(Opinion) I-81

For many of us, Interstate 81 is the only way into Blacksburg — a ticket we all have to punch to escape the stale mountain air of yesterday.

On this lovely break away from the land of poor decisions and pardoned turkeys, I spray disinfectant all over my passenger seat for the third time in hopes of removing the smell of formaldehyde from my car –– at least that’s what I think it was. While doing this, I reflect on all the good times I have traveled on Highway 81 without picking up people from the Virginia Tech Carpool Facebook group.

I don’t know, I guess some people just reek of formaldehyde.

This isn’t the only time I have traversed the interstate slapped with the number 81. Did you know that manyodd-numbered interstates only go north and south?

The first time I came to Virginia Tech as a newly inducted freshman over two years ago, the road was gross, bumpy and shrouded in traffic. An accident slowed us down every few miles and the trip from a humid Northern Virginia took over seven hours. Now, this isn’t the best first impression of a trip to Virginia Tech, but it sure sets up the point of this whole thing; the mystical nature of this four-lane blacktop.

The second time I rode on 81 involving Virginia Tech was with people I didn’t know at all. At one point, I too was a student without a car hitching rides home for fall break using Facebook. This time, none of us in the car smelled of formaldehyde, and that was great, because I made quick friends in that small compact car loaded with luggage and homesick Hokies. Road trips can be long at times, but some of them –– some of them simply don’t last long enough.

The third time I rode on 81 was with a good friend of mine who also happened to live near me. We made record time, gained a deep appreciation for each other’s music and learned that your regular friends from high school can become your best friends in college.

I didn’t really pay much attention to the road during those days, but flash-forward two years and there I was driving a red flag of a human being home for Thanksgiving break. I wanted this particularly strange-smelling person out of my car, and at this point the money was not worth it. I literally had the back windows open for ventilation even though it was freezing outside.

Here is when I really started to see through the veil of the road that I have taken dozens of times before. It is bumpy, spoiled and absolutely filled with tractor trailers.

Driving in excess speed to arrive sooner did not do much to mediate the situation. Passing familiar landmarks going north didn’t seem as fun as it did before: the massive American flag near Roanoke, “Endless Caverns” erected on a sign near Luray and driving straight through the JMU campus. They all seemed like marks of time I had left to go home.

What does one strange smelling person have to do with my review of Highway 81?

Well, I suppose it has a place –– otherwise I would have written a joyful piece on the happiness one can expect on every road trip they will ever take, and nobody wants to read that because it is simply not true.

Road trips to and from Virginia Tech will always have a place in my heart, and my less-than-favorable experience this time only strengthened my viewpoint. 

This is a time in our lives when road trips don’t involve angry parents, stale fruit snacks and general nausea. It’s a little bit of our own personal freedom, and I’m sure the first time you drove on 81 you thought, “I am driving a long way as a real adult.”

Whether you are driving north or south, had only good trips or only bad ones, you can’t really beat that view. It’s gorgeous any time of year, and sometimes you really can put your arm around a memory. Highway 81 is something that defines some of our time at Virginia Tech, and coming back to school and looking at that massive exit 118-B sign painted with our logo gives me chills of happiness every time.

This holiday season I am thankful for my family members, even the ones I don’t like. I am thankful for the opportunities I have been given by others. However, I am also thankful for the time I got to spend in Highway 81 and the memories I made along the way.

On a biased scale entirely determined by myself, I give Highway 81 seven out of 10 stars.


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