We emerged from the Big Walker Mountain tunnel on I-77 to see the “Welcome to Virginia” sign and let out a whoop.

It took eight years and too many deaths of construction workers to build the both the Big Walker and East River Mountain tunnels — keys to opening the stretch of I-77 from Wytheville to Bluefield and Princeton, West Virginia.

Big Walker Mountain is part of the Jefferson National Forest, which meant no highway through the land. In 1930, a farmer plowing his field unearthed an Indian burial ground, putting that land off limits. Tunnels became the only option.

The tunnels cost $25 million each in 1960s dollars and the last tunnel opened in 1974, providing quick access from Charleston to Southwestern Virginia. Quick access became just what we needed Saturday night after a long drive towing a U-Haul trailer from Belleville, Illinois.

We pulled off at the T/A Truckstop at Wytheville to grab a bite, stretch our legs and fill the Jeep Liberty’s gas tank with the cheapest gas of the trip ($1.51 a gallon). From there, a short hop down I-81 to where I-77 heads south again, then 21 miles to U.S. 221 and a 20-mile drive to the farm.

Home. Finally. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Then we have to unload the damn trailer.