Road Trippin’ from Rhode Island to West Virginia

764 miles over 12 hours and 10 minutes.

That’s how long it took me to drive from Rhode Island to West Virginia last week.

And I loved every single second of my trip.

Traveling for 12 Hours by Car to West Virginia

When my friend Jared invited me to his wedding in West Virginia, I considered the different travel options available to me.  Plane and train tickets were both in the ballpark of $400 (which leaves little room to wonder why Amtrak ridership is less popular than air travel), so I decided the most cost-effective means of traveling was by car.

My car at the start of the trip was a 2015 Kia Forte, which averaged 39 miles per gallon on the highway.  My math since escapes me, but I calculated my estimated fuel cost to be somewhere along the lines of $120.  Since Jared offered to allow me to stay at his apartment before the wedding, and since he was leaving after the wedding, I wouldn’t have to spend any more on a hotel.

In the end, my entire trip cost about $60 or thereabouts.

2015 Kia Forte
My car

I left at 6:45pm on Thursday, planning to arrive in West Virginia around 7am the next day.  I arrived promptly at 6:55am, a fact I’m rather proud of.

Traveling by car from Rhode Island to West Virginia is something I’d wholly recommend.  The landscapes are breathtaking, especially if you’ve never traveled as far before.

For those of you who have never been to Rhode Island, or even New England, the region can be hilly and forested, but towns and cities are fairly close to one another and there’s really no long stretches of emptiness that I can think of.  In Rhode Island at least, you can transition from city to city without even knowing you’ve left one and entered another.  I understand that the further west you go in the US, the less frequent that is.

My trip to West Virginia demonstrated that, at least.

I drove from RI down to Connecticut, where I took my first break in Branford after witnessing a police chase on I-95 (my first ever!).  Then I drove through New York and into New Jersey for awhile, hooked into Pennsylvania, down into Maryland for what seemed a good three hours, and finally entered West Virginia.

Only in Maryland did the scenery really start to differ from what I’m used to.  Gentle sloping hills and vast expanses of farmland were all around me, especially as I neared the West Virginia border.  We have some farmland here in Rhode Island, but it’s nothing compared to the stretches of it that I saw halfway through my trip.

Imagine, then, the awe as I entered West Virginia.  Signs dotted the highway, warning truckers of the steep grade of the roads.  Some exits even warned truckers to avoid them due to the steep decline; honestly, I would have avoided such exits even in my car.

Entering West Virginia was truly eye-opening for me.  A new experience, honestly.

You can drive across Rhode Island in 45 minutes or so, from end-to-end, provided you don’t run into any traffic or never-ending construction.  That’s a stark contrast to West Virginia.  I entered the state on its eastern border, and Jared lives across the entire state, only a five or 10 minute drive from Ohio and Kentucky.

It took me four hours to drive across the state.  If you’re a Rhode Island resident, that would typically mean you either a) don’t travel or b) pack enough food and clothes for a week.

That’s only a slight exaggeration.

Road Trip Leg 1 Complete ✓

I arrived at Jared’s apartment at 6:55am after 12 hours and 10 minutes of driving.  For over 10 years, Jared’s been one of my best friends, if not the best friend, yet I never met him in person.

We became friends while playing World of Warcraft together.  Even as we each quit the game numerous times, we remained in contact because we’ve always been alike.  I credit Jared with talking me back from the edge during some of the darkest days of my depression.  Though we never met in person until he invited me to his wedding, I considered (and still do!) Jared to be a true friend – a rarity in these days as I get older and friends naturally fade and move on.

As someone with social anxiety in probably 90% of situations, I was happy that my nervousness was nowhere to be found when I got out of my car to meet Jared.  Hungry from my trip and starting to feel a little tired, we went to a small restaurant known for its biscuits, something that I’ve never seen served back home.  “This is why there’s an obesity problem here,” quipped Jared, as I dove into a delicious, buttery steak biscuit.

If I lived in West Virginia, I’d probably eat a different biscuit every day.  The menu offered probably a dozen different types of biscuits, all of which sounded amazing.

