Monday, July 19, 2010

Almost heaven...

John Denver was absolutely right. We didn't get to spend too much time there, but West Virgina was amazing. As John sang those opening lines of Country Roads, we were passing through the soaring mountains and roaring rivers at high speed on our way to one of this trip's best days so far. But wait -  I'm getting ahead of myself... Last you knew, we were still in Virginia fending off bears and snakes and noisy campsite neighbors. So first some words about our final day in Virginia.

We left our home of three days in Big Meadows, packed up the tent and started south for the Loft Mountain campground, which had been our intended destination three days before. Big Meadows was a great place to stay though, and we have plenty of pictures and memories to show for our brief stay. I'd be remiss if I did not mention the terrific exhibit at the visitor's center there, to which my archaeologist friend Mark says a mentor of his contributed much work. It was surprising to learn that unlike many of the other parks, Shenandoah was not just wilderness converted to national parkland, but instead was the homes of many people who were forcibly vacated to make way for the vision of a few politicians. Sad to learn of their loss, but one has trouble arguing with the results.

We saw two more black bears as Skyline Drive carried us further south. Alyssa's allergies wreaked havoc all week and we were lucky to take a quick detour out of the park to find her some Claritin D and help clear her head (literally, not figuratively). When we arrived at camp, we made an attempt to pitch the tent, and after a lot of cursing, wiping off sweat, fending off gnats, and throwing  stakes around, we opted to move across the road rather than try to penetrate the rocky soil. Once the tent was up, we headed back down to do a quick circuit hike. Alyssa's sinuses disagreed with the idea, so she sat this one out while I did the Frazier Nature Trail. All the better, since there was yet another too-close-for-comfort bear encounter, which Alyssa won't allow me to describe as a "sighting" since I in fact saw no bear. I heard a huff, a lot of crashing through the woods ten feet to my right, and piles a fresh scat on the trail. To me, that's enough to call it a sighting!!

Back at the campsite, we cooked some dinner and drank some Shenandoah table wine, which was actually quite tasty, before retiring early. In a repeat of the previous Saturday, we had to be up early to make the four hour drive to Glen Jean, West Virginia for some more rafting - only this time, we would be braving the Class V variety. Leaving Shenandoah was bittersweet, but the views at sunrise along Skyline Drive helped make us feel a little better in departing.

Also in a repeat of the previous week, we were greeted in our destination state by torrential downpours. The scenery broke through in spells, but much of what we saw was through the oscillation of our wipers. But what views! WV actually reminded me a lot of my home state of Vermont, with its verdant landscapes. After a little mix-up on directions, we arrived on time to the minute and got our instructions. We were doing the Lower New River with West Virginia Adventures (WVA) as our carriers, and they did not disappoint. We got to cruise the rapids for four hours, and even jump out of the raft and drift along in the river with our life vests keeping us afloat. Unlike the previous week's workout, we did little paddling as the river and our knowledgeable guide Sam did a great deal of the work for us. Alyssa later told me that she had been keeping tabs on the guides' conversations at the start of the trip to hand pick whose boat we would be on for the day, and she picked well. He even made a dinner recommendation for us in Fayetteville, so after our day on the river, we dined at Pies &  Pints and would offer our own recommendation as well. Now I'm trying to convince Alyssa to come back in the fall for the Gauley River, which I understand to be the best rafting on the east coast. Class V all the way!

That evening, while we drank High Life on the porch at WVA, one of the proprietors Bret told us that our drive to Mammoth Cave NP the next day might be several hours, which was more than we wanted after having spent quite a few hours in the car that morning. He also talked with us a bit about the local rafting and tourism industry, and gave us some perspective on the impact of the recent coal mining disasters in WV. It's different to hear these stories from people whose friends and families were affected by what we read as a news item one day, and forget about the following week. After Bret went off to his chalet, we retired a bit early, knowing that we would be doing more driving in the AM.

As we embarked for Kentucky on Sunday morning, Alyssa received her introductory breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Astonished at the sheer quantities of food in each meal, we resolved to split a couple of side dishes on our orders, which still proved to be too much. Luckily, it would serve us as two meals for the day instead of just one. Back on the WV Freeway, an hour into our trip, Alyssa remarked upon seeing a sign for Point Pleasant that it was the location for the events upon which The Mothman Prophecies was based. After a back & forth about whether she wanted to go, a couple of u-turns, and a no-go decision, Alyssa finally flashed that subtle smirk that told me what she was unwilling to say "I want to go, but I just don't want to admit it." We pulled over, whipped out the atlas, and in no time, we made the adjustments that put us on our way to Point Pleasant. Finally, our cross-country journey was becoming a real road trip!

I'd like to report positive things about Point Pleasant, but sadly, it looked to me to be another victim of the Wal-mart effect: a shuttered Main Street with nearly no activity on a Sunday. One of the oldest cities in the state was a mere shadow of what it must have been at one time. We visited the Mothman museum, dedicated to the UFO and paranormal sightings that occurred in the 1960's and the subsequent bridge disaster that was the basis for the movie's climax, and toured the parks that lined the rivers. There was some beautiful scenery, but what were heard in each local legend and story we read about was one tragedy after another, from the murder of Chief Cornstalk in the 1770's to the bombing of the county courthouse two hundred years later that took the lives of three law enforcement officials. Point Pleasant has suffered in its time.

We also got the chance to tour a replica pioneer fort in town as well. Fort Randolph was rebuilt a couple of miles from its original waterfront location and its sole volunteer guide, Rebecca, offered to show us around even though she was closing up for the day. She commented on comparisons she had heard to forts at Colonial Williamsburg, beaming with pride and telling us of her excitement to be visiting that very location for the first time on her vacation this August. It was nice to leave WV on a more positive note, and with that we headed for the Ohio River.

In keeping with road trip tradition, the itinerary was now out the window, as was the original route. We were going by the seat of our pants now! Alyssa had read about Carter Caves in Kentucky in a book of state parks that a co-worker had given her, so after referencing the atlas yet again, we determined it to be a more viable destination than Mammoth and set our course accordingly. Our travels again took us through Amish country (I swear, we're not seeking them out), and we were both awed and amused to encounter these folks again. I begrudgingly held to my notion that photographing their environs would be disrespectful, despite passing a gorgeous farmhouse just off the road in Southeastern Ohio that was picture perfect. The memory must suffice instead. Then just mnutes later we came around a corner to find two teenagers on horseback, one of whom was wearing sunglasses. We clearly have more to learn about these folks.

Our brief tour through a sliver of Ohio remained uneventful, and we crossed over into Kentucky. After a harrowing tunnel experience which cannot be explained in writing, we made our way through twisting mountain roads to Carter Caves State Resort Park. Originally intending to stay only for the night, Alyssa and I conferred and decided there was enough here to entertain us for longer. We toured X Cave this morning, and Alyssa fought her claustrophobia to get in her first real caving experience (Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyworld notwithstanding). Shortly after, we did a quick 3.5 mile day hike of the park's natural bridges. Most of the caves here are closed due to an epidemic affecting the bat population, but the beauty of the park is still evident.

Tomorrow we head for yesterday's intended destination, Mammoth Caves, and we'll continued to take the road less traveled. There's too much hurrying in the world without us needing to help it along.

P.S. Sorry for folks who wanted to comment on the blog but don't have an "OpenID" (a Yahoo, Google, AOL or Live account). There's lots of spam that gets put into comments on blogs, and this was the only way to avoid our inbox filling with Cialis and Viagra solicitations.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are close to my neck of the Woods....YEEE HAAAWWW!!!