“The road of life is never without trials and tribulations,” a fellow with a man-bun shouted one time from the middle of a crowd of people before they began a climb up a long mountain.
William Least Heat-Moon came home one day to discover a note his wife had left, saying she was leaving him. He staggered to the kitchen table as the phone rang. It was his boss calling to inform him next week would be his last week as an English professor at a well-known university.
“Bill, I’m sorry,” his boss said. “I’m just the messenger here.”
There was a large road atlas lying on the table, one evidently left by his wife. Bill looked closely at the red lines marking interstates, and the blue lines denoting rural highways. With only an overnight bag in his hand, Bill decided to take a road trip following the blue lines, and subsequently, the roads less traveled.
Brenda and I enjoy traveling the blue highways, too, along the back roads to small towns and unknown adventures. We love to visit the little hamlets with the country stores, to turn down the shady, out-of-the-way roads where we pass barns past their prime, where the weather has slowly transformed the red paint to a faded gray.
Many years ago, one such trip took Brenda and me to Amherst, Va. Amherst was located near the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Roanoke, where cars were stopped along the mountain road to photograph the breathtaking scenery of the Shenandoah Valley.
“Why don’t we take the back road home?” Brenda asked.
Being in no hurry, I said, “Sure.”
The distance from Amherst to Buena Vista, south of Lexington, Va., was only 27 miles. We soon found out they were 27 tough miles.
As we proceeded north onto Route 60, the Lexington Turnpike, we thought the first 10 miles were the easiest, and the last 17 were the hardest, traveling them one-by-one until we entered the mountains.
Near Herb Sweete’s farm we crossed over the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks glistening in the sun, and moved on to Oronoco where the Appalachian Trail and the Buffalo River congregated near the Midway Baptist Church.
We soon passed Puppy Creek Road and the tiny town of Willow, near the intersection of Route 60 and Route 686, where a large willow tree stood that gave the town of 12 people its name.
A small country store and restaurant, Ogden’s Grocery, came into view as we entered the high mountains. Situated at the entrance was a Pepsi machine, along with a large metal cooler holding bags of ice. There were two bays full of tires and oil, where tires could be bought or changed.
Three weather-beaten barns in a state of disrepair were still standing, resting on a bluff, their dormant strength reminding us of better times.
Soon Brenda and I were climbing, twisting and turning as one sharp curve after another met us on the extremely mountainous, remote highway.
Twenty-seven miles and two hours later, we pulled into Buena Vista, Va., a small town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was time to get out of the car and take a welcome walk around.
Three men were sitting on two black wooden benches in front of the courthouse talking about the old days, and the time the flood came out of the mountains and almost washed Buena Vista away.
On our way out of town, as we headed north to Lexington, we stopped at a chrome diner next to a small bookstore.
The diner had a long bar with red-topped stools, a soda fountain, and seated about 20 regulars. We ate cheeseburgers and fries, and washed them down with a strawberry soda for me, and a vanilla for Brenda. The mature women behind the counter wore white dresses and hairnets over their hair as they took our orders.
A man in a white shirt and tie sat down beside me. He was sweating and seemed agitated.
“Everything OK?” I asked.
“Nope. My car broke down this afternoon on the edge of town and the only garage within miles is closed until Monday,” he said. “It’s only Saturday night, don’t you know?”
A waitress with the name Beverley on her name tag overheard us talking. “Why don’t you come out to the park with us shortly?” she asked. “Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and we would be honored if you would join us.”
Without hesitation, we all stood up, even the man with the broken down car, and we all drove to the edge of town and joined the celebration.
We are glad we did. We can’t remember when we had a better time.
As things swirl around us in this reckless world, we hope you took advantage of the opportunity to slow down, too, to spend time on the Fourth of July with family and friends and to remember this great country as we did that night a long time ago in Buena Vista, Va.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.