Upon returning to Jared’s apartment, I laid down for a nap as Jared took off for a bit to prepare for his pending nuptials.  I was invited to the rehearsal dinner that night, so I wanted to be at least semi-coherent when meeting everyone.

At least coherent enough to not faceplant into my dinner, at any rate.

A Different Atmosphere

If you’re from New England, or if you’ve spent any decent amount of time here, you’d probably agree with me that there’s a certain brusqueness here.  I’ve often complained of the “go go go” mentality so prevalent here, even going so far as to theorize that much of the culture in New England is to blame for my anxiety.  While there’s plenty of kind and polite people here, I think there’s plenty of misery, too.

I’m not the most outgoing person (read: not outgoing at all).  People in West Virginia, though, are the kindest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and it’s not just because they all knew me as Jared’s “friend from Rhode Island” (my accent gave it away, if they didn’t recognize my picture from his Facebook friends list).  Even total strangers at gas stations, the wait staff at restaurants, and passersby were incredibly polite and friendly.

It felt kind of strange to me, like I had been transported to an alternate dimension.

More importantly, though, the way I was treated was refreshing.  I felt at ease meeting everyone, even total strangers, because I didn’t have to prepare myself to potentially deal with someone having a bad day just waiting to take it out on the first person they came in contact with.

Jared’s family treated me as if I was part of it, too.  As soon as I’d introduce myself to them, they recognized me as his friend from Rhode Island and thanked me for making the trip to attend his wedding.  I told them how honored I was to be invited to the wedding and how beautiful my trip had been.

I also got to meet another friend from World of Warcraft.  Paul, one of Jared’s long-time friends and co-workers, recognized me instantly at the rehearsal dinner.  It was great being able to meet yet another person I met more than a decade ago while playing a video game.

The food from the rehearsal dinner was delicious too, but my favorite was the blueberry cobbler.  I wish I took more pictures, especially of the dessert, but I was honestly too involved in meeting and talking to everyone that the thought to take photos never crossed my mind.

One of the people I was most looking forward to meeting was Jared’s soon-to-be wife, Kaylin.  Kaylin’s a writer like myself, and one of the people who really inspired me to follow through with my plan of launching my own writing business.  She’s helped me on more than one occasion when I had questions or I doubted my potential success.

In the past, both Jared and I lamented the difficulty of finding women who suited our flaws and lifestyles.  Eventually, Kaylin came around and showed Jared that there was someone out there in the world who was a good match for him.  My best friend was then, surprisingly, engaged to this woman.

Within minutes of meeting Kaylin, I could see how truly genuine she is.  Even more obvious is the connection she and Jared share.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more jaded about love, relationships, and dating, but seeing the connection between Jared and Kaylin demonstrated to me that the concept of soul mates is real.

Seeing their mutual love and admiration made me all the more excited for the wedding.

That night, I helped Jared and Kaylin set up the reception hall.  Kaylin designed all of the decorations, much to my amazement.  They were the perfect cross between elegant and geeky in all the best ways.  As Jared and Kaylin are both huge Star Wars fans, Star Wars-related jokes and designs were everywhere, including the Han Solo and Princess Leia cake toppers.  By the time we finished decorating, the hall was beautiful and truly represented the special bond between the soon-to-be married couple.

The Big Day

West Virginia is rife with windy back-roads, so Paul offered to pick me up on his way to the church on the day of the wedding.  I was grateful for it, since even with GPS I don’t think I would have found the church.  “I didn’t even know this church was back down this road.  I thought it ended miles ago,” Paul told me as we drove to the church.

Just to put the image in your head of what that road was like.

The back roads of West Virginia seen on my road trip

Jared and Kaylin’s wedding was the first wedding I ever attended in its entirety.  That said, I think it’s also the most beautiful wedding I’ll ever witness between two people who are truly meant for one another.  I don’t often show emotion, but I may or may not have teared up slightly as they exchanged vows and were pronounced husband and wife.

