Saturday, December 9, 2017

Roads in Virginia

One of the things that took quite a bit of getting used to when I first moved to Virginia over 16 years ago was the road system.  It is rare to see street names like First Street, Second Street, Third Street, etc.  Instead, street names are creative, mysterious, and nonsensical.  For example, Piggot Bottom Lane - what is a Piggot Bottom? and Sandy Court - there is no beach!  Even more exciting are the times when a street's name changes as it winds its way through the town or countryside.  And then there are the times when the street just ends and picks up again a mile later with the same name.  Plus, none of the roads are straight.  All of this was a huge shock to someone who grew up in North Dakota, where roads are relentlessly grid-like in nature and run north-south and east-west with variations only rarely.

Over the years, I learned never to travel without my 1,000+ page atlas (this was before navigation apps were common in cell phones) and I still have that atlas in my truck, even though it is woefully out of date, because I figure it will give me a fighting chance if I lose my cell phone or the world starts coming to an end.

Hauling a trailer on these roads is the stuff of nightmares, but I've actually started to develop some level of intuition and while I do still take the occasional wrong turn, I have always managed to get where I was going:)

I have to admit, though, that when the state re-routed Route 17 near the tiny town of Opal, I was thrown for a loop.  I used to drive to Opal on a daily basis because Nimo lived at a barn near there.  I've since moved him to a new location, but I do occasionally drive that way to get to local events or get to the 4-H Center in Front Royal so I can ride at the Shenandoah National Park.

Anyway, it used to be that Route 17 did a 90 degree turn either north-ish or south-ish at Opal.  Or you could continue straight on Opal Road, and happily proceed to new highways, like Route 229.  This was highly convenient for me, and I enjoyed this route for many years.  Over the summer, though, I noticed that construction was going on in the area and I could see there would be an impact on Route 17 due to the plethora of new and exciting cookie-cutter townhomes, condominiums, and suburban homes being built on an old farm.  (There is nothing more plague- and pestilence-like than human development in northern Virginia.  If the ancient Egyptians could have fathomed it, northern Virginians probably would have been considered one of the 10, or rather 11, plagues of Egypt.)

One day I followed Route 17 through Opal and went on my merry way.  I rode, had a great time, and attempted to return the same way I came.  Oh what folly!  I proceeded through Opal onto what used to be Route 17, only to find the road completely closed and barricaded about a mile later.  Huh?  I did have an alternate route, but it would add probably 30 minutes to my trip, when I was only about 15 minutes from the barn.

I managed a u-turn and proceeded back on Route 17 to Opal and realized that in their infinite wisdom, the DOT had re-routed Route 17...somewhere.  I turned left and hoped for inspiration, which did appear shortly, and I was able to take a brand-new exit ramp onto the new Route 17.  I enjoyed watching the old Route 17 parallel the new Route 17 as I merged onto Route 17 literally 100 feet past where the barricade was.  It's probably hard to see in your head, but essentially, the state re-routed the highway's 90 degree turn, so that it occurred about 3/4 of a mile south of where it used to occur and reconnected it back to the original road.  And basically abandoned a short section of perfectly usable road.  And didn't put up any signs (or so I thought).  I'm assuming the great road engineers have some sort of reasoning for this baffling modification, and in 20 years no one will remember it.  Instead, people will wonder why there is a mile section of road that just ends and people new to the area will curse the intersection as they try to figure out why they always end up somewhere other than where they are trying to go.

Funnily enough, as I was driving back from the 4-H Center after the ride I posted about yesterday, I noticed that there was a sign posted for Route 17 at the intersection where it unexpectedly veered off.  This is the sign:

If you look closely, you'll see Route 17 has a sign and the direction in which the highway wanders off to is completely obscured by an azalea bush (and right next to the intersection which has turn lanes, so if you guess wrong when pulling a trailer, you will be out of luck and forced to proceed straight for a mile, get to a dead end, and attempt a u-turn).  When I saw the sign, I forgave myself for being confused and missing the turn the previous time I'd come through because how on earth would I have seen the change in direction in time?  In case you're wondering, you turn right, proceed 3/4 of a mile, exit, circle around, and join Route 17 just past the dead end:)

Happy travels!


  1. Roads in Virginia sound like roads in Missouri! I would pay good money for a GPS app that understands that I'm pulling a trailer 🤔

    1. I'm sorry to hear the road disaster exists all the way in MO! And yes, an app that could help route trailers based on what works best for trailers as distinct from cars would be great! Or even the low-tech option of proper signage...:)

  2. I got a good laugh out of this post because by now I know exactly what you mean! But oh man, you should see the roads in South FL! Or maybe not. Down there they *are* numbered, but in no particular order. It was like someone had dumped cards with numbers on a table and then randomly chosen from the pile what streets to give which numbers. It was a ton of fun to try to navigate the downtown Miami area sans GPS (no, no it was not!) with its windy curvy roads that seemed to never connect with the road you expected them to. Sometimes it's like they veered off into another dimension. The flatness didn't help with sense of direction either.

    1. I believe you about the FL roads! Thankfully, I have no desire to live there!:)