I opted to take the entire day off since 1) things were settling down at work, and 2) the drive from the Washington, DC metropolitan area to Oak Hill, WV is a very long, five-hour drive (little known fact, Oak Hill’s singular bit of notoriety is Hank Williams’ dead body was found there back in 1953). The days before leaving were spent gearing up with some things I didn’t have on hand – a decent-sized cooler (one person brought the food that we all chipped in on, and the rest of us brought assorted beverages of the alcoholic variety to share), an extra sleeping bag (some were concerned about the sleeping arrangements), and quick-dry outer wear. Naturally, work wasn’t quite done with me and I was coerced into a morning conference call which ended just in time for me to get the Hell out of town by lunchtime. After a few stops to get some last minute items and gas, I was on the road.
Relativity on I-81
Having spent seven years of my life at Virginia Tech,(1) I was all too familiar with I-81. Granted, it falls short of a coast-to-coast road trip, but except for the brief passes by Harrisonburg/James Madison University, the “city” of Roanoke,(2) and the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind,(3) there’s absolutely nothing of interest down that particular stretch of tarmac. I have vivid memories of driving home to Northern Virginia or heading back down to school where the long trek between Strasburg, VA and I-64’s west-bound split from I-81 was akin to traveling at lightspeed – where higher speed limits seem to slow time down or grind it to an unnerving halt. Passing farms and fields of grazing cattle, you can almost hear the farmer lazily waving back at you with a bellowing, slow-motion “HEEEEELLLOOOOO…”
I haven’t done this drive in a few years (the previous two were a weekend trip to see one of Virginia Tech’s spring football scrimmages, and the other part of a group motorcycle ride), but the familiar landmarks jogged memories of previous road trips – sitting in bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic as all of the big universities and smaller colleges let out, adventures in overloaded cars with college friends en route to concerts and other events, heading home for the summer or going back to school with most of my earthly possessions. I even remember driving north on the stretch between Virginia Tech and Roanoke and passing by one of my then roommates surveying on top of a median hill for the civil engineering company he used to work for (I’m still not sure if he realized who it was honking at him).
Is it odd to be a sentimental over a boring piece of interstate?
(1) No, smartass, I didn’t get my degree on the “extended” plan. I completed my BA and MA work there back-to-back.
(2) The town formerly called “Big Lick” has the distinction of being home to Ancient Art Tattoo where I got my first tattoo. Roanoke was also home to the now defunct Roanoke Express, a mid-league hockey team so bad that fans would heckle the team in hopes of starting a fight with them since they weren’t fighting the opposing team.
(3) My family lived in Charlottesville, VA for a few years while I was growing up, and the only available special education at the time for my autistic sister was at the former DeJarnette Center in Staunton, VA. For many years, I thought the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind was that former school, but I was obviously mistaken.
West Virginia – Wild and Wonderful
Heading west on I-64 through southwestern Virginia and then West Virginia is a roller coaster ride of dodging slow trucks up one mountain ridge after another and then racing them on the downside. Since I drive an SUV, I’m not exactly greased lightning, so I played highway tag with a few other drivers zipping in and out of tricky spots. On top of that, this is West Virginia, a mysterious, foreign land where the local hobbies consist of various misdemeanors (with varying levels of nudity), shooting road signs, moonshining, meth use and cops doling out speeding tickets to drivers with out-of-state license plates. So, I made sure not to let my lead foot get out of control too much. As I got closer to my destination, I couldn’t help to notice the numerous road signs for several “gentlemen’s clubs” – so many, in fact, that I was beginning to wonder if the local economy relied on stripping as the second largest form of revenue. The most heavily advertised place was called Southern Xposure,(1) which while tempting to check out, a few of us mused later that it would be tough to find even one girl there who was both attractive and had all of her teeth.(2)
I was the first to arrive, so I had the first look at the cabin. The outfitter’s grounds cover a big piece of land, so the cabins and support/operations buildings formed something of a small town. Everything even slightly resembled something out of the old west, complete with dirt/gravel roads begging for a gunfight at high noon. The cabin itself was…interesting. The thing to keep in mind is this is at an outdoor sports mecca, so one doesn’t journey to central West Virginia expecting a stay at the Ritz. However, the description we were given defined the cabin as having accommodations for up to a dozen people with a kitchen and a bathroom. Well, they didn’t lie…if you consider all of the beds situated in one room upstairs as the accommodations and a kitchen empty cabinets, a sink, microwave and coffee maker. The bathroom was decent enough, but the shower stall was one of the more claustrophobic ones I ever had to use.(3) There was a decent-sized grill sitting out on the porch, so cooking was meant to be simple. If you were hoping for soufflés and escargot, then you wandered into the wrong part of the world, my friend. If you’ve spent any time on an outdoor adventure, then you want your meals to be easy to cook anyway because a lack of energy and/or sobriety dictates against anything more complicated than grilled meat on a bun. And frankly, there are few things more simply perfect than that.
