Talk to anyone from Northern Virginia (NoVA in the vernacular) and guaranteed, within five or so minutes, the issue of traffic will come up. Usually in the context of how unbelievably bad it is, even on the best of days and something out of Dante on the worst. In the Old World, all roads may have led to Rome, but in this area it all flows downhill to DC (literally). Five days a week, the logjam of commuters flow north and east out of the suburbs in Fairfax, Prince William and farther south, Stafford, joining the Loudon and Maryland sourced streams to slog their way into the lots around the Pentagon or in Crystal City, or endure the further misery of travel across the mighty P(otomac) river to any one of a number of overpriced, incredibly small parking lots in DC. In the evening, the flow reverses as it fans out and disperses in the suburbs. Day in, Day out; sun, rain, snow – the same mind-numbingly stop-and-go. Upwards of an hour or more to go 20 or so miles.
Unless, that is, your job takes you in the opposite direction
For the better part of the past three years I’ve had the pleasure of options to choose for my commute. Now mind you – it is some 72.4 miles one way and everything else being equal (including hitting the 5 traffic lights I face on one route) can make the trip in roughly 1+17 with the only real hazards to a rapid transit being the King George County sheriff’s proclivity to pick irksome spots to sit lights out in the early AM, and all the damn deer along Dahlgren Road. Most of the time, since I’m headed in the opposite direction, the dreaded I95 section of the commute is pretty free and fast moving – especially early in the morning.
But let’s talk about options…and if you’re willing to spend a little time exploring the area, there are options aplenty – especially for the drive home. Pick right and you quickly find yourself away from the hustle of I95, away from the close-packed jam of commercial development that is a Möbius strip of endless fast food, coffee stops, big box retailers and mega-convenience store gas stations. And away from the cookie-cutter-two-box “colonials” packed together in colonies differentiated only by the sign at the entrance that over-promises and under-delivers.
Instead you find yourself in the rolling back country marked by twisting, two-lane blacktop that at once rises through verdant fields, hard by working farms and with a shrug, plunge into deeply shadowed, tree-lined tunnels only to spit you back out into the sun on the other side. Add a day with nary a cloud in a sky and that burns a deep, iridescent blue and the fetters of a day spent pursuing truth in a windowless SCIF quickly fall behind.
So it was today, as we headed out the door and caught that whiff autumn’s harbinger in the air – a slightly crisp cool that wraps around the sun’s warmth, like the skin of the perfect apple that yields ever so slightly to the juicy sweetness within. A whiff of smoke adds an edge – enhancing the moment, stimulating the senses. There is no question by the time you get in and put the top down that you’re taking the long way home. Along the way, the cares of the long spent day are washed away as you find yourself in synch with the road and car; the shifts are smooth and fall willingly to hand – seamlessly. Effortlessly – like breathing you work yourself into a rhythm that mirrors the ebb and flow of the road. Focused on the blacktop ahead and drinking in the country around you.
And briefly, oh so briefly, you feel a twinge of guilt at the naked pleasure — and yes, a bit of pity for my counter-part slogging their way home, contemplating a river brake lights, stretching to the distant horizon…
Nah, not really