The church was small and cozy, exactly what you’d expect in a small West Virginia community.  It was the perfect setting for a wedding, if you ask me.

After the wedding, we went next door to the hall for the reception.

As a small aside, if my last name hasn’t given it away, I’m of Italian heritage.  Full-blooded, with my family coming from northern and southern Italy and the island of Sicily.  Italian food, namely meatballs, has been a staple of my diet for as long as I’ve lived.

The meatballs at the wedding reception were, by far, the best I ever had.  And they were made in West Virginia!  I could definitely see why Jared had been talking about the meatballs for weeks leading up to the wedding.  They were that good.

I also met yet another friend from World of Warcraft.  Dustin, another of Jared’s friends who used to play the game with us, immediately picked me out from the crowd at the reception, so I spent the bulk of my time talking to him and his wife.

Most of our conversation revolved around the differences between the region around West Virginia and New England, as well as catching up with everything since I last spoke to Dustin.

One of the key topics we kept coming back to was the cost of living in West Virginia.  Here in Rhode Island, a decent one bed, one bath apartment runs around $800 a month, not including utilities and other necessities of living.  In West Virginia, the cost of living is half that (though the economy is worse).

But all my work is online, independent of location!

My experience in West Virginia and the anecdotes and knowledge of Dustin and his wife really convinced me that a potential move to that area might be in my near future.  Of that, we’ll see what time holds for me, but I’m definitely intrigued by West Virginia and its surrounding states.

After the wedding, Jared and Kaylin went off to a hotel for the night, with Jared allowing me to stay the night in his apartment.  (Though technically, he said I could stay indefinitely, and I honestly would have if my cats weren’t still back home in RI.)

I played some games for the rest of the night before heading to sleep in preparation for my return trip the next day.

Heading Home After a Weekend in West Virginia

I woke up at noon on Sunday, planning to leave around 4pm or so to get back in RI by 4am Monday.  In this way, I’d avoid heavy workday traffic and rush hour through New York.  Even if I was delayed some, I’d be getting back to RI just at the start of rush hour.

Jared and Kaylin returned to his apartment around 2, where I returned Jared’s keys and thanked him for his hospitality.  I have to admit, I was incredibly sad to be leaving.  Though the two newlyweds would be leaving the next day for their honeymoon, I felt so comfortable and at peace in West Virginia that I would have easily never left if not for my cats back home.

The beginning of my return trip was fairly uneventful as I made good time through West Virginia and into Maryland.  At 7:09pm I stopped at a Maryland rest stop to eat, stretch, and take in the view.

Maryland rest stop on the return trip to Rhode Island.
Please pardon the reflection of my car on the windshield.

Since my drive to West Virginia was completed mainly at night, I was given a better opportunity to sight-see on my return trip home.  The thought crossed my mind to take some pictures as I drove, but I deemed it too unsafe to be fiddling with my camera while driving on the highway.

That decision probably saved my life.

Who Puts Gravel on Off-Ramps?

Maryland does.

Around 8:30pm, I was driving on I-70.  My GPS instructed me to take an exit to I-81 in Hagerstown, MD, but the exit ramp was fairly confusing.  It was an interchange that split off into multiple exits.

I-70 I-81 Interchange in Hagerstown, MD
The exit in question as seen by my dashcam.

With the GPS giving me delayed directions and strange sign placement, I turned onto the exit ramp slightly later than I should have.

Keep in mind I was still on the road, but my tires were barely into the shoulder of the ramp where, apparently, gravel was strewn about.

Seconds later, my car’s out of control, my tires screech sickeningly, and I come to a sudden stop.

In-between the exit ramp and the highway.

I surveyed the damage.  My car hood is bent, my driver’s side door won’t open because it’s jammed against an exit sign post, and my car’s on an incline.

My car’s airbag deployed, which I know means the accident is fairly serious.  There’s also a good bit of smoke coming from my engine and I can’t find my phone to call for help.  I managed to unbuckle myself and find my phone under my driver’s seat (when it was placed in my center console while driving).  Then I climbed out of my car through the passenger side door and fall into the dirt of the median.

