Wild & Wonderful

That about sums up West Virginia.

While we were in Cracker Barrel, Alice and I felt the need to get an “Ebenezer” – a memento of the Lord’s provision as He saw us through our crazy adventure. This is what we found:

"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ " (1 Samuel 7:12)

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’ ” (1 Samuel 7:12)

This magnet now graces my refrigerator.  It’s a great reminder of the Lord’s provision.  His Hands were all over our adventure: from the preemptive tire changes to Alice’s new hand-me-down iPhone from her Father-in-Law (without it we wouldn’t have had GPS or a way to alert the authorities of our situation), the calmness we exuded to get us through that situation, not to mention no serious damage to the car (as far as I know….).

Despite my near-death experience, I am looking forward to returning to West Virginia.  I kinda sorta fell in love with the beauty of that state.  I think I could move there, living in the mountains.  Alice and I hope to return in the Autumn with our husbands and see all the leaves change color.

And, of course, stay on the paved roads.

We’re already looking ahead to 2024; we’ve decided not to try and top 2014.  But this is probably a good thing: our adventures are so epic, we need a decade in between them.


The Ugly

The road started to get pretty treacherous.  As we were deciding whether to turn back or not, we stumbled upon a Nissan Maxima stopped in the road (we, by the way, are traveling in a GM sedan with a manual transmission).  There were 5 guys – all of middle eastern decent, mid to late 20’s – who spoke heavily accented English.  They approached our car with the bewildered traveler look and a map.  “Do you know anything about this road?”  “Nope, this is our 1st time to the park.”  We were a bit nervous, just because of the numbers game: 5 guys vs. 2 girls with no martial arts experience wasn’t a good combination.  We had mace, but these guys seemed like they were on the up and up.  “The park ranger told us to take this road, we’re going to the falls,” said one.  So were we! We decided to carry on.

The dirt road got worse.  There were puddles that could have swallowed our whole car.  The guys kept getting out of the vehicle to see how deep the puddles were and if we could navigate them.  They were kind enough to wave us through — being on the mountain, there were numerous rocks (read: boulders).  I bottomed out a few times – I was driving – and every time we thought the worst was over, the next obstacle was even more dangerous.  After about an hour – it was nearing 6pm at this point – we were chasing daylight – we decided to call the park service.  Alice not only had a working cellphone, but had the foresight to take a picture of the park emergency numbers on the map by the trail.  We told the park service where we were: McKendree Road.  Or at least that’s where the GPS told us we were.  It was the road I was intending to find, but it was so bad, I wasn’t sure if I was on the right road or not.  “You shouldn’t be out there in those vehicles,” said Ranger Obvious.  “My suggestion is to turn around.”

Turn around?!  We barely made it through some of the puddles ponds and rocks; there was no way we could do that again.  Also, this road was not conducive to turning around.  Not only was it narrow, but most of the time there was a rock wall on our left, and a 30+ foot drop on our right.  The fishtailing we were doing was dangerous in itself: one false move and we were going down the ravine.

We stopped to rest from the driving conditions; I killed the engine and opened the hood to let it cool off.  There was a real fear of spending the night on the mountain.  Luckily, we had food, water, and blankets; but still, that was not in the game plan.  We got back in the cars and kept moving.

This is a shot from Alice's iPhone on McKendree Road during one of the less intense parts.  One of the guys is sticking out of the sunroof to navigate the obstacles.

This is a shot from Alice’s iPhone on McKendree Road during one of the less intense parts. One of the guys is sticking out of the sunroof to navigate the obstacles.

As you can see from the picture, we were basically on an old mining road.  The stress was starting to get to both of us, but we kept it together, as we joked about our college days and tried to cope as well as we could.  Meanwhile, the Ranger Obvious called back to check on us.  We were still in the thick of it.  “It will get real, real steep and the road will get worse as you keep going before you hit the main road,” he said.  Get worse?!  How could it get worse?!  But oh, it did. Bigger puddles lakes and larger boulders; it got steep.  Like really steep.  While the road got scarier, it was also comforting to know that as the road got steeper, pavement was ahead; civilization was close by.  Alice spotted a stoplight from our perch and it was such a relief.  I had never been so excited to see a stoplight in my life.

We basically went 15 miles on this road in 2 hours.

Right at the end, a pickup truck appeared from behind us.  We thought it may be the park service, but it was unmarked.  We shifted over as far as we could and this guy, who could only be described as an “Old Bubba from the backhills of West Virginia” who was missing most of his teeth and smoking a cigarette.

