The conference was about eight hours away by car and not a lot faster by plane due to airport locations. Another benefit is that mileage reimbursements are paying out at way above the cost of gas right now, so we expect driving to pay out above costs while flying would have been more than our travel grants could cover, so the choice to drive looked pretty good.
Driving down we passed through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and finally into Virginia. We stopped for a late lunch at the original Bob Evans restaurant. It was perfectly acceptable but probably not something we'd go out of our way for.
Heading into West Virginia the land became really mountainous but speed limits remained high (70MPH) so things got both pretty and pretty fast. West Virginia was really fun driving, and it should also be noted that roads were very well maintained. We needed to push the Fit pretty hard to even get up these hills at speed, so this was much more fun than the flat-no-turns driving we get in Indiana.
Mountain highways in West Virginia are a lot of fun.
The conference was at Virginia Tech and the affiliated Hotel Roanake, which was pretty fancy.
The town of Roanoke was nice and a short walk across the tracks from the hotel. We ate at a seafood place that had great shrimp and scallops and a place called Thelma's Chicken and Waffles where we both ordered and enjoyed chicken and waffles. I think the chicken and waffles we had in Memphis may have been better but these were still really good and probably 1/3 the cost so we'd definitely go again if we were in Roanoke.
Roanoke has a classy tourist town vibe.
Everything tasted really fresh and succulent.
I don't expect that a detailed review of the conference itself is of interest to readers outside of engineering education - it was fine. We talked to a bunch of people we already knew, networked with new people we hadn't met before, heard about some additional job openings, handed out business cards, etc. Our papers and presentations got good audience responses, no major humiliations or disasters there, and I felt like we made good personal connections with a number of researchers our own age which means you'll have people to hang out with at future conferences.
We were already planning to do some sightseeing and camping after the conference, but one other item at the conference was that one of the keynote speakers had driven down through Skyline Drive not realizing that it is a scenic (not fast) drive, and we got her park pass for free since she planned to drive home on a real highway. The day after the conference was over we drove up to Skyline, which runs the length of the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. There are overlooks to both sides of the ridge (we stopped at every single one) and the weather was lovely.
Ana lived up to her trail name, Bear Magnet, and we saw a bear within 90 minutes of entering the park. It crossed the road in front of us. It is the dark spot in the center of the picture behind the tree. We also picked up a hiker with a hurting knee and brought him into camp, paying back a little of our hitching karma from the AT in 2012.
We camped in the park, testing out our new tent that weights half what our other one does (2.5lb down from 5) while also packing much smaller and giving more room inside. The downside, as illustrated here, it that it is not free-pitch capable and needs to be anchored to the ground really well, and when the ground is entirely stone it is really hard to get a taut pitch. So the tent is a little less versatile, but we don't use hardened campsites like this very often. Overall we'll be looking to use this tent in less extreme conditions than the other tent is capable of, but for summer camping that is mostly below treeline the weight savings are hard to argue with.
The next day we did a short hike (~6 miles) and made good time. We briefly touched the AT but mostly did a trail that we wouldn't get to see if and when we try the AT again.
It was starting to rain a little and the plan was to drive to a dark sky zone in West Virginia where we could camp and see the stars, and since we read the visibility chart backwards we thought the rain was already past it into the Shenandoah so we packed up and headed out. Going back into West Virginia the roads were pretty amazing again and we actually saw some sports cars out for drives going the other way. The high speed limits and the sprinkle of rain meant that legal speeds were sometimes even more than I wanted to use.
Eventually we realized that the rain wasn't clearing away and checked the weather again. Realizing we definitely were not going to be able to see the stars, we decided to go home rather than camping in the rain. We did an extra hour or so of driving by not having headed home directly from Shenandoah, but most of it was in West Virginia and entertaining in and of itself, so not a big problem. Overall, this was a fun little trip.