Road trip update: Chased by a hurricane, headed toward an earthquake

It wasn’t the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Richmond just a day before we were supposed to arrive.

Instead, it was the surprise hurricane nipping at our heels as we drove north from Orlando to Virginia’s capital — slowly gaining strength as she churned toward the US mainland — that got me thinking.

Am I jinxed?

Earlier this year, while I was visiting Maui with my son, my hotel was evacuated because of tsunami kicked up by the catastrophic earthquake in Japan. For good measure, our return flight had to make an emergency landing in Honolulu after catching on fire.

Our road trip hasn’t officially begun yet, and already we’ve dealt with three natural disasters. (Is someone trying to tell us something?)

As I write this, hurricane Irene is barreling toward the East Coast, making a beeline for the most populated areas.

Not a pretty picture.

We’re in upstate New York, out of the direct path of the storm, with plans to head north to Montreal tomorrow. Thank goodness the windshield wipers on our Honda Accord work.

But while we were in Richmond, we had this unique feeling of being sandwiched between two natural disasters. At about 1 a.m., a 4.5 magnitude aftershock rumbled through the Commonwealth Park Suites, where we were staying.

We’d had a full day visiting two must-see attractions in Richmond after a 12-hour overnight drive, so the kids slept through the quake. But the adults were left with a feeling of: “What’s next?”

By the way, if you haven’t been to Richmond recently, you have to visit. The Virginia State Capitol building, with its new visitor complex, recently underwent a $74 million restoration.

Related story:   Vieques is not ready for tourism -- can Cape Air keep my money?

The highlight of our tour was the life-size marble statue of George Washington under the interior dome of the rotunda, which is completely unique. The sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon used Washington as a model, making it the statue that most closely resembles the first president. It has been standing here almost uninterrupted since 1796.

Another can’t-miss attraction: The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. It’s the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.

Although I don’t consider myself a Civil War buff, I do appreciate a good debate. And if you want to have a spirited discussion about war, race and economics, this is the place to go. The exhibits walk you through each year of the war, explaining the conflict from three different perspectives. Then the interactive exhibits ask you to vote on the likely causes of the war.

If you go, don’t forget to check out the National Parks Service exhibit next to the center, which show off the cannons built here during the war and have several floors of artifacts and interactive exhibits that bring the Civil War battles to life.

I’ll have more on these attraction on National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel blog soon.

Our kids had a great time in Richmond, hurricanes and earthquakes notwithstanding. It’s great to see them learn about everything from the Civil War to America’s struggle for civil rights on their own. They have a sense of curiosity that travel brings out in all of us.

I’m waiting for them to ask if we can go see the hurricane.

Related story:   Putting entitled travelers in their place

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Clifford P Woodrick

    Right now I am just sitting at home waiting for Irene. I was told to evacuate but being an old sailor I am going to enjoy another huricane.

    Have a wonderful hurricane couple of days – Cliff

  • Cosmos Human

    Oy Vegh!  I don’t know what is worse…..   Glad you survived!

  • Flyonpa

    What Car/Mini-Van/SUV/RV did you wind up getting? 

  • Marian

    Make sure you eat at Schwartz’s on St Laurent when you’re in Montreal. There’ll probably be a line, but it’s worth it. The smoked meat on rye is the best anywhere, especially when it’s “extra juicy” (fatty) but the lean is good as well.

  • Jennifer

    When/where does your road trip officially begin? You’ve done a lot of traveling already.

  • CS

    I wasn’t aware of this, but according to, Virgin Atlantic (who cancelled my flight to Boston on Sunday) can charge you the difference in fare for re-booking on the next available flight. Shocking. How is that ethical/legal? I’m outraged. 

  • Bodega

    Most airlines are waiving change fees and protecting passengers for no extra cost on other flights.  I just walked into PHL yesterday, where i was to fly home today (except now they cancelled all today’s flights) and got on an evening flight home for no extra cost.  They even put me in economy plus seating for no extra cost.  Policies can vary from carrier to carrier. 

    At first the UA counter agents hadn’t read the morning briefing and the agent was going to charge me as she said the same class of service as I was currently booked in must be available.  However, UA waived all those restrictions, which I had been told, over the phone, the night prior, but didn’t book as I had a 4 hours drive to get to PHL and didn’t know what I would encounter regarding weather and traffic.  They were even willing to get me out of another airport for no fee, but Hertz wanted to charge me over $900 to drop my car off at ALB vs taking it back to PHL, so that was my deciding factor to get back to PHL as early as possible.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thanks for the advice on Richmond.  It’s one of the few state capitals left on my list to walk. 

    Stay safe.

  • Good luck!

  • Noted. Thanks for the tip.

  • October. This is just the “pre” trip (or “beta” in tech terms).

  • That’s just wrong!

  • montreal

    Yes, you MUST MUST MUST go to Schwartz.  Also fairmount or st viatuer bagel.  

  • Earthquakes, Hurricanes on the east coast…… and it’s 112 in Los Angeles, what is going on?? Chris, if regards to you being “jinxed”, ummm….. please don’t be in NYC in late December, because I just purchased my plane

  • philpm

    Everything that’s happened this week has made me very glad that we drove the kid to college rather than flying.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.