Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lessons In Life From the Blue Ridge Parkway

This is the true story of my experience with the Blue Ridge Parkway, but in writing it down here I absolutely intend it to be a metaphor for how we deal with the new and unfamiliar in our daily lives. Read into whatever you want. It is likely that what you think it means is close to what I was thinking while I wrote it.

How I Heard of the Blue Ridge Parkway, And What I Learned Later

When you're raised by a mother who's afraid of everything, it colors your early perceptions of the world. In some areas you rebel, determined to show her that the thing she fears is not so bad after all, but other times you believe every single word she says. That's what happened with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I did not grow up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I did grow up within a day's drive of them, which made them a frequent vacation destination. I knew my mother feared mountain roads. The way she clutched the door handle, the way she spoke in urgent tones to my father, every time we drove on them, was a big clue. As a child I did not realize that not all mothers react that way on narrow, curving roads. I thought it's how everyone felt. After all, on a road that dangerous, the utmost care is needed to ensure that the whole family does not perish in a ravine.

I have never ridden on the Blue Ridge Parkway with my mother, but she told me the story of the first, and only, time she and my father drove down it. She was relating to me the tale of a particularly frightening trip they took up to the mountains. She talked about narrow, twisty roads, sheer drop offs that seemed to stretch into eternity, steep inclines, and the need to creep along to avoid driving right off the side of the mountain. Then she said the sentence that would affect my life for a very long time. She said, "And somehow we ended up on the Blue Ridge Parkway!"

Her tone of voice said it all. What she was telling me was that she and my dad had accidentally (it must have been accidentally because why would anyone intentionally seek out such a place?) found themselves driving along the most dangerous road in America. Possibly the most dangerous road in the world. I could feel the fear radiating off of her as she related the story to me. She talked about shoulders so narrow nothing could be seen through the passenger's side window but sky. She talked about curves so sharp they threatened to come to life and willfully throw the car from the road. She talked about how she didn't think they'd ever get off that infernal highway and how she feared for her life the entire time.

I got the message loud and clear. Never, ever, drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway if you value your life.

Then I met my husband. And my husband loved the mountains. Still loves the mountains. If we go too long without a trip up there he starts to feel restless and depressed. And, heaven help him, the man loves the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I don't remember the first time he mentioned it to me. We may have been married at the time, or we may still have been dating. I don't remember the conversation which led up to it, either. All I remember is him turning to me and saying, "One day I'd like to drive the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway."

I was stunned. Horrified. When I finally recovered my capacity for coherent speech I told him what a terrible idea that was. The Blue Ridge Parkway? We'd be safer walking into Mordor and staring into the Cracks of Doom.

I saw the disappointment on his face as soon as I finished giving my warning. Apparently this was a life-long dream of his and I had just crushed it beneath my shoe. But that didn't matter. I had done him a service. I had given him vital information which would hopefully keep him alive until he reached a ripe old age.

Then one day we were on vacation together in the mountains. And he was talking the whole time about wanting to drive the Parkway. And I was trying to talk him out of it. We were in the car, and there was sign pointing to the ramp where you get on. "Let's do it!" he said. And he did it.

My heart was pounding in my chest. I was not ready to die. Though I was not usually one to be fearful in the car, this was the Blue Ridge Parkway, for crying out loud. The road which had been luring hapless motorists to their deaths since it opened. And now we were driving on it.

What did I discover? I discovered a well maintained road. I discovered a road that runs over relatively (considering how high up in the mountains it is) flat ground. I discovered a road with a considerably smaller amount of twists and turns than many other mountain roads I had been on in the past. I discovered a road with broad shoulders, wide enough to pull the car over and be completely out of the path of oncoming traffic. Most importantly, I discovered a road which was safe.

It took a while (years in fact) for me to become completely comfortable driving it. My first impression of it, seen through the eyes of my mother, had penetrated too deeply to be exorcised through only one encounter with the Parkway. And it took my husband even longer to realize I was finally willing to give the road a chance.

Now we drive at least a piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway almost every time we visit the mountains. We have found amazing camp grounds, hiking trails, and picnic areas along this scenic highway. It's a beautiful place which no longer inspires any fear in my heart.

My mother, on the other hand, is still terrified of it.

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