Road trips

As winter makes its delayed exit from the Shenandoah Valley, there are days when blue skies, puffy clouds and warm breezes cry out for a road trip.

The problem, of course, is that – between the demands of personal thrift and a growing concern for our warming planet – I can no longer justify simply driving off in search of adventure.    

Driving, just for the fun of driving, has lost its innocence.  For a guy who grew up in the ‘60s – when gasoline could drop to 19.9 cents/gallon during a Jeff Davis “gas war” –  this is a tough adjustment.

Still, with a little planning, one finds excuses for a pretty drive.

For example, I recently decided to make my side yard more attractive to hummingbirds by hanging up a fuchsia plant.   So I needed to find a plant nursery.

There are several such businesses nearby – most in built-up shopping areas.  But I used my laptop to locate one in Stuart’s Draft – not far away – which gave me an excuse to explore the old familiar shortcut between I-64 and I-81.

I remember that drive from the days when I was a student at UVA – then an overwhelmingly male institution.  The Stuart’s Draft shortcut saved five or six minutes on the two-hour drive to all-female Hollins College, just outside Roanoke.

Those were the days!  Gas was cheap, sleep was a luxury, and a road trip was the only option for men who enjoyed feminine companionship.

There were many options in those days:  Madison (now JMU), Longwood, and Mary Washington were all women’s colleges.  As were Mary Baldwin, Randolph-Macon (now Randolph), and Sweet Briar.  

But of all the options, Hollins – the longest drive, by forty minutes – beckoned with a special light.  There was a quality about Hollins women in those days – a subtle distinction that had something to do with their inaccessibility.

Or rather – not that – but that they demanded a bit more from us.

I met remarkable women on every all-female campus within commuting range of Charlottesville – but looking back, I think the Hollins women were a few years ahead of their sisters in developing the sense that women were every bit the equal of men.  

There was something very attractive – and vaguely alarming – in that.

At any rate, I found my fuchsia plant – at a good price.  And drove enough of the old Hollins short-cut to see that – for all the development elsewhere – it’s still a gorgeous drive.

Another recent road trip was to the Green Valley Book Fair – long a favorite destination.   

At this point in life, I’m actually starting to get rid of some books – but I found a few worth adding to the collection.

The best was Michael Shelden’s “Young Titan,” a biography of Winston Churchill dealing only with his life up to the age of 40, when – after the Gallipoli fiasco – he lost his Cabinet post.

After a meteoric rise, Churchill seemed a man whose political career was over.  Indeed, he must have felt that way himself, for he voluntarily rejoined his regiment at the Western Front, exposing himself to the deadly risks of World War I’s trench warfare.

Of course, Churchill’s career didn’t end in the trenches.  After the war, he returned to politics and rebuilt his career.  Eventually, he would reach the pinnacle of British government as Prime Minister, in 1940 – at the darkest moment in British history.

Not everyone would have considered that an opportunity.  Britain stood alone and at bay – all her allies having been crushed by Hitler’s war machine.   But, under Churchill’s leadership, she held on.

The Navy won the protracted battle against German submarines and fast surface ships, keeping the island’s supply lines open.  The Royal Air Force won the “Battle of Britain” against Hitler’s Luftwaffe, eventually gaining air superiority over the island and its surrounding waters – and then carrying the air war into Germany.

In time, the United States and the Soviet Union joined the “grand alliance” against Hitler; Europe was liberated – temporarily, in the case of the eastern half; and Churchill’s place in history was assured.  

Thanks to my father, I’ve always been a fan of Sir Winston.  Over the past six months, I’ve re-read five volumes (of six) of his magisterial “The Second World War.”

Searching carefully, I’ve picked up the first three (of six) volumes of “Marlborough,” Churchill’s biography of an ancestor who, in the age of Louis XIV, also saved Europe from subjugation and tyranny.

Anyway, even in these times, Green Valley proved a rewarding road trip.

As the weather warms, I’ll soon be off on another carefully-chosen, shrewdly-budgeted road trip through the Valley.

Perhaps a winery will beckon.

We must all become more thoughtful about how and where we drive, but – with a bit of research in advance – the road trip needn’t be entirely dead.

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