I stopped in Beckley, WV on the way in to fill up my cooler with ice, and the two cases of Blue Moon I brought along were ice cold perfection by the time I unloaded and kicked back on the cabin’s picnic table.(4) Shortly afterward, two older women from the neighboring cabin hopped over to chat and were curious about whether our cabin was the same as theirs. Besides the fact that I could smell the booze they were already drinking (admittedly, I was already starting my second Blue Moon of the evening), they asked about taking a peek inside while walking in without stopping. Since I hadn’t unpacked my personal stuff yet, there was nothing inside beyond the furniture, so I let them wander in, yammering away with each other the whole time. We discovered later on that their group was entirely made up of women of a certain age range, so we nicknamed their cabin “Cougartown.” They were nice and our fire pits were next to each other, so there was a lot of shared conversations with them both nights. Some of the guys in our crowd did some flirting with them, but I heard one or two cock blocking declarations like “My husband…” or “My boyfriend…” which I’m assuming killed hopeful prospects for some of our crowd.
A few of our group who opted to camp out showed up a shortly after the cougars wandered back to their cabin and we were chatting it up and drinking while the rest of our merry band steadily arrived. Now, when I say that Caroline is notoriously full of energy, what I really mean is connecting her to a turbine would solve the world energy crisis. Given her move back home to Michigan, she was understandably and pretty damn hyper to see everyone when she arrived. She’s a ball full of spastic energy under normal operating conditions, so you can imagine her bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm when she’s excited. By 9:00 PM, everyone was there, many drinks consumed and bratwursts eaten. The cabin also came with a fire pit, so that was blazing away by sundown, which made things cozy in the chilled mountain night air.
Eventually, exhaustion and anticipation for tomorrow’s big river ride got the better of us and we retreated to our respective tents or faux-concrete beds. Fumbling in the dark to get sheets on the bed and collapse was accompanied by my fellow cabin mates’ snoring. Since I’m not exactly unknown to snoring, I can’t be too hard on anyone else who does, but one person suffered from one of the worst cases of sleep apnea I’ve ever heard in my life. At times he would go eerily silent, only to disrupt the night’s peace by gasping for air. Before falling asleep, there were a few moments of that absolute silence where I wondered if needed to shake him. Not only to make sure he was okay, but because I’ve yet to sleep in the same room as a dead body, and I wasn’t ready to scratch that particular item off of my bucket list.
(1) If you have ask yourself “I wonder if this link is SFW?” then you need to get off the internet and never come back.
(2) Then again, you may not want her to have all of her teeth…and you’ll have to get your own brain bleach for that one. You’re welcome.
(3) My hotel room’s shower stall in Bordeaux is still the hands down winner for first place. Given that I’m not a giant in stature, for me to say a space is a bit cramped can only imply far worse for larger and taller people.
(4) I also brought a bottle of Captain Morgan and sodas for mixing, and there was an ongoing competition of some people hiding it in the freezer or leaving it out on the table.