Two hundred thousand miles. That’s more than eight times around the circumference of the Earth. It’s fifty seven trips between New York and London, or almost 34 trips between San Francisco and Beijing. It’s sixty-seven drives from Boston to Los Angeles. It’s over sixteen direct flights between the North and South Poles. And on a warm, sunny afternoon on a mountain road in Virginia, it was the number on the odometer of my 2012 Honda Accord coupe.
Several months ago, my wife and I began sketching out plans for a road trip that would be worthy of crossing the 200,000 mile mark on my car. We discussed several ideas, before my wife came up with an idea to visit Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, which is consistently rated one of the best drives in the United States. The plan quickly evolved from there, with visits to a classic car museum, a church that once hid the Liberty Bell, the World’s Largest Can of Paint, a Civil War battlefield, the home of a Founding Father, the birthplace of another President, a beautiful winery, and a significant amount of time in Shenandoah.
So come along, then, on our thousand-mile journey to achieve a milestone!
Over three days, we would travel from New Jersey to Virginia and back, with numerous stops in between.
On an overcast and rainy Saturday morning, we set off west, crossing into Pennsylvania a little less than an hour after we left home.
Our first stop was America on Wheels, a museum of wheeled transportation in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Since opening in 2008, the museum has explored the history of road transportation in the United States. Located in a former meat packing plant, the museum is part of a renewal effort for this once-prosperous iron industry town.
The museum is dedicated to all forms of road transportation. There is a prominent display of two-wheeled transportation in the lobby, such as this Suzuki RE5 Rotary. The RE5 was one of the few motorcycles ever produced to use a rotary engine (readers might remember the “Dorito chip spinning in a coffee can” description of the rotary engine from a previous post). The motorcycle’s weight and complexity led to poor sales. Speaking of other failed attempts at two-wheeled transportation, check out the Segway in the background (which ceased production in 2020).
An exhibit on transportation in movies included a replica of the red bicycle from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. If you were a kid in the 1980s, chances are that you saw this movie! And yes, the scene with Large Marge still gives me goosebumps.
As my wife remarked, “There’s something for everyone here!” She was looking at this collection of transportation-themed purses.
A significant portion of the museum is devoted to racing, and the centerpiece is Joe Jacono’s “Rollin’ Stoned” Plymouth Barracuda funny car from the mid 1970s. The driver sits in a tubular steel chassis, the transmission between his or her legs, a snarling 400 cubic inch supercharger motor directly in front of them, a tank of highly combustible nitromethane at the front of the car, all surrounded by a fiberglass body, hurtling down the quarter-mile drag strip at speeds in excess of 220 miles per hour… eight-year old me loved drag racing. Grown-up me still enjoys watching it.
For much of the 20th century, Mack Trucks was headquartered in Allentown, and the museum dedicates an entire gallery to these machines. During World War I, British soldiers nicknamed Mack Trucks “bulldogs” for their reliability, dependability, and blunt nose. The company adopted the bulldog as its mascot in the 1920s, and the bulldog continues to grace the hoods of Mack products to this day.
Camping, the classic way. If you wanted to go camping in the 1930s, you might use a setup like this: a 1930 Ford Model A and a 1936 Mullins trailer. The trailer was capable of sleeping two adults, along with storing their supplies.
The museum also devotes an entire gallery to alternative-fueled vehicles. This 1909 model R Stanley was powered by steam, and is similar to the one my wife and I saw at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado a few summers ago. Fun fact: the small black tank on the running board holds acetylene, which was burned to illuminate the headlights. No need to stop this car for gas, but you do need to fill the tank to run your lights!
Near the alternative fuel gallery is a small but noteworthy collection of motorcycles from Indian Motorcycle. Founded in Connecticut, Indian is now headquartered in Minnesota.
In 1913, Indian was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world. The 1913 model on display has a one-cylinder engine capable of producing four horsepower, which may not seem like a lot, but given its lightweight frame, was capable of top speeds around 60 mph.