A pick-up truck stopped in the shoulder with its hazards on as the driver got out, asking me if I was alright.  He called 911 for me as I struggled to figure out what happened.

“I’m going to stay with you until MSPD gets here.  I don’t want anyone flying by and crashing into you while you’re here.”

Let me say, God bless this man for standing there with me until the state police arrived.  He probably did prevent someone from whipping around the corner and colliding into my car and, more importantly, me.  He made sure I was okay and helped me to remain calm as I collected my few valuables from my car, contacted my insurer, and called home.

Crashed my car on a road trip in MD.

Getting Home

I’m a freelance writer who only recently began his business.  While I’m fortunate enough to be breaking even, my discretionary cash is almost entirely nonexistent.  Remember how I mentioned earlier in this post that driving to West Virginia was the cheapest way for me to travel?

That’s because I couldn’t afford the plane ticket.  Driving was my only option to attend my friend’s wedding.

I have never felt more alone than when I was stranded in the middle of a highway 450 miles from home with only $20 in my pocket.

I very quickly resigned to walking home, carrying my duffel bag and toolbox (the only item of value in my car).

I called home to explain the situation.  I know it doesn’t come across easily through my online interactions, but I’m a really sarcastic and deadpan person.  I’m the type of guy who can make a joke without cracking a smile, leaving you wondering if I was actually joking or not.

(I probably was.)

So when I called home and spoke to my father, telling him I was in Maryland and almost definitely totaled my car, he didn’t believe me.  Then he heard the panic in my voice and realized I wasn’t joking.

Maryland State Police finally arrived twenty minutes after the accident, instructing me to stay away from my car because the sign post was in danger of falling down.  A state worker was already on-site dispatching others to arrive to either remove or repair the sign.

Car accident on I-70 in Maryland on my road trip

Though I was banged up, I denied going to the hospital because I can’t afford health insurance.

(In RI, the website for our health insurance exchange works only intermittently.  On top of that, the only plan worth purchasing cost me, at last look, $600 per month with a $20,000 deductible.  Basically useless, in other words.)

The police dispatched a tow truck to remove my car.  At this point, I had no idea how I was getting home, so they told me the tow driver could take me to a nearby 24/7 truck stop so I could figure out what to do.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport was 30 miles away from where I was.  The nearest train station was a similar distance.  Even if I could somehow get to either of those, I had no money for a ticket.

The Compassion of Friends and Family

After arriving at the truck stop, I took stock of the situation and worked to figure out how to get home.  Friends researched the quickest and most affordable ways for me to get back to Rhode Island.  One then took it upon himself to not only purchase me a plane ticket home, but an Uber to the accompanying hotel where I’d stay the night.  Though he claimed he didn’t want me to repay him, repaying him for that gesture of utter kindness is my top financial priority right now.

Other than the ticket for “reckless endangerment leading to destruction of state property,” courtesy of Maryland State Police, who also informed me, “Yeah, people get into accidents all the time right here.”

Probably because of the loose gravel strewn across the highway, if you ask me.

Prior to this, I never took an Uber.  I’ve always driven myself, but driving’s hard when your car has become one with the guardrail.  My Uber driver, Augustin, was another blessing in a terrible situation.  When I explained what happened, he did his best to talk to me through my panic and anxiety.  He also told me his personal story.

Augustin is an immigrant from Haiti.  He was the only one of his class to survive the earthquake in Haiti.  After the earthquake, Augustin moved to the Dominican Republic, where his progress toward a mechanical engineering degree was lost.  He re-enrolled in courses and earned his mechanical engineering degree again before immigrating to America.

Of course, America chose not to recognize Augustin’s degree, prompting him to join the Air Force.  He then got married and is driving for Uber while waiting to see if and when he’ll be deployed.

