A Road Trip Five Years In The Making: Part 6

Michael Karesh
by Michael Karesh

So, where were we?

I’d planned a road trip through West Virginia with my best friend, both of our fathers, and two Mazda RX-8s. A little over an hour in, on the way to meet the others, my father had sideswiped a tree, totaling his car. After exploring various options, I’d decided that we could and should continue on in the wrecked car. Around 2 PM Trey and his father, the judge, arrived at the revised rendezvous point in their car. The “real trip” could finally begin.

Unfortunately, it can no longer be the trip I had planned. I had designed the route to include WV 16, one of the most insanely convoluted roads anywhere. Given the hour, the judge doesn’t think we can cover so many mountainous miles before sundown. He doesn’t want us to feel an actual need for speed, warning that his counterparts on this side of the state line might well lock us up for the night. On his map WV 55 (also US 219 initially and WV 39 later on—many of the roads serve double and even triple duty) is marked as a “scenic route.” The judge likes scenic. Reluctantly I agree to take WV 55 nearly all the way to Summersville if it proves sufficiently entertaining.

I’ll be driving our RX-8 (which means fewer pictures, even though the old man has two cameras to my one). My father remains sheepish following his misstep, and readily takes shotgun. With the badly damaged right-side doors jammed shut this necessitates a hop over the coupe’s tall center console. He manages this with alacrity, no mean feat for a 73-year-old. I’m impressed.

WV 55 proves to be just what the judge ordered. Pretty little farms flank the road, and the trees are covered with fall foliage. I take it easy through the first few curves, just in case the right front wheel secedes from the rest of the car. It doesn’t, so I’m ready to step it up. But WV 55 won’t let me. The small river that carved the valley did its job too well. The valley is broad, so the curves aren’t tight, and they’re too few and far between. So when we arrive at the junction with WV 15, I suggest over the two-way radio Trey supplied that we take the road less traveled.

With roads, less is more, or at least more entertaining. WV 15 is much twistier than WV 55 as it snakes up and down through the mountains. At the higher elevations the trees have already lost their leaves, so the drive isn’t as pretty, but I don’t mind. The RX-8, with its excellent balance and communicative steering, was made for roads like this one. Pushed hard into a turn it just hunkers down, with the feel of a slight rearward weight bias. Apply a touch of gas to further rotate the tail.

With its oft-criticized lack of low-end torque, the RX-8’s rotary engine might be ill-suited for stoplight grands prix. But on mountain roads you don’t spend any time between zero and twenty, so this isn’t an issue. Once on the move along a curvy road, plenty of power with a thrilling (if not sweet) soundtrack is never more than a downshift away. This engine loves to run to its 9,000 rpm redline.

And yet I don’t push the car as hard as I have in the past. As hard as it is to lose control of an RX-8, my father successfully demonstrated that it’s nevertheless possible. It’s bad enough to have left the road once. I cannot imagine having to explain how we managed to wreck an already wrecked car. On top of this, our “shields are down” all along the right side. With the side airbags spent, the windshield crunched up, and the doors caved it, the car’s right side probably wouldn’t absorb a second hit terribly well. Take a hit on the left side, and we’d no longer be able to get out of the car. So I drive the car well within its limits. Still great fun.

In Webster Springs I miss the turn for WV 20 South, so leaving the small town we switchback up a hill on WV 15/20 North. We turn around, switchback back down the hill, and return to the town. This time I find the correct turn—the road sign is at least 100 feet from the intersection. West Virginia’s signage isn’t the best. After a couple of hairpins this road is overly tame. We reconnect with WV 55 in Craigsville, and the road becomes downright crowded by local standards. Still just a few other cars, but enough to impede our progress.

We arrive in Summersville around 4 PM, with well over an hour of daylight remaining. Could we have taken the planned route? I still think so. But this group was unsure of its appetite for driving, was sure of its appetite for staying out of a West Virginia jail, and we have a full day tomorrow.

