Many might know Bill Bryson for the book and movie A Walk In The Woods about his attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail with an old friend. They didn’t get to walk it all, but they did get portrayed in a movie by Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. Those of us who have read many of Bryson’s travel books know that he came to Patrick County, Virginia, way back in the late 1980s.
In The Last Continent: Travels in Small-Town America published in 1989, Bryson writes about coming through our neck of the woods. In the warm and fuzzy way that Bryson writes, I type with my tongue held firmly in my cheek, yes sarcasm, something I am known for, he rips us to shreds.
When I first saw Critz and Patrick Springs in the index, I should have known what was coming, but still I read on, only to find that the sharp tongue of Bryson landed in my home county. In chapter eleven beginning on page 123 Bryson begins telling of his aversion to highway historical markers as his father apparently stopped and read everyone he encountered, out loud to his wife and three children. Bryson’s father sounds like my kind of man, but apparently, this left deep emotional scars in the offspring. Specifically, his father would nearly kill the entire family by pulling back out in the highway unaware of the myriad of trucks that nearly flattened their vehicle. His father always said the same things. “Well, I’ll be darned…Yes, that was really very interesting.”
Bryson apparently traveling west to east along Highway 58, Bryson was trying to get to the Booker T. Washington National Monument to the north east in Franklin County, Virginia. He “spied a side road leading to a place called Critz.” Bryson turned his Chevette, yes that’s right a Chevette, towards Critz saying, “My first rule of travel is never go to a place that sounds like a medical condition and Critz clearly was an incurable disease involving flanking skin.”
Bryson turned, no doubt, on to the Abram Penn Road heading towards Critz and the Reynold Homestead, which was either horribly marked or he chose to ignore as that might lead to all sorts of anti-tobacco comments or to make Critz sound a little more civilized. Bryson does write with an agenda especially in his politics.
He grew up in Iowa, but then moved to England, where he still lives, I believe at least part time. Many of his books deal with Europe or the English language. Anyway, back to Critz.
Bryson got lost. He passed through Sanville, Pleasantville, Preston, and then back to Sanville for a third time when he stopped to ask an older man, who was “taking his dog out to splash urine around the neighborhood” for directions. The old fellow then “launched into a set of instructions of the most breathtaking complexity” for five minutes. Describing the instructions as something like a description of Lewis and Clark’s journey west. The old man took Bryson to Preston, by the old McGregor place via the “drover’s road”, but not to take the road to the left towards “Dead Man’s Creek” as the bridge is out and Bryson would plunge into the stream.
Bryson thanked him, continued on, where he took the wrong fork in the road and eventually came back by the same old fellow, who was gesturing at him “excitedly” and shouting. Bryson “plundered” back to Highway 58, two hours after setting off for Critz. “Sourly, I pulled back onto the highway and drove for many long hours is silence.”
He did not make it to Booker T. Washington or Monticello as he had hoped. I think he doesn’t realize how close he was to making it at Sanville, he could have turned north and made his way to Highway 57 and then to 220 and north to 40 and on to visit Booker T.
So ends Bill Bryson’s visit to The Free State of Patrick and along the border of neighboring Henry County. It was before the days of smartphones, which Bryson swears off. He must have passed by the Reynolds Homestead and the historic highway marker denoting Abram Penn, which would have brought memories back of his father, which he must have shut out. “The day had been a complete washout. I had no lunch, no life giving infusions of coffee. It had been a day without pleasure or reward.”