Augustin’s personal story and the hardships he overcame truly inspired me.  There I was, sitting in the back seat of his car as he drove me to the hotel after I totaled my own car, and here was a man who overcame far worse obstacles than I could ever imagine.  It really put everything into perspective and helped me to remain calm.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I tipped Augustin the last $20 I had in my pocket and exchanged information with him.  He promised he’d get the cross from my grandmother out of my car if insurance wouldn’t be willing to ship it up to me, and either way, I want to remain in contact with him.  He wants to write a book about his experiences and I want to do everything in my power to help him.

I checked in to the hotel bloodied, bruised, and done.  Existentially done with anything.  The woman behind the desk looked at me as if I had three heads, so I had to explain to her just what kind of night I was having.  My explanation seemed to assuage her of her hesitation at letting a bloody and battered guest check in to the hotel.

I really didn’t care if she didn’t let me check in, though.  At that point, I would have slept outside by the dumpster as long as I could still take my flight in the morning.

I Should Have Just Flown in the First Place

Right before leaving at the start of my road trip, I had the feeling I should have taken Jared’s offer up on flying me down to West Virginia.

I’ve learned to trust my instincts whenever they tell me to do something, but for some reason, I didn’t in this situation.  A result of hubris, I guess.

I’ve only flown twice before.  To Maryland, of all places, on September 11, 2012, with the return trip a week later.  In 2012, I was in Maryland for job training as a sales rep for Verizon FiOS.

After being yelled at by TSA at BWI because I took too long taking my shoes off (while also putting my items in a bin with the woman behind me in line breathing down my neck because I wasn’t moving at supersonic speeds), all I wanted was to get home.

At 5:18pm, I touched down in Warwick, RI after two puddle-jumps of bumpy flights.  I half-expected the planes to crash considering the luck I was having, so my joy at touching down on solid ground was overshadowed only by my exhaustion.

What Did I Learn On My Road Trip?

To fly instead.

Jokes aside, my urge for a road trip has been sated for a few years, at least, though I won’t discount the potential for a road trip in the future.  Besides the destruction of my car, a guardrail, and a sign, I loved the drive.

I joked with almost everyone I met that a road trip, for me, is like an emotional rollercoaster.  On my way to West Virginia, I was excited when I first left Rhode Island.  That excitement then turned to anxiety, then to interest at all the new sights, then some soul-searching depression, followed by rocking out to music in my car as I neared completion of the first leg of my trip.

It’s definitely something I’d do again, though next time I’d prefer driving with friends.  Not only is it easier and safer to switch off driving, but it combats the loneliness you can feel halfway through your trip.

My accident didn’t sour the trip, though.  It was only a small portion of time in the grand scheme of things.

The truth is that I feel genuinely honored to have taken part in such a momentous day for my best friend Jared and his wonderful bride Kaylin.  Seeing the two of them in such honest and true love made me realize that my day is coming to find a woman I feel as strongly about.  I also realized that there is such a thing as soul mates and people who are meant to be with one another.

It was also great to finally meet someone face-to-face with whom I had only spoken to online or on the phone.  Though I’m of the belief that friendships made online are just as real as in-person friendships, there are always naysayers who think online friends are somehow lesser compared to friendships “in real life.”  Meeting Jared in person solidified the fact that we’re real friends, as much as if we had been friends in person for all this time instead of only online.

Lastly, I believe more than ever that my days here in Rhode Island, and New England as a whole, are numbered.  Though my time in West Virginia was short, my impression of it was far more positive than I thought.  I can be a very negative person, so I fully expected to make it to West Virginia and find something to complain about.

Instead, I came to realize that I’m far better-suited to a locale as welcoming and friendly as West Virginia, and I already can’t wait to visit again.

Or to even move there, even if only for awhile.

Ultimately, I’d wholeheartedly recommend going on a road trip if it’s ever something you’ve considered.  You’ll learn a lot about yourself, other areas of the country, and be exposed to new and surprising cultures and people.  I’d do the entire trip over again if I could – that’s how much I loved it.

Except for the damn gravel on the highway in Maryland.

Car wreck in Hagerstown, MD on my road trip
The insurance company deemed it totaled, if you were wondering.

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