West Virginia - the Half Promised Land

I had a lot of exotic ideas about where I would take the kids on vacation this year but they never really panned out. The holiday funds were eaten up by lawyers and acrimony and suddenly the summer that began with high hopes of freedom was almost over.

That idea of a villa fringed by palm trees had been receding over the last two months until it was reduced to a tiny tent amid the dust of an obscure lake in West Virginia. I didn't let the downsizing of my dreams depress me unduly. I had never been to West Virginia so it remained a mysterious and uncharted place. And from a British mindset West Virginia seems like a fascinating and insulated place beloved of hillbillies, people who handle snakes in churches and twangy mountain singers.

The trip out did not exactly go according to plan. In hindsight it was probably not a great idea to move my furniture to my new apartment in the morning and embark on a five hour drive in the afternoon to a campsite.

We didn't hit the road until 2 pm and the specter of putting up a tent in the pitch dark aided only by a cheap Wal Mart flashlight was unappealing. Worse still my eyelids were drooping on the road after just an hour before we even reached Petersburg. It was clearly a time for desperate measures - otherwise known as gas station coffee. This stuff can strip paint off walls and it did the job of giving me a massive jolt and keeping me awake, although it failed to save me from a Siri malfunction a few miles north of Richmond. My Siri is actually a man with a British accent but he's still amazingly stupid and once tried to send me to a location in Australia when I was seeking directions for five miles in Virginia Beach.

The Siri malfunction and the inevitably static traffic on I-95 meant that three hours into the drive, West Virginia remained a far off dream. Admitting defeat I pulled over into a Super 8, thus putting off the prospect of arriving at a camp site at 10 p.m. and falling into a half deflated air mattress. I once read in a Rough Guide that Super 8 is the best budget motel and I had few complaints once I had called for instructions on how to turn on the light. I'm not sure if $80 a night counts as budget but it's always a bonus to wake up without roaches in one's mouth I find.

The only downside of the hotel was it was close to the retail park from hell. When you are with kids hell equates to the number of stores and the presence of Five Below.

The next day it took another two hours to reach West Virginia but I am happy to say we made it. We pulled over at a viewing area and took pictures of mountains that looked rather similar to those in Virginia. Then we headed over empty roads and past high hills studded with somber wind farms to reach Blackwater Falls State Park.

If there is one constant about West Virginia it's the fact it seems more empty than anywhere else I have been to. Even Blackwater Falls - a popular state park emptied after hours and there were just a handful of tents and campers in the camp ground.

Blackwater Falls State Park is breathtakingly beautiful. Of course by the time I reached the viewing platform, the five-year-old had seen it and done it and wanted to head back up the path. We also tried some trails - a concept that always leaves the kids whining and groaning. Amid the demands for candy from non existent candy machines, ice cream and crazy bear hats it can be hard to appreciate beauty. But looking back this place was beautiful with the added advantages of not having a Five Below for hundreds of miles.


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