August 8, 2013
Driving to the Outer Banks is one of the great parts about vacationing here. Most of us drive hundreds of miles and probably have some sort of traditional way to get here. I’d like to share the “Yankee Route” that my family has taken from western Pennsylvania for decades, as well as some of my memories we’ve made on it.
Besides Virginia and North Carolina, Pennsylvania is without question, one of the top states that feed the Outer Banks tourism industry. It has been a handed down, family tradition for thousands of us, so this route may be VERY familiar to some!
To start things off, those of us in the western corridor of the state need to head east. To head east, we take the Pennsylvania Turnpike! Now, this isn’t the most glorious part of the drive. It’s been notoriously laden with construction, narrow lanes, hoards of traffic, and more cones than a Dairy Queen supplier. Nonetheless, it has some memorable parts and milestones all the same. As depicted in this blog’s featured image, the GIANT windmills at the Somerset Wind Farm are always neat to see driving down the turnpike. They haven’t been around for all our travels, but since their construction they are certainly a sight that assures you that you’re on the way away from home! The first true “leg” of the trip is the Breezewood exit off of the turnpike. Breezewood is hands down one of the LARGEST exits off the turnpike and is a hub for hungry and tired travelers! It also marks one of my ritualistic stops at Sheetz. For those of you who don’t know the glory that is Sheetz gas stations, you are truly missing out on a fantastic combination of well-priced fuel, clean restrooms, and a made-to-order menu of food that’s just plain delicious! I think it’s secretly laced with addictive ingredients.
After loading up on gas station delicacies, we now start our journey towards crossing the Mason-Dixon Line! I don’t care for it one ounce, but the following stretch of I-70 is the paramount example of why I CAN’T WAIT to get on the roads outside Pennsylvania. It’s 55mph, straight stretched, and quite frankly just boring for my taste. There is one awesome, memorable overlook as you descend down from the higher elevation. As kids (and currently) we always stick our faces as close to the windows as possible, trying to sneak a glimpse at the scenery here. There is a really beautiful white church amongst all the fields and rolling acres. Check it out – you know what overlook I’m talking about!!!
It’s not far after this point when you end up crossing over into Maryland; and the celebration begins! For my family, mentally, crossing the geographic bounds of Pennsylvania marks a turning point on vacations when you can officially relax your mind and forget about everything that is going on “back home.” Before you know it, you cross over the Potomac River and find yourself in West Virginia. Yes, this route explores Maryland for roughly 2 minutes, depending on how bad you are craving salt air!
Our route through West Virginia takes us right down US 522 and through Berkeley Springs, which is QUITE the QUAINT town! Heading through town, we always wish we had more time to stroll through and enjoy. We’d make our first sighting of a Food Lion grocery store here; always a good sign that we’re getting closer! Every trip we wish we could stop at the small movie theatre and in the fall we often head through during some kind of festival that has hoards of enticing sights and smells! Speaking of enticing smells, after exiting town and passing Cacapon State Park, there is a Barbeque joint (here we go again) that is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS smoking meat, no matter when we’ve driven through! Every time we drive by the blue building around “that bend” we swear that “one time” we’ll have to stop and try some. To this day I have yet to experience this BBQ, but I assure you it is another token reminder that smoky treats of meat await your arrival on the Outer Banks!
Another “before you know it” moment occurs when you find yourself heading up another hill and crossing into Virginia! Please take note: you will see a sign immediately after the welcome sign that reads “Radar Detectors Illegal.” Speaking from job-interview-trip-down-experience, this is enforced! On a lighter note, the rolling hills over the next 20-some miles are extremely pleasant and filled with loads of beautiful scenery to take in! There are several icons along the way such as the GIANT red apple at the Virginia Farm Market! This marks the detour around Winchester to eventually get you onto Rt. 17 – our last main road until Fredericksburg. Another cool landmark is the enormous roller skate that once advertised an old roller arena which is now an indoor flea market/auction house. You know ….that skate!
It’s a little less interesting as you make your way into Fredericksburg. There’s the Geico headquarters which was always fun to see as kids. It was like: “hey that’s where the Gecko works!” Now it’s much more: “Hey that’s where my money goes once a month!” It’s cool nonetheless
to pass the place. It’s a short, red-light filled stretch as you make your way onto the enormous mainframe connection of North to South that is Interstate 95. 95 is not for the faint of heart. If you’re lucky, you can zip through unscathed. Some are intimidated by the hordes of traffic, others feed from it. Personally, I get “my” music on, whip, zip, crisscross, and keep on keeping on for about 40 miles! I have a tendency to do it barefoot as well. For us hardcore “getting to the beach” people it’s very liberating to kick off the flip flops and man (or woman) handle your vehicle through “the others” while you make your way to the promised land.
