Sunday, July 3, 2011

US Cross Country-1: A natural bridge and gaining confidence

Here is part 2 of my 16 day adventure, driving 8700+ miles solo cross country across the entire width of the US and back. Read Part 1 here: US Cross Country-0: The saga begins

Day 1:Sat 2003-Jun-21

In spite of the jitters, I did start off again, having collected my wallet and anything else that I could have possibly forgotten. There was nothing else forgotten. I hit Route I-66W in a few minutes and drove away into the west. The saga had just restarted.

I just love I-66W. Have traveled it tens of times.Once you cross the first few "populated" miles to the west of Falls Church, and as you go further away from the Washington DC metro area, you begin to see what greenery means. Many a time, you see wild deer passing by next and sometimes even across the Interstate. Always a lovely sight! I-66W takes you straight to the Appalachian mountains and there are many wonderful scenic routes all over the place. The Skyline drive (do see the photos) is one such route. I've probably driven through this route at least 10 times during my stay in US. Many times I went alone. Such is its beauty. It was very tempting to take the Skyline again, but I had to cover a long distance, so stuck with the Interstate. And I didn't want deviations!

After about 1 hour, and like 62 miles, I hit I-81S. This route runs in parallel to the Appalachians. The mountains accompany you on one side all through this route. Now it gets even more pristine. With such pleasant view all around, I could feel myself calm down quite a bit. Nothing soothes like mother nature. How true!

There were no planned stops other than for lunch. Lunch would be at any of those rest areas that are all over the Interstates. So I went on southward. Now the speed limit was 75mph and I stuck to less than 90mph. There was a time when I used to hit 120-125mph (almost 200kmph), but over time, I had matured. Some might say I got older. Well, whatever! Anyways, as I drove along, I saw this huge ad, about "the" natural bridge. Well, well! I had totally missed this place in my planning. Imagine, not even like 3 hours into the drive and I was already tempted to deviate from the "plan". I have a software development and management background you see :P

I, in fact, had never seen such a natural formation in my entire life. So a quick check on the map, I plotted the deviation, and it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to zip in and out -- I thought. So I took exit 180 from I81-S and a few miles later, I came to a parking lot and a visitor's center with no sign of any natural bridge. I check around and find that I have to trek for almost 20 minutes to reach the spot. Should I go back? Now I'd be spending almost 2 hours here, and totally unscheduled. So finally, I had solid proof on my estimation skills too. Darn! And I knew I had a 11 hour to cover that day (apart from this deviation). Well let me just do it. I finally decided. This would be the first of many deviations that I would take. Decisions on the fly. These tiny things, when I look back today, actually made the trip even more memorable.

Then I walked like mad. Other visitors were calmly strolling the path towards the natural bride, enjoying the scenic route and I was almost running. The Cedar Creek (this is a small tributary of River James) was flowing in full, right next to the path and the whole area is in a thick forest, full of trees. But I did not stop to enjoy.
Trek by the side of R. Cedar Creek
Dancing River
En-route, I paused to read about the bridge and discovered that this was a sacred place of worship for the native American tribes centuries ago. A couple of huts have been recreated, and I found a handful of people enacting the life and times of those days. It was like time travel to the 15th century. But I did not stop for long.

Time travel into an Indian Village

Lifestyle of the natives - cooking

Finally after about a mile and a half trek, I saw it.
The Natural Bride, VA

Span of the Bridge - with R-11 on top

It was truly majestic! The creek had carved out a tunnel in the mountain. Over centuries, the whole floor had sunk.What is left behind is a huge arch with a span of about 95ft, at a height of 215ft. And there is a road (R-11) on top of this bridge and I could even see some vehicles ply on it. I was told that I had just driven over the bridge to reach the place. Just awesome! You can read all about it in wikipedia: Natural Bridge, VA. I spent just a few minutes and had to rush back, again almost half running to the amusement of the other visitors. I was not looking at them, but I could make out.

I was soon back on I-81S and headed out of Virginia into Tennessee. Passed through Roanke, VA and then Knoxville, TN. I-81S had now merged into I-40W. It would be I-40W that would take me all across the country till the west. Then I headed towards Nashville, my final destination for day 1. I had snacks a plenty in the car, breakfast bars, energy bars, energy drinks, what not! Finally late in the evening, I managed to drive into the Motel-6 (30 USD a night) at Nashville. I had booked in advance. I had booked in advance for all the 15 nights. I had charted out the whole route, the places to see, the time it took to reach, how much time I should spend in each place, where to sleep, everything was planned. I also had planned at least 8-10 hours of rest everyday. It was the most majestic plan I had ever done in my life. It took me a month of preparation. But how wrong I was, I would soon discover.

Dinner was at a nearby joint. A refreshing hot shower for the aching limbs. I had passed the first test. 11 hours of drive, 1 hour of trek. I had done it! This was totally do-able. I knew that I could do it all the way. I was grinning when I went to sleep. Maybe I'll try another day or two and if things get unbearable, head back. But I knew I would not give up. There was no need to give up!

Read the next part, day 2 of the 16 day solo trip: US Cross Country-2: Oklahoma City and the National Memorial


The complete album of Natural Bridge.

Route Map:

Route Map - end of day 1


DayDateMapPlaceTime hh:mmkmmilesStates

StartAMaple Shade, NJ00:00

0Fri, 20-Jun-2003BFalls Church, VA03:00259161NJ, DE, VA
1Sat, 21-Jun-2003CNashville, TN11:001067663VA, TN

Trip Total14:0013268244



  1. Great going! Now you have me curious, post the next days at the earliest!

  2. Thanks Vijay. Will try to post it ASAP :)

  3. Super!!!!! was waiting for this blog long time..pls dont make me to wait again for the next blog...I want to get well soon so that I can enjoy beauty of nature again..

    Nothing soothes like mother nature. So true!!!

  4. The deviation for the bridge visit was very capturing.

  5. Waiting for the next post :)

  6. Pavanesh, Kiran, Ashwin and Nani, thanks. I'll publish the next part by next week :)