I open the trunk and discover that my computer isn’t in there. Suddenly I realize that I took it into the restaurant earlier because the car sans right side windows was no longer secure…and never brought it back out. My heart pounding, I fish out my receipt and call the restaurant. This being small town West Virginia and not New York, they have the computer. Seems I’ll be returning to Bob’s Mini Mart after all.

The car needs to be sealed up for the night using the plastic sheeting and clear packaging tape we bought at Dollar General. But it has been a long day, so I rest for a moment in the room. Trey takes the opportunity to make a beer run, returning with a twelve pack. Now he and his father won’t risk getting thirsty while watching me seal up the windows.

Attaching the plastic sheeting takes just a few minutes, not even enough time for the spectators to kill a single beer. We then stand around chatting while my father calls his insurance company to report the accident. He wonders what to tell them. I advise him to simply tell them what happened—an unmarked downhill hairpin turn that he’d entered going below the speed limit but, in retrospect, still too fast. The insurance company is, as I expected, happy that there were no injuries—cars are relatively cheap.

Time for dinner. When making the hotel reservations I’d been told that Cultured Catering operates the only best restaurant in the area. So we all piled into the judge’s car—unlike other sports cars, the RX-8 comfortably carries four medium-sized men—and head off. The restaurant proves hard to locate, but after a few wrong turns, including one stop at the catering rather than the restaurant location, we’re there. It’s inside an old bank building, complete with a vault. The foot-thick vault door, open, has a window that displays the intricate clockwork within. A waiter claims they were offered half a million for this door, but turned it down—“it makes the place.” I order a prime rib. The other three get “smothered chicken,” one of the specials. It’s all very good.

After dinner we head back to the hotel and, after some good wine and better conversation, go to sleep happy.

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

Michael Karesh
Michael Karesh

Michael Karesh lives in West Bloomfield, Michigan, with his wife and three children. In 2003 he received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. While in Chicago he worked at the National Opinion Research Center, a leader in the field of survey research. For his doctoral thesis, he spent a year-and-a-half inside an automaker studying how and how well it understood consumers when developing new products. While pursuing the degree he taught consumer behavior and product development at Oakland University. Since 1999, he has contributed auto reviews to Epinions, where he is currently one of two people in charge of the autos section. Since earning the degree he has continued to care for his children (school, gymnastics, tae-kwan-do...) and write reviews for Epinions and, more recently, The Truth About Cars while developing TrueDelta, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.

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  • HiFlite999 HiFlite999 on Mar 10, 2011

    The RX-8 is a largely undiscovered Jewel in an automotive parking lot full of boring gravel. It's not the cheapest way to get from A to B, but if you want to remember what's between A and B, there are few better ways to travel. As far as the location is concerned - some of the best driving roads in the USA. Come on down to the Deal's Gap Rotary Rally at the end of April for a gathering of the clan: http://www.dealsgaprotaryrally.com/

    • See 3 previous
    • Redshift Redshift on Mar 10, 2011

      Hi Michael. Sent.

  • Darkhorse Darkhorse on Mar 10, 2011

    This brought back memories, not all of them good. I grew up in "West By God Virginia" in the pre-Interstate era so roads like these were the only ones if you had to travel anywhere. We used to visit my grandmother twice a year. It was 90 miles but it took 4-5 hours to get there. My sister and I were stuck in the back of Dad's 1953 Chrysler as it rolled and pitched through a thousand hairpin curves. This was accompanied by my Dad's curses every time we got stuck behind some farmer in a dilapidated pickup truck or on a tractor. Then my Mom would light up a Pall Mall and my sister would start hurling. Miserable way to travel. That said, they are great roads for a brisk drive in an early era Porsche!

    • Michael Karesh Michael Karesh on Mar 10, 2011

      I just traveled some of the same roads again, this time with the family in the Taurus X. Had to stop a couple of times to let my wife's nausea dissipate.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.
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