One of the most interesting exhibits showed how a classic car can be restored, from a ratty, rusty example rescued from a barn (pictured) to a show car capable of fetching big money at auction.
A special exhibit focused on the role of transportation in outdoor adventure. This stunning 1961 Chevrolet Corvette is pulling a trailer with a matching motor boat. This Corvette is one of only 419 that were painted in Jewel Blue.
Perhaps the strangest (and coolest) vehicle on display – a 1961 GM Corphibian. Based on the Chevrolet Corvair Loadside pickup truck (which itself was based on the Corvair compact car), the Corphibian came equipped with two propellers so that it could be driven both on roads and in the water. This is the only example known to have been built. After spending the better part of an hour touring the museum, it was time to head to our next destination across town.
About five minutes away from America on Wheels, we stopped by the Zion Reformed Church (established 1762) for a bit of hidden history.
In 1777, with British forces marching on a defenseless Philadelphia, leaders of Pennsylvania decided to send the city’s eleven bells into hiding, for fear that the enemy soldiers would capture the bells and melt them down to make cannonballs and gun shot. The bells were transported to Allentown and hidden in the basement of the church (via Wikipedia).
This coffee pot was once owned by John Jacob Mickley, a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer who was part of the team of volunteers who helped to transport the bells to safety. Our museum guide theorized that the selection of Allentown was deliberate, as it was not only a safe distance from Philadelphia (approximately 60 miles), but also was populated with German immigrants who saw no particular allegiance to the King of England and who could also feign ignorance of the English language if questioned by British soldiers.
The Pennsylvania State House Bell became a symbol of the abolition movement, and is known to us today as the Liberty Bell. The bell currently on display is one of 55 replicas that were ordered by the US Department of the Treasury in 1950 and cast in France. Each state received a replica, as did a few other special sites, including one that was delivered to Zion Reformed Church (via Wikipedia). If you are in the Allentown area, the Liberty Bell Museum is well worth the visit.
As we headed out of town, I pulled over to grab this souvenir photo. A couple snaps of the camera later, and we were on our way to a unique roadside oddity.
Originally built as a water tower, Benjamin Moore converted it into an enormous advertisement along I-81 near Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. This blog has brought you the World’s Largest Penny, the Worlds’ Largest Duck, the World’s Largest Grandfather Clock… I now give you the World’s Largest Can of Paint (via Roadtrippers).
As we continued south, we next crossed into Maryland on our way to a historic Civil War battlefield.
On September 17, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed among the cornfields near Sharpsburg, Maryland, in what is now known as the Battle of Antietam. With nearly 23,000 soldiers dying, wounded, or missing in action, it is the single greatest loss of life on one day in American history (via Wikipedia).
Numerous monuments and memorials dot the landscape of the park. The New York Monument is dedicated to the 3,765 soldiers from New York who were captured, killed, or wounded. Antietam National Battlefield is now a 3,229 acre park managed by the National Park Service.
Many winding roads criss-cross the park. Although you could walk the park, well-marked roads make driving it an easy way to visit the historic sites of the battlefield.
Behind Dunker Church (a German Baptist church that witnessed some of the heaviest fighting), Civil War re-enactors had set up tents as part of Living History Weekend. These volunteers had participated in a firing demonstration earlier in the day, and remained on site afterward to interact with the public and explain the realities of life as a solider in the Civil War.
At the time of the Civil War, these rolling hills were part of Miller’s Farm, and in what was once a cornfield, over 8,000 soldiers were killed or injured in combat. The National Park Service has designed the site so that you stand in the space where the soldiers met, and fell, in battle. It’s hard to be in this place and not feel moved by the events that transpired here.
During the battle, mid-day action took place on Sunken Road, a simple farm path. Union and Confederate forces engaged each other at point-blank range, leaving 5,000 dead or wounded. Today, the road is known as Bloody Lane.
