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Baseball Fever - Catch It!

Day 1: Wednesday, June 13, 2001
Lexington, VA to Cambridge, OH - 321 miles

It's 9:00 PM.  The 1992 light blue, wood-paneled Plymouth Grand Voyager backs confidently down the driveway and out onto the streets of Lexington, Virginia.  Engine purring, the majestic chariot sets a westward course, and the journey begins.

The van
A Plymouth Grand Voyager similar in appearance to our mighty stallion
This photograph has been released into the public domain

We soon hit I-64, headed out of the beautiful Shenendoah Valley toward the twilight sky dimly illuminating the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It's not long before we cross into West Virginia, where, courtesy of what seems like hundreds of billboards dotting the roadside, we quickly learn that we are only one short hour away from "Tamarack, the Best of West Virginia."

While West Virginia is the butt of innumerable derogatory jokes, it is actually quite a beautiful state.  Nicknamed the "Mountain State," the landscape certainly does not disappoint.  The New River Gorge is one of the most scenically spectacular areas of the eastern United States, and few places on Earth compare to the West Virginia mountains in the fall.  With this knowledge in hand, as well as a healthy sense of skepticism about any attraction that requires ubiquitous roadside advertisements to pull in visitors, we are hardly surprised when arrive at Tamarack and discover that "The Best of West Virginia" is a bit of an overstatement.  It bills itself as a showcase for local mountain crafts and artwork, but, from outside the locked doors at least, Tamarack appears to be more of a haven for chintzy souvenirs and people from the Interstate who have to pee.  To make matters worse, an unnaturally large moth attacks Rob, intent on eating him alive, and only after a considerable struggle is he able to free himself from the clutches of the flying beast.  Fortunately, as mentioned above, Tamarack does have toilet facilities, so we are able to salvage something useful from the stop.

Tamarack, the so-called "Best of West Virginia"
Cropped version of a photo taken by Drew Maust and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License

We strike out once again on I-64 west, heading deeper into the heart of West Virginia.  The night is calm and clear, and traffic is exceptionally light.  Excellent traveling conditions, no doubt, but the dearth of other vehicles and their illuminating headlights makes it difficult to perceive our surroundings.  Suddenly the minivan experiences a thundering jolt.  Wondering what on Earth just happened, Rob pulls onto the shoulder.  It turns out that a dog was hit earlier in the night, and has yet to be removed from the highway.  The Grand Voyager, in its infinite kindness and mercy, must have just been ensuring that the erstwhile canine was completely out of its suffering.  We inspect the van for damage, find none, and head on to Charleston.

Tolls are a thorn in the side of any long-distance traveler.  While it hardly seems unfair to extract some payment for the many external costs imposed by driving, this argument goes right out the window once you get behind the wheel of a vehicle.  There is a certain inescapable sinking feeling that sets in when you approach a toll booth, one that has driven countless travelers to seek slower alternate routes just to avoid paying a couple bucks or less.  We certainly share this bitter distaste for tolls, but understand their purpose in our relatively low-tax society, where they provide a way to pay for roads or structures that require greater amounts of funding than is typically available.  Examples of legitimate tolls include bridges spanning long expanses of water and roads that are maintained at a higher level than normal and provide a comfortable, expeditious journey in comparison to other roads in the region.  When we pay $2.50 for the privilege of driving, as we do on the West Virginia Turnpike between Beckley and Charleston, we expect roads that don't look like Dresden in 1945, and speed limits higher than 55 mph.  Our prize for taking the toll road is access to the capital city of Charleston, which smells as if every house has been turned into a wastewater treatment plant and filled with decomposing corpses.

Downtown Charleston
Capitol Street in downtown Charleston, WV
This photograph has been released into the public domain

Fleeing the stench, we bid adieu to I-64 and continue north on I-77, toward the eventual goal of Cleveland, Ohio, home of the Indians and Game 1 of our tour.  This portion of the trip is pretty uneventful, so we have time to reflect on our surroundings as we whiz north toward the Ohio border.  It becomes obvious to us that what is truly the "Best of West Virginia" is not Tamarack, nor is it the beautiful mountains or rivers.  Rather, it is Tudor's Biscuit World, proudly located on every other street corner throughout the state.  We had never heard of this franchise before entering WV, but they seem to be everywhere here.

Just shy of 2:00 AM, we stop at the Ohio Welcome Center in order to celebrate our arrival in a new state.  We make a quick pit stop, and Matt pilfers the lobby of all its brochures, hoping to find an advertisement for a campground or a cheap hotel.

A bit over half an hour later, we roll into the parking lot of the Budget Inn in Cambridge, OH.  We ask how much a room is, and the clerk gruffly replies, "45 dollars."  This is a bit more than were hoping to pay, so we consider going to the next hotel in search of a better rate.  But first we ask if there is a AAA discount.  "Seventeen," comes the reply in a thickly accented voice.  Whether this means a seventeen-dollar total or just a seventeen-dollar discount is unclear, but it sounds like a good bargain either way.  We hand the clerk a credit card and he comes back soon after with a receipt for us to sign.  A quick glance at the receipt reveals that we are being charged the original rate of $45.  We start to argue with the clerk about this, but he informs us that he had said "same thing," not "seventeen," when asked about the discount.  Feeling exhausted, and with a long day of traveling ahead, we bite the bullet and pay the full fare.

Wigwam Motel
This motel is much cooler than where we stayed
Cropped version of a photo taken by Raleigh Muns and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

There is nothing notable about our room, outside of the gloomy sense of mediocrity that it exudes.  Like most roadside motels, or at least those with "Budget" in their names, this is a place in which no one takes any pride, and it is maintained with the bare minimum level of effort.  As long as it's not so dirty as to scare off its core customer group, namely people who want to pay a relatively small amount of money to sleep on a bed and hopefully not contract a disease from the shower, what's the point in trying any harder?

Continue to Day 2: Cambridge, OH to Battle Creek, MI
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