Roads Run Through It

by Bill Hufnagle aka Biker Billy 

My cell phone rang the other day; a rather common occurrence. The caller ID showed a non-local number; this is also rather common. My work brings me calls from all over the country. But this was an uncommon and sad call—it was my aunt Joyce telling me that my aunt Devota had died. She had fallen and broken her femur just above the knee, and during the surgery to stabilize the break she had had a heart attack, and then another post-op. It was the second one that took her. Devota was over 89 years old; she had lived a good long life and had lived it well. Although in recent years I hadn’t seen her often, I will miss her dearly. Joyce is now the last survivor of almost 20 aunts and uncles. In another way, though, Devota’s passing marks the end of an era.

She was my late mother’s closest sister, in both age and life’s journey. She was also the last fellow traveler from the days of my childhood. It was with her and her husband, Uncle Bunk, that Mom and I took the summer road trips that in so many ways shaped my life. Back in those days, we traveled together to Mamaw’s place in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. Mom would drive us down from New Jersey along Interstate 95 to Baltimore where Bunk and Devota lived. We would spend the night at their house, and make ready for the journey the next day. That was always an evening of excitement and anticipation. At dawn, we would be off along a route that varied some each year—there would be new things to see, places to stop and eat, souvenir shops to explore, motels with pools to swim in, and at the end of two or three days of traveling, Mamaw’s place awaited us. These were the road trips that instilled the wanderlust and love of the road that shaped who I am.

It was too late for me to get an affordable flight to Baltimore, so I would have to drive from my North Carolina home to Baltimore. I could only be gone for two days—just enough to drive up, attend the evening viewing and the next morning’s funeral, then drive back again. Since this was late January, with a winter storm moving east through Ohio, riding back-to-back 500-mile days would not be too wise. I rented a car, mapquested the route to the funeral parlor, and set out for Baltimore.

The computer-generated route took me north over the mountains into Tennessee and along Interstate 81 to Winchester, Virginia, then east through Harpers Ferry, along Interstate 70 onto the 695 beltway, and finally into the part of Baltimore where Bunk and Devota had lived for so many years. A thousand miles of driving, even filled with an iPod’s worth of music, gives one a lot of time to reflect. As I drove north along I-81, the many place names and route numbers on the exit signs and the billboards took me back in time. I was traveling in reverse order much the same route that Devota, Bunk, Mom, and I had made so many times during my childhood.

Together we had traveled the many roads that traverse this part of the country. From the Blue Ridge Parkway on top of the mountains, down to the valley floor along US Route 11 (in places still called “The Lee Highway”), and along the many other roads that crisscross between the old-time tourist attractions. When I was little, we traveled them all. Then came the new road, I-81, and we traveled that, too. As the years rolled by, we took those trips less often.

After I had grown and started to take motorcycle vacations, I often rode down and back on the Blue Ridge Parkway, a personal favorite escape from my NYC life then. Close to a decade ago, when I moved here to North Carolina, I drove the big moving truck south on I-81 though the Shenandoah Valley, which since has become my roadway of choice when I drive to and from the northeast.

In so many ways, the roads up and down those mountains and though that valley are the roads that run through my life. As I drove home from the funeral with pictures of Devota, Bunk, and Mamaw on the front passenger seat, I came to understand that these are the roadways of my life. While Mamaw and the family aren’t waiting in the hills for our visit, Mom, Devota, and Bunk have all joined her in a far better place. I will always have them traveling with me in my heart till this narrow winding road leads me home to join them.

Column copyright Bill Hufnagle 2008. Recipe reprinted with permission from “Biker Billy Cooks with Fire”, published by Whitehorse Press, Center Conway, New Hampshire copyright Bill Hufnagle 1995, 2004.

Biker Billy is working on a new book project that will highlight the great but little-known eateries cherished by local riders from all over the country. The book will explore the hidden restaurants (and their recipes) found along America’s famous scenic highways, byways and undiscovered back roads. Biker Billy wants your help, because you are the local riding-and-dining expert where you live. It is easy to be part of this: visit the website at www.bikerbilly.com for more details, or e-mail him at bikerbilly@bikerbilly.com with the name, address, and phone number of your favorite roadside eatery. Thank You!

M.M.M.

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