Built in 1836, this stone bridge crosses Antietam Creek. On September 17, 1862, it was the site of the third major engagement of the battle. Union forces, led by General Ambrose Burnside, attacked Confederate Forces guarding the bridge several times, only succeeding on the third attempt. Today, it is known as Burnside’s Bridge. Our tour of Antietam was somber, but I am glad we added this location to our road trip journey. After touring the battlefield, it was on to our final stops of the night.
After a quick search on Yelp, we decided to try out Captain Bender’s Tavern, a neighborhood bar and restaurant only a few miles from the battlefield. Captain Bender worked on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and opened this tavern in 1936.
With the skies clear and temperatures in the 70s, we opted for seating outdoors. My wife and I shared a salad, and while her chicken sandwich was tasty, my pulled pork sandwich was simply perfect. The highlight of the meal, though, was the coleslaw (not pictured) which was maybe the best restaurant coleslaw I’ve ever tried. Refueled and refreshed, we set off for our hotel.
After dinner, we left Maryland and crossed into Martinsburg, West Virginia, to stay the night.
We had originally booked a hotel room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in town. However, when we arrived, we were given the unpleasant news that they were overbooked and had no room for us! Fortunately, Fairfield Inn had already reserved (and paid for) a room at the nearby Hampton Inn. Not only was the hotel room fantastic, but it was also free! I ended up as a very satisfied customer. Day Two
We allowed ourselves a leisurely morning (leisurely for us meaning waking up at 6:30 am instead of 5:30 am), and then hit the road, crossing into Virginia for the next phase of our trip.
We began our day with a drive to the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Along I-64, we saw signs for a “Scenic Overlook” and pulled off the highway to check it out. They should rename this the “Amazing, Fantastic, Gorgeous Scenic Overlook.”
Our first stop of the day? Monticello, the home of the third US President, Thomas Jefferson.
Numerous tour packages exist for Monticello, but we opted for the “grounds and gardens” tour, which permitted us self-guided tours around the property. Monticello was a plantation where Jefferson grew several crops, including tobacco and wheat. The main house was designed by Jefferson, who sought to use the building to influence American architectural design (via Wikipedia).
In the aftermath of the American Revolution, Jefferson served as a representative to Europe of the newly formed United States. He used his time in France to study the emerging trends in architecture, knowledge he would later put to use in designing and renovating his home. It was a process that he never fully completed – he continued to tinker on his design until he died in 1826.
Jefferson kept a vegetable garden near the house, which grew food for the estate. Jefferson also used the gardens to experiment with blending different species.
It remains a working garden. These strawberries were just emerging from their buds. What I can’t convey is how amazing these plants smelled. It was so fragrant, and so fresh, I had a hard time believing it was real… almost like someone had sprayed the air with strawberry-scented air freshener.
The reality, however, is that Jefferson’s used a number of slaves on his plantation. This is a reconstruction of a slave cabin on the grounds of Monticello. That a man whose writing and life’s work was dedicated to freedom and opportunity was also capable of owning other human beings is a paradox that we still face in evaluating not just Jefferson, but other individuals who helped to shape our nation. The Monticello website offers an excellent exploration of this topic.
Transportation has certainly changed since Jefferson’s lifetime.
Jefferson was an inventor, and one object on display that I found fascinating was this odometer he purchased in Europe so he could track how far his horse-drawn carriages and buggies had traveled. A meticulous record-keeper, Jefferson kept logbooks filled with his journeys and the miles traveled. Sound familiar?
A small pavilion housed Thomas and Martha Jefferson while the main house was under construction. A petite woman, Martha was barely five feet tall and would have been dwarfed in stature by her husband, who was a towering 6’2″. Martha died in 1781, 19 years before Jefferson would ascend to the US Presidency (via Wikipedia).
