A phone ringing at 3 a.m. is never good news. The sound jarred me awake but Amy was already up and waiting for the call. She has a sixth sense about these things and had talked to her relatives the day before. The end was near for a favorite aunt. The phone call only confirmed what she already knew.

Death in a family never comes easy. When that death is the last link to a previously-lost mother it comes even harder. I held her while she cried, the sobs shaking her body. Time later to make the necessary plans to journey to the St. Louis area to be with family.

We took care of the necessities. Board the dog, arrange for someone to watch the house and care for the new kittens that Amy is fostering for the Humane Society and find someone else to photograph a football game.

We packed the Liberty in the early morning frost and headed out on U.S. 221 towards Floyd shortly after 8 a.m. I’ve driven the route to and from St. Louis many times in recent years, usually from Arlington while Amy first cared for her sick mother and then as we took care of the estate. My usual route from Floyd was Rte. 8 to I-81, I-81 South to Wytheville. Pick up I-77 North to Charleston, West Virginia and then I-64 West to St. Louis. Normally the trip takes 12-13 hours and covers 700-plus miles.

This time, I let the Garmin GPS map the course. It suggested, instead, U.S. 460 from Christiansburg to Princeton, WVa. to pick up I-77. I hadn’t traveled that route in years and the last time, I remembered 460 as a winding two-lane road after you cleared Blacksburg.

No more. U.S. 460 is four-lane all the way to Princeton and a pleasant drive. We slowed as we drove through Pembroke and Narrows but made the rest of the trip with the cruise control set on 60. By the time we turned North onto the West Virginia Turnpike (I-77), the Garmin’s ETA said 6:45 p.m. EST – less than 11 hours driving time.

That time would slip with slowdowns for construction near Beckley, along with three toll booths where you part with $1.25 each time for privilege of driving on an Interstate highway in West Virginia but the ETA said 7:01 p.m. by the time we turned onto I-64 West in Charleston. Made up for some of that time through Huntington before construction slowed us again just short of the West Virginia – Kentucky line.

Stopped for gas at Ashland, Kentucky ($2.42 a gallon). The Garmin showed ETA at 7:17 p.m. Lot of construction in Kentucky. Made the Indiana line at 3:30 and the road opened. Speed limit on Indiana Interstates is 70. Set the cruise control at 75 and made up a lot of time through the Hoosier state.

Gas again at the Evansville exit ($2.14 a gallon this time). I-64 mostly deserted as crossed the Wabash and headed towards the setting sun on the Southern Illinois flatlands. The ETA had slipped to 7:15 p.m. (6:15 CST) but we made up time on a 100-mile stretch of mostly empty Interstate. We were five miles away from our exit when construction brought traffic to a stop. It took 20 minutes to inch along the last five miles before we turned off I-64 and headed for the parking lot of a Hampton Inn, arriving at 6:05 p.m. CST, 10 hours and 50 minutes after leaving our home in Floyd. The trip odometer read 668.6 miles. Not bad.

Calls home to check on house and cats and let everyone know we arrived safe, then dinner and sleep. The next day will bring family, friends, grief and celebration of a life. Then, in a few days, we hit the road again.