beauty.
Loved the story!

richies said...

I have done the same thing, but not quite for a hundred miles.

An Arkie's Musings

rhymeswithplague said...

Great story, great photo of the Blue Ridge mountains, but what does "up the tree without a post" mean??? I have heard "up the creek without a paddle" but this tree/post relationship is a new one on me!

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

RWP.. "Up the tree without a post" is just something that popped into my head. I was searching my archives for a photo and found the tree. I would have said "up the creek without a paddle" but I had neither creek nor paddle in my photo archives. If it were not for resolving to post each day, this long tale probably would have stayed in the Drafts folder. My apologies for the confusion.

Old Lady Lincoln said...

I'm sorry, I'm sitting here laughing. You need one of those gizmos for your car that tells you which way you're headed. Well that sure didn't save you 60 or 70 miles did it? But I bet you will NEVER get confused again on Route 412.

cottonpicker said...

Gee Pat, you're quite a traveler - could have been truckdriver!! Loved your story - it's honest and funny - mostly human! I seldom travel more than 200 miles from home so I am quite impressed!

Jeannelle said...

Great story, Pat, and an excellent telling of it. And, its been languishing in your drafts list since summer?!

Wow.....I'm amazed at that long distance you have traveled alone, a bit envious, actually. I love solitary drives.

Its understandable how you ended up going the wrong way, but it certainly makes for a good tale!

Dr.John said...

A very cute story. Betty and I always had trouble reading maps. We glued to the front of one map a cartoon in which the husband asks where they were and the wife says " according to the map we are in the middle of the lake". We never got that bad.

Rose said...

This is referred to as 'taking the scenic route' in our family.

JC said...

Oh me, I'm typing this with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. Your new car better have a GPS that talks to you when your headed in the wrong direction. LOL!!!! Thanks I needed that laugh. On the serious side. I've done the same thing, that is why it is so funny.

Sandi McBride said...

I've done the very same thing myself, and thankfully when I was alone and not with any eyewitnesses to my downfall! Hope the family gets home safe and sound soon.

Rose said...

This is a good read, even the second time around....