A Road Trip Five Years In The Making: Part Three: The Local Talent

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh
a road trip five years in the making part three the local talent

In this third installment covering my long-sought West Virginia road trip ( part one, part two) we meet some of the local talent.

After six hours on the road I cross the Ohio River into West Virginia. New Martinsville is large enough to be ugly. And full of cars. Leaving town on WV 7/20, I’m stuck behind a half-dozen of them. Hopefully most will continue on 7 instead of 20—a glance at the nav shows the split ahead. After a few miles a passing zone finally opens up, and I take it, giving the Infiniti G37 coupe’s 330-horsepower V6 free reign, grabbing third at the redline…only to see the right turn for WV 20 flash by mid-pass. D’oh! Hit the brakes, turn around, this time successfully turn onto 20, and pass some of the same cars for a second time. A fair amount of embarrassment notwithstanding, with so much power on tap passing is effortless fun—as long as there’s a zone to do it in.

As I head southeast the hills grow larger. The locals, familiar with them, often know how to drive. Even some pickup trucks take the frequent curves at a healthy clip. I pass them anyway. Then, what do you know, a red Chevy Cavalier passes me! He’s carving these corners far faster than any clapped-out J-Car on budget tires should be able to, and clearly knows the road quite well, so I tag along. Which encourages Mr. J to drive even faster. For reasons that initially escape me, he spends considerable time on the far side of the double yellow lines even when there’s no one in our lane, and quite illegal regardless. An interesting driving style, to say the least, that further implies traffic cops must be few and far between. We have to pass some cars, but after the initial clot leaving New Martinsville WV 20 is lightly traveled.

We reach Jacksonburg and get stuck behind a school bus making stops every 100 feet or so. Though Jacksonburg includes fewer than 700 people, this seems to drag on forever. It probably held up Mr. J and I for five minutes.

Outside of town, Mr. J isn’t moving quite as quickly as before, so I decide to take the lead. A passing zone opens up, and I nail the throttle, only to have him also move into the passing lane even though there’s no one ahead of us. Suddenly I realize why he was camping out on the wrong side of the double yellow earlier—to prevent me from passing, though I wasn’t then trying to. I lean on the horn, and he reluctantly returns to the right (in both senses of the word) side of the road. I say “reluctantly,” because as I rocket past he rolls down his window and waves a certain finger.

Afterwards I’m fascinated by how long Mr. J manages to hang with me despite making do with roughly one-third as much horsepower and two-thirds as much grip—and this is assuming that everything is still in good working order. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be prudent to provide numbers aside from the G37’s fuel economy, which sinks below 13 MPG. I’m still not pushing the Infiniti anywhere near its limits through the curves, much less along the straights, as a wreck or (more likely) a spell behind bars would put a severe crimp in my travel plans. But what about the limits of the Cavalier? Must be the rear spoiler—and people say one serves no functional purpose on such a car. Mr. J can’t hope to match the Infiniti’s tenacious grip in turns or joyous thrust out of them, but nevertheless almost catches back up a few times. Even after he drops out of my rearview for the last time, I keep expecting him to reappear. Scenes from the similarly unequal 928-vs-DeVille contest in Risky Business flash through my head. Though Mr. J’s hospitality might need work, I can’t help respecting his chutzpah and mad driving skillz.

Then again, it’s often more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow equally fast. So perhaps Mr. J enjoyed our time together even more than I did? Hard to imagine—the stylish, luxurious Infiniti proved quite fun even while holding a fair amount of grip in reserve.

I hadn’t bothered to program my destination into the nav earlier, and this can’t be done through the screen while the car is moving. Attempts to employ the voice activation all end in frustration. I guess the hotel’s location, and reach US 50 a few miles to the west, in Clarksburg, a little over seven hours after leaving the Detroit suburbs.

I exit the highway, program the nav, and call my father. He’s not far away. We rendezvous at the hotel, where the G37 will enjoy a well-earned rest for a few days. We take his Mazda RX-8 back into Clarksburg to get “the downtown experience” at 4th Street. The restaurant occupies the #1 spot at Tripadvisor.com and the food is good, if unexpectedly expensive given the location. We then get to sleep. We’ll need an early start tomorrow to meet Trey and his father in a second RX-8 at the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway by 11 AM.

Follow Michael’s journey in part four of this piece here.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data

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3 of 23 comments
  • Sinistermisterman Sinistermisterman on Dec 26, 2010

    It's not necessarily knowing the road, it's knowing the car. If you've got a very good idea where the limits are in your car, you can drive it to the absolute maximum even on roads you don't know. My personal favourite? Taking my 2001 1.25 Ford Fiesta up into the Peak District and thoroughly embarrassing some poser driving an Elise who was out with his missus trying to show off. Sure he could catch up on the straights, but he pussied out on every flippin' corner. I guess the difference is how much you're willing to risk. My wheels set me back £1500; his? Add another zero and you're somewhere near.

    • Satire Satire on Jan 10, 2011
      "It’s not necessarily knowing the road, it’s knowing the car. If you’ve got a very good idea where the limits are in your car, you can drive it to the absolute maximum even on roads you don’t know." Yes, it's a good idea to know the limits of YOUR car. But sadly 95% (if not more) of today's drivers have no clue about their car limits. Thus those are the very people you should worry about when driving on unknown roads. I've been forced off that road by idiots who think passing in a blind curve is a good idea. It's great that the author made it to his destination alive and in one piece. Luck was on his side. To everyone else, I can only suggest you drive like a sane person. Being out numbered by the crazies ensures that sooner or later some mentally challenged idiot is going to make your life miserable. And RT 20 in Wetzel County West Virginia is a great place to prove my point. "Take Me Home Country Roads" was NOT an invitation to race around like you're God's gift to NASCAR.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Dec 26, 2010

    My local variant is a short bit of the Bear Mountain Parkway from Annsville Circle to the Bear Mountain Bridge. It's a cut-into-the side of the hill roadway, posted 40, no runoffs or medians, just forgiving stone buttresses. It has over time become a major roadway, despite the "parkway"-ness of it. I've had runs with guys in blandmobiles who can do the whole thing, save two corners, at 50 mph. You can't pass legally or illegally anywhere. (I have only seen one pass in ten years, a guy with a 911 who took a huge chance and almost hit a head-on). The best run I ever had was behind a guy in an ex cop car. The sheer mass didn't hinder him, as speeds don't get that high, but the V8 and big brakes were very helpful. I only lose it for the guy who does the whole road at 22 mph...usually in something that does not suck. This is a great road for the driver, and minimizes the influence of the car.

  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that