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Published: July 18th 2016
The first day of the road trip is now in the books! With stops at Greensboro College in North Carolina, Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, you wouldn't think my day was so long. But I did start in Athens, GA, this morning at about 7:20. Thirteen hours later, and I'm staying the night at the Open Arms Hostel in Luray, Virginia.
I should preface this entry by saying that I chaperoned a youth trip to the lake yesterday, and now my body is paying for it. So many sore muscles, bruises that I didn't even know I had, and then a possible bruised rib or two (I won't say broken, I won't say broken, I won't say broken...). You would think that sitting in a car would be easy work, especially if you feel sore. But every time you move, or get out, man. I had a thought when I stopped for gas just before the end of the day that, as I got out of the car, this must be what it feels like to be old. No offense. I've just heard the stories and the groans, and I must've let out a few of
the latter as I exited my vehicle.
Back to the trip. I started way early this morning because I was under the impression that Monticello, my main historical site for the day, closed at 6pm. Their website said so. When I got there, the sign clearly said that they were open until 7pm today. That could've saved me an hour of sleep! But anyway. I wanted to stop by Greensboro College in North Carolina, which was on the way, to see any of the Passport Choices staff who felt like saying hi. We took our youth group there for camp almost a month ago; a couple of our former high school kids are even on staff there. Well, suffice it say, I meant up with one - Andrew - who probably would be the most excited about this current trip anyway. He is also a fount of presidential information. We walked and talked for maybe 15 or 20 minutes before he went to do lunch with some other staff members and I went about my way. I'll say that the 4.5 hours in the car from Athens to Greensboro didn't seem to take as long this time - maybe
because I was solo?
The next three hours were probably the hardest on me. That's how long it took to get to Monticello. No interstate, though there was an expressway or two. One thing that really got on my nerves about Virginia highways was how the speed limit would decrease from 60 to 45, just because a traffic light happened. Then immediately afterward, back up to 60. What? Why?
Monticello was fantastic. I will admit to being slightly biased when it comes to TJ - my buddy Thomas Jefferson. What a fascinating individual. Wrote the Declaration of Independence. And the Statute of Virginia for Religion Freedom. President and inventor, too. Polyglot. Basically one of the most enlightened people in the Enlightenment. His house was smaller than I had thought, but I guess it was large for that day. The people in charge would not allow photography inside the house, so you'll forgive me for not wanting my camera confiscated or my hands broken. They did give the best reason for why they had such a policy - many of the artifacts are on loan and they don't own the photography rights to those pieces. I took several picture
around the outside and in the gardens - there were so many exotic plants here. One of the biggest things going on is the wine industry, and TJ was no enemy of the fruit of the vine. They apparently went through over 420 bottles per year. Do check out the cellars if you go here - they have separate storage rooms for beer, several for wine, and then other things. They allow photos there, and it is self-guided.
I enjoyed seeing in person many of the objects I had heard about, or had seen pictures of - the library, the polygraph, the revolving book desk, That last piece was the one I was most envious of. Of course, most of the pieces in the house are originals that have been assembled, after the family sold off all of TJ's stuff due to his massive debt when he died. The tour only consists of the first floor - the 2nd and 3rd floors are off limits, but we were assured that they were uninteresting. The 3rd floor is the dome of the building, and it was and is only used for storage. No other function.
Now, all of this
is on the part of Monticello called "the mountaintop" - for good reason. It's the apex of the plantation, with great views of the surrounding mountainous Shenandoah. To get there, they have a shuttle bus from the visitors center - a complex unto itself. The visitors center has a theater with a 20-minute movie on loop; a cafe; and a massive gift shop. Climb to the top of the stairs for the shuttle that leaves every 5 or 10 minutes. Non-stop to the mountaintop. On the way back, they stop at TJ's grave, so make sure to take that stop. From there, you can either wait for the next shuttle or walk the .35 mile back to the visitor center. Of course, there's also a statue at the bus stop where they encourage you to take a selfie and post it to social media using the hashtag #tjselfie. I naturally did so.
Monticello really is in the middle of nowhere - and it was even more so when TJ built it. After the three hours I spent there (and I could've spent more, but I was too dehydrated to last much longer), I headed over to the campus of
the University of Virginia, which TJ founded. I had been already, so my only goal was to see a wacky statue next to the library - one of James Rogers McConnell, a student who dropped out to go to France in WWI before the US joined and was killed in combat. Anyway, it is a sight to behold, and I have to wonder why it's still there.
Since my plans to meet up with a TCU classmate from Charlottesville fell through, I decided to call it a day and head to the hostel. I had to drive through the Shenandoah Forest, which I'm sure is breathtaking when you're not worried about dying because of the sharp curves and the glare of the setting sun. My car has held up pretty well, and I think this will be one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) driving days on the trip. Already at 533 miles today, and when I filled up the tank, I figured that my car was getting over 35 mpg, and I'll take that any day. At the current "hostel" I have a room to myself that usually sleeps 3, so again, I won't complain. It looks
pretty safe, and the lady who runs it is chill. So, if any good stories happen in the night, I'll tell them tomorrow. Or I'll be dead.
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D MJ Binkley
Dave and Merry Jo Binkley
Full of history. Wish the walls could talk.