Days 16-17/ Mar 14th-15th – Lynchburg, VA to Bedford, VA: Traffic

Traffic in Virginia

Dawn traffic in Virginia

It’s seventy miles due west from Lynchburg to our next major city stop in Roanoke.  Halfway between us and Roanoke is Bedford, a pleasant little railway town.  We reached it along grand avenues of detached turn-of-the-century houses with porches and balconies large enough to play a tolerable game of cricket on.  Bedford’s only national distinction is an unwelcome one – it’s the site of the National D-Day Memorial, and was chosen as such because it was unlucky enough to have had the highest death rate per capita of any American town during the D-Day Landings.  Of the 34 ‘Bedford Boys’ who served in the 116th Infantry Regiment during the campaign, 22 were killed, most in the early stages of fighting on Omaha Beach.  On a single summer’s day in 1944, nine death telegrams arrived in the town, which has a population of barely 3,000.

Most of Bedford’s soldiers left for the war from the town’s station house, which is now Liberty Station restaurant, a much-loved town landmark where we stopped for lunch.  Even on a Monday lunchtime, it was packed.  We were lucky to find it open – last September, while being renovated, it was completely gutted by a fire started by a paint-stripper.  The local community rallied around to help rebuild it and, remarkably, it re-opened last month, only five months after it was destroyed.  We learned all this from Heather, the owner, who gave us a free and delicious cherry pie to power us on our way west.

Liberty Station Restaurant

Liberty Station restaurant in Bedford

We slogged into Bedford down Route 460, being passed by what seemed to be every truck east of the Mississippi.  You have no idea how many people work as truck-drivers until you’ve spent a day on the verge of an American highway (more middle-class epiphanies next week!).  This isn’t quite as bad as it may sound; we’ve learned that truckers are the most considerate drivers on the road, almost always giving us a wide berth and a cheery wave.  Cars are less likely to do either; worst of all are the RVs, as large as buses and often towing a 4×4 behind them, which draft past us on their way north for summer, usually being driven by some wizened Florida pensioner who can barely see over the wheel.

Trucks on I-81

Truckers: Very nice people

There’s a big difference between walking on a Monday and walking at the weekend – drivers are in more of a hurry, and much less likely to slow down and give us a wide berth and a wave.  At the weekends, particularly on back-roads, it’s not uncommon for people to pull up alongside us, ask us where we’re going and have a chat.

In general, drivers in America are much the same as they are in Britain, with one exception: there seems to be an addiction to talking on mobile phones while driving.  It’s become enough of an issue for the all-powerful Oprah to lead a campaign against it.  Having spent several weeks watching cars drive past us – and thus becoming experts – our estimate is that about one driver in four in America is on the phone.  Discounting lightning, tornadoes and serial killers, they’re probably our highest statistical chance of death during the walk.

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