It's been a while since we've enjoyed Travels With Grandma, but for my grandson's fall break, we headed to Charleston for a much-anticipated week with his aunt and uncle. Of course, we had to get there, first.

We did well for the first 2/3 of the way--down R-29 from London to the R-25 connection. Stop at Hardee's in Middlesboro to grab some breakfast, then head through the tunnel.

We are doing fine: beautiful fall color on the hillsides; Ethan and the dogs happy in the back seat.

We continue this way, with no slow-downs or mishaps getting in and out of Spartanburg. Skip lunch because Ethan has been nibbling and is not hungry.

We proceed to Columbia, on schedule to get to my daughter's by 6 p.m. Just in time for her hearty dinner. Then the fun begins . . .

One mile from our I-26 connection, all four lanes roll to a complete stop. Because, of course, there's an accident. And it's hot.

Not one to waste gas, I turn off the motor and roll down the windows. The school bus behind us starts chanting their Friday-night cheers. Next thing I know, the cheerleaders are flirting with Ethan. “You have a cute dog (that would be Burdie, because Carrie is cowering on the floor) and other notes.

Ethan sort of forgets he needs a bathroom and stops asking “Can't we just walk to that gas station over there?”

So we sit. And sit. Next thing I hear from the back seat is “I'm stress-eating!” From an almost-12-year-old. But I realize later, he manages to eat a three-serving bag of sun chips, a mini-Pringles can filled with pita chips, and an 8 oz. bag of cheese-filled Ritz.

Meanwhile, I am texting my daughter, who helpfully informs me that I-26 is closed eastbound due to accidents. Great!

She directs me to an alternate route--back roads to bypass the area. But we have to get out of Columbia, first.

So I follow her directions, onto--I guess--a freeway around the city. I'll call it R-70 (which it actually may have been). I get off where I'm supposed to. Or so I thought, but realize I took the wrong exit, toward Charlotte.

I cross the overpass and swing back on. Only this sign says R-277 (or whatever). What happened to 70?? But of course I follow it, until it dead-ends into a neighborhood. Okay . . .

With one more false move, I try it again.

Meanwhile, Ethan is saying “I know where we are, Grandma; I've seen these buildings before.” Trying to explain that he's wrong is futile. I look at the buildings. A Holiday Inn Express; a Hampton Inn.

Sure he recognizes those. For all he knows, we could be back in London.

We finally get out of Columbia, having lost two hours. I'm singing “On the Road Again” as we trundle down a country back road. Lots of cotton fields. And of course it's starting to get dark.

But Mary said there are lots of turns for I-26. Somewhere. The first one I see is marked right where you make the turn, at ground level. It's almost dark, so of course I sail past it (no longer trundling). Should have turned back, because now all I see are more fields and an occasional farmhouse.

By now it's completely dark, but we finally get to Holly Hill. I know this has an entrance. So where's the sign? We stop at a gas station and ask. You go back to the light at the intersection and turn left. And no, you can't have a bag of popcorn.

That intersection, I note, is totally unmarked. So we are out in pitch-black country again, but the nice lady was right. We finally reach I-26, and head in light traffic towards Charleston.

We roll into Mary's at 8:50, three hours later than we should have gotten there. Ethan, not unexpectedly, is very excited. So are the dogs. At this point, I just want a bed . . .

But we have once again survived Travels With Grandma. We will have a good week, with lots of great activities planned for Ethan. Except not before he spends Saturday morning, sick as a dog, as they say, on the sofa. So much for stress-eating in the car . . .

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