95’s done. Time to hop off. A short loop around Richmond on 295 gets you to another juncture in the trip. It kind of feels like one of those “choose your story” books! You can either get off and onto 64 Westbound OR take a little more relaxing trip through what my father has dubbed “Peanut Country.” If you’re in a rush, taking 64 is a no brainer. It’s straight, most of the time does not have too much traffic, and is 70mph in most areas. Us Pennsylvanians find a 70mph speed zone quite foreign and enjoy the opportunity to be a little more legal as we barrel down the road! Taking this route will also get you to the tunnels in Norfolk, an awesome choice if you’d like to see some of the sights like aircraft carriers, the Chesapeake Bay, and your GPS figure driving underwater!
The second option at the 295 leg of the trip is to take Route 460 through small towns like Waverly and Wakefield. It’s a straight but slower route through the quaint small towns and farm fields. It’s also the way to get to the Virginia Diner and Wakefield Peanut Company! I’ve had countless childhood memories at the Virginia Diner indulging in their “Hurricane” milkshakes! I’m not entirely sure of all the ingredients but rest assured; they had all sugars known to man in them. Wakefield Peanut Company just plain rocks! We’ve been stopping there since they had just a small register in one of their warehouses. Now there is a modern retail building built for all the tourists to come in and sample the fine treasures harvested from local fields. You can’t go wrong with a giant tin of boiled peanuts from there. Try to limit yourself on their trail mix as well… it’s highly addictive!
Those stops aren’t the only fantastic ones to find. Adam’s Peanuts & Country Store in Waverly is a great place to pull over and enjoy some local treats. The hanging, salt cured hams smell better than ANY air freshener I’ve ever purchased. Just saying! Cowling’s Bar-Be-Que is also an amazing pit stop for some REALLY good Q! Your options have been presented for how to arrive in the Norfolk/Chesapeake area. I suggest you choose wisely; they can both be very rewarding and exciting depending on your time requirements for your trip.
The next half of an hour or so is still that kind of “major highway feel.” You’re not quite on 158, rolling towards the beach. I can tell you that we are all VERY anxious to start seeing some signs of North Carolina life, so to speak. One of the most exhilarating moments or checkpoints on the way in is the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign at the VA/NC border! It’s probably only second to Crossing the Bridge to the Outer Banks! Rolling from Virginia (of which you’ve been in for at least the last 5 hours) and into North Carolina is that pat on the back that you’re almost there! You can do it! It’s not much longer!!!!!!
As kids, this really turned the heat up for us. We were so anxious to finally get there and for some reason, when we saw the NC sign, figured it would be just a little bit longer until we’d be at the beach already. Let me tell you, the next 1 hour was and still is, the LONGEST hour you will spend driving to the Outer Banks of North Carolina! You get teased too much by advertisements and billboards, you get “faked out” by bridges and bends in the road, you get tunnel vision…just waiting until the Wright Memorial Bridge is locked in your sights. Sound like you?
There was no stopping. Unless we had a 9 out of 10 “I have to pee” situation on our hands, there was no stopping. You can use a Dare County bathroom. These others will have to wait. You don’t smell the salt air yet, but your brain wants to; it starts imagining it. You want to roll all the windows down, but it’s still too balmy. You want to worry about the music that’s on in the car… but you just don’t care about ANYTHING anymore… until you get to “it”; THE BEACH! It’s a sickness we all share. Wait? It’s not a sickness. It’s a passion!
Nothing can break the “on a mission,” last leg ecstasy like a stop to a fruit market. Don’t get me wrong, the stuff is local, delicious, and cleverly advertised on cascading, smiling-faced, cut outs. But, make these stops sparingly. It’s go time when you’re so close!
Folks, I’ve run out of words and probably your attention. We all know what happens next here.
You swing that bend, you kick it into gear, and you get ON THAT BRIDGE!!!!! Boom, shazaam, walla walla AWESOMENESS.
Peace, calm, serenity, smiles, excitement, happiness, and the feeling of “home” surround many of us at this time. Congratulations; you’ve made it!
I really didn’t know where I was going to take this Blog. I hope you enjoyed being walked right through the experience of how we get to the Outer Banks. It’s more than a road trip; it’s certainly a memorable one that is filled with varying emotions. Take the time to make these trips special with you and your families. While many good times are in wait for you at the beach, sometimes (as you can clearly tell by my memories) you can really enjoy the driving to the beach and make it PART of your vacation.
Until next time,