As per his wishes, Jefferson was interred in the cemetery on the grounds of Monticello. We enjoyed our visit to Monticello. Although more substantial tour packages are available (including tours of the house), the museum has done an excellent job in providing sufficient information about the life and work of Jefferson simply by walking through the well-labeled grounds. If you are in the Charlottesville area, Monticello is definitely worth a visit.
Before heading to our next destination, we made a pit stop at a local winery recommended by a good friend. Veritas Vineyard & Winery is about forty minutes west of Charlottesville, just outside the town of Staunton.
Some wine, some snacks, a game of cards, and a beautiful view… we were refreshed and ready for our next stop!
Our journey next took us to Staunton, Virginia, to visit the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States.
Born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife, Woodrow Wilson spent only a few years in Staunton. His career would begin as a professor at Princeton University, and then as president of that institution. From there, he would ascend to the governorship of New Jersey, before being elected to the office of President of the United States of America. The desk on display was once in the house that Wilson and his wife Ellen built when he was a professor at Princeton.
One of the highlights of the museum’s collection is this 1919 Series 51 Pierce-Arrow, which was used to transport Wilson during his time in office. Built in Buffalo, New York, this was one of several cars that Pierce-Arrow built for world leaders. Other Pierce-Arrow owners included the Emperor of Japan, the Shah of Iran, and the King of Greece.
Wilson’s first wife, Ellen, died in 1914 during Wilson’s first term as US President. He later met, and married, Edith Bolling Galt, the widow of a wealthy jeweler. Both Edith and Cary T. Grayson, the personal physician to the President, would have a significant role in Wilson’s latter years in office.
In 1919, Wilson suffered a massive stroke. Personal physician Cary Grayson and First Lady Edith Wilson shielded the President from the view of others, filtering information given to him, pre-reading documents before he saw them, and sought to manage his condition to the best of their ability during his limited recovery. Wilson’s health would never truly recover – he died in 1924, three years after leaving office.
The lower level of the museum houses a special exhibit focusing on World War I, the major world event to take place during Wilson’s time in office. Despite initial promises to remain neutral during the conflict, Wilson was forced to shift his position after several German provocations, including an incident in which a U-Boat torpedoed and sank the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, resulting in the death of 128 American citizens.
Given the relatively limited size of the museum, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum does an excellent job presenting an overview of the life and history of our 28th President. I would highly recommend a visit.
Last, but not least, it was time to cross a milestone. We headed to Shenandoah National Park, a 199,000-acre park in northern Virginia. Skyline Drive, a north-to-south road that runs along the ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the park, has been consistently named one of the best roads to drive in America (via Town and Tourist). It was here that we would cross 200,000 miles.
As we crested a hill, with this view in the distance, my Accord’s odometer crossed from 199,999 miles to 200,000. Not a bad backdrop for such an event!
There it is! Another major milestone in the books.
I pulled over and took a photo to commemorate the event.
Skyline Drive has 75 overlooks throughout the 105-mile road, each overlook offering a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Although we were tired from a long day of driving, each time we saw a view like this, we stopped to grab a photo. As sunset neared, we realized we had only driven about 1/3 of Skyline Drive. We decided to call it quits for the day, and tackle some more of the road the next day after a good night’s rest.
On the way to our motel, we stopped at Rancho Viejo, a Mexican restaurant in Luray to pick up dinner. After a long day of driving and exploration, nothing hits the spot like an order of Tacos Carnitas for my wife and Tacos ala Diabla (pictured) for me. Add in some fresh guacamole, chips, and salsa, and we were in seventh heaven.
Finding accommodations at a reasonable price was extraordinarily difficult during Memorial Day weekend. My wife managed to find a room at the Hillside Motel in Luray, only ten minutes from one of the entrances to Skyline Drive. The room was clean, quiet, comfortable, and affordable. After a long day of travel, it was time for a good night’s sleep before tackling another section of Skyline Drive. Day Three
The next morning, we woke up early. 5:45 am early. Our reward for dragging ourselves out of bed on a vacation day? When we arrived at Shenandoah National Park, there was no line to enter the park, and we encountered few, if any, people.