“What der hell are y’all doing on this road?” He declared.
“We took a wrong turn.”
“When didja get on dis road?” he asked.
“Back in Thurmond.”
“Yes, sir, we did.”

We still can’t tell if he was impressed or thought we were clinically insane.  Perhaps it was a little of both.

As we made it back to the paved road, the boys’ car popped their front tire.  We were able to get to a pull off just off the road.  I wanted to make sure they had everything they needed to change the tire; afterall, they were kind enough to help us through that mess and it didn’t feel right to leave them.  Luckily, they had everything they needed (I was ready to give them my spare).  After letting the engine/nerves cool down, we called the park service to let them know we made it out alive and said our good-byes to what we called “Our angels in the Maxima” – this made them smile.  We then hightailed it to the interstate.

We stopped at the nearest Cracker Barrel for a meal fit for a king.  After fighting for our lives, a good hearty meal was in order.  One of the greeters saw us and asked how our day was going.  We gave her a quick rundown of our adventure.  She was a native lady and her eyes went wide when we said we were on McKendree Road in cars.  We were lucky to be alive.

We made it back to the hotel in Charleston and I have never been so thankful for a hot shower, a warm bed, and glass of wine.

The Bad

On our way back to the main road, we stopped for ice cream in the sleepy little town of Fayetteville, West Virginia.  On the way back to the car, we noticed the front driver’s side tire was low.  Like, really low.  We programmed our GPS and found a gas station – it turns out I had a nail in my tire.  Not good.  Luckily, there was a Wal-Mart just a few stoplights ahead.  We pulled into the service center and the country dude said they’d have it patched within the hour.  Perfect!

Alice and I grabbed sweet tea and sauntered through a clothing store until I got the call: “Uh, Mrs General?  That nail hit sidewall of the tire.  Can’t patch that.”  Crap.  So I bough a new tire.  Yee haw.  15 minutes later they call back and say that my other front tire is looking pretty bad and may blow.  Replaced that one too.  I had a 7 hour trip home, I didn’t want to take the chance of having a problem.

Just like an incredibly slow NASCAR race, I took 2 tires and got back on the road.

Now to get to Sandstone Falls, one could take the interstates (looooong)….or the backroads through the park (shortcut!).  There was one road marked quite clearly on the map we got at the visitor’s center; as someone who grew up in rural Illinois, backroads do not deter me.

The road went from blacktop, to gravel, to pitch, to dirt.  All while going up a mountain.


Look out ahead!

Just like these people about to hit the rapids, our rapid decline was just starting….


The Good

10 years ago, Alice and I went on a whirlwind tour of southern England.  It solidified our friendship and despite the physical distance between us, we’ve kept in touch quite well through the years.  Since Europe, we always said we’d do a reunion tour in 2014, something just as epic and fun.  2014 became a running line with us: “Ohhh, maybe we can do that in 2014!”  “X more years til 2014!”

Well, 2014 is here.  While we didn’t have the money to hop across the pond or go international, we decided to meet halfway in between our home cities.  Our plan was to meet in Charleston, West Virginia and hike New River Gorge (it’s that place with the big arched bridge that’s famous).  We’re both outdoorsy people with a flair for adventure.  It was perfect!

Now, I’ve only driven through West Virginia.  We figured it would boring, but downtown Charleston was quite fun.  We spent the day wandering around; it was a beautiful, scenic, and well kept city.  We had an amazing (and affordable!) dinner here and then got dessert here, which just made the night.  We had a bit of map adventure trying to reach these places, but as it always is with Alice and I, the journey is more important than the destination.  We also stayed at a semi-posh hotel right in the heart of the city with a beautiful view of the river.

The next day, we headed to the gorge to hike the mountains.

The New River Gorge Bridge (its on the back of the West Virginia quarter)

The New River Gorge Bridge (its on the back of the West Virginia quarter)

A secret waterfall off the beaten path

A secret waterfall off the beaten path

We hiked up the mountain, down the mountain, and around the mountains.  It was so gorgeous, a vastly different environment from my sea level home.  Off one of the trails we found this waterfall – if you look closely you’ll see a woman in a pink top – that’s me! – I decided to be crazy and climb up this waterfall.  It felt so good to be on the rocks again!

We had a picnic lunch of Kind Bars, Cliff Bars, and water here, with the river far down below us:

"The Lord provided this rock," said Alice of our lunch spot.

“The Lord provided this rock,” said Alice of our lunch spot.

Overall, it was such a wonderful experience to share with a dear friend.  We decided after this hike, we’d go see Sandstone Falls on the other side of the park.

And that’s when the real adventure began.