For most of the morning, we had Skyline Drive to ourselves. With no one else around we were able to enjoy views like this in complete solitude.
Work on Skyline Drive began in 1931, and the road was extended over the years until its completion in 1961. It is a 105-mile long route through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, and in 2005 Skyline Drive was named a National Historic Landmark (via Wikipedia).
One of my favorite sections of the road was Mary’s Rock Tunnel, a 610-foot long tunnel. Engineers created it in 1932 by blasting through granite.
The views were simply breathtaking.
Fun fact: the “blue” in Blue Ridge Mountains comes from the trees that line its slopes and ridges. The trees emit isoprene, an organic compound, which give the mountains their characteristic blue glow (via Wikipedia).
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park encompasses nearly 200,000 acres of preserved wilderness. In 2020, over 1.6 million people came to visit the park. Although that may seem like a lot, it doesn’t even crack the top 25 most visited US National Parks. #1 is the Blue Ridge Parkway, immediately south of Shenandoah, which receives 15.9 million people each year (via National Park Service).
With my wife behind the wheel, I filmed this ride through Skyline Drive to try to share a little bit of just how amazing the journey felt from the inside the car:
After leaving the park, we stopped by the Luray Visitors Center, and while my wife got advice on good restaurants in town, I explored the small museum dedicated to railroad operations in this part of Virginia.
This large model railroad set occupied the center of the room.
Getting closer, I realized that the model railroad diorama represents Luray and its surrounding communities. The Luray Train Depot (center) is now the Luray Visitors Center – the very building I was standing in!
Press a button, and the train set springs to life. We had driven past the real-life version of this railroad bridge earlier in the day on our way to Shenandoah National Park. After indulging my inner child with the railroad set, it was time for lunch!
There were several promising options for lunch, but we decided to ring in the start of the summer season at Jess’ Main Street Bar & Grill, which prides itself on its hot dogs.
The fries were divine, but the hot dogs were out of this world. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the “Everything” hot dog – loaded with chili, onion, and mustard. Or, be traditional, and go with toppings of mustard and relish. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
Rather than go out for dinner, we stopped by West Main Market Deli in Luray so we could have a picnic meal at our hotel. If you visit, definitely try the tuna salad – it’s absolutely perfect.
With dinner in our motel room’s fridge, we settled into a lazy afternoon by the pool, playing cards, reading, and swimming. The Accord took a well-deserved break while we soaked up a beautiful late spring day. Day Four
With temperatures predicted to rise into the mid-90s, we woke up early and got started on our drive home. Our reward for waking up before the roosters? Seeing this sunrise from our motel room porch.
In less than an hour, we were in West Virginia.
A little more than a half hour after that, we were passing into Maryland.
Once we left Maryland, the bulk of our drive began, as we traversed central and eastern Pennsylvania. Mercifully, we encountered little traffic, and barely touched the brakes for the entire drive.
And oops… my wife and I were engrossed in conversation and we totally blew past the Welcome to New Jersey sign. So you’re just going to have to trust me that this is, indeed, the Garden State.
Five hours after leaving Virginia, we were safely home, the Accord now well into the 200,000s. Wrapping Up
Staring Mileage: 199,459
Ending Mileage: 200,459
Total miles driven: 1,000
Average miles per gallon: 31.8
Value of this trip: Priceless
Our Memorial Day Weekend road trip was an epic adventure encompassing five states, driving on a scenic mountain road, visiting cool museums, exploring a historic battlefield, stopping by some roadside attractions, eating great food, and having a wonderful time.
Meanwhile, now that my Accord has crossed the 200,000 mile mark, what does its future hold? Is it time for a new car? In my next post, I will devote some time to taking stock of the vehicle, seeing how it has held up, and looking at potential work it will need. Overall, how’s the outlook for this car’s future? The sky’s the limit!
Thanks for coming along on this thousand mile road trip adventure down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.