Okay, well maybe not the kind which keeps you inside because either it's too cold or too treacherous to venture outside anywhere.
We knew the forecast called for snow in our area of West Virginia after a cold front passed through, but we had no idea that on St. Patrick's Day we'd be greeted with four inches of luscious powdery snow!
Pictured here is the cabin where we stayed. Four nights of near-rustic fun. Yes, there was electricity, running water, indoor plumbing and, indeed, a colour television. And a DVD player.
But no cable. Just a single antenna and a handful of channels from Charleston and Beckley. The clearest signal came from the nearest W. Va. Public Broadcasting affiliate. Personally, I couldn't have cared less (basic cable does nothing for me), but Seraphim was beginning to go into Hallmark Channel and/or Food Network withdrawal by the time we started for home. I brought some DVDs of classic TV I'd gotten in a recent trade, along with a couple of movies for us to watch. We both figured it was way past time for us to watch A Prairie Home Companion (great movie, by the way - highly recommended). Since we didn't have it yet, we bought the DVD at Wally World in nearby Summersville while procuring our groceries.
Our trip up there was okay and uneventful until we started north of Wytheville, Va., past the I-77/I-81 split. This was the portion I was really looking forward to, as we'd be hitting the serious hills of Appalachia. There are two tunnels on I-77, the Big Walker Mountain and the East River Mountain; the latter is the border between Virginia and wild 'n' wonderful West Virginia.
Not two miles north of I-81 we hit an ugly bottleneck. What was going on, we wondered?? Well, after nearly a half hour of that nonsense, I took the nearest median crossing -- disregarding the "AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY" warning -- and doubled back on 77. We'd have to take ... [cue Bernard Hermann music from Psycho] ... THE OLD ROAD.
Said "old road" was US-52. I was beginning to get a bit disappointed that we wouldn't get to go through the Big Walker tunnel this time. Ahhh, but there's a county road connecting 52 to the interstate just south of the tunnel. Maybe there was a bad accident or something, and we could enjoy a leisurely detour without missing our chance to have a mountain on top of us.
Guess again. The bottleneck was caused by work being done in the tunnel. This was a seven-mile long traffic-jam! Oh well, back to 52 and the old road. We'll give your regards to Norman and Mother.
So ... the Glecks got a taste of just what kind of experience it was traveling before the tunnel opened in the 1970s. We're talking serious mountain roads here, where if you get over 25 MPH you're a reckless speed demon! I love 'em. But Seraphim has her reservations, especially when there aren't many guardrails.
Just as we came down from Big Walker onto a valley, where we'd rejoin I-77 at Bland, Virginia (and that's a town, not an adjective), we ran into the rain. From there it was wet going all the way into Mount Nebo, however I had a wonderful surprise when we made a pit stop north of Beckley: I bought a $1.00 scratch-off, and won 40 bucks!! Yea, West Virginny!
And the West Virginia Lottery Commission, who own the handful of "gaming centers" (read: casinos) in the state, was good to me one more time. The next night we took 'the scenic route' -- as challenging as Big Walker Mountain, and then some -- up to Charleston, where we hit the casino.
Stakes: $50.00, plus splitting our "change pot" = $30.00 each.
Seraphim: lost everything.
Talmadge: hit a small jackpot on the nickel slots. Payout: $30.00. Left building with $34.00.
As we were heading back toward home it began snowing. While eating a late-night breakfast/supper at IHOP, it was starting to stick. By the time we got back to the cabin, we had a nice half-inch.
The next morning - Saturday the 17th -- we awakened to a beautiful sight: four inches on the ground and still coming down strong. It was the most snow I'd seen since the big Alabama 'blizzard' of March 1993, where Troy got about 4-5 inches. More importantly, though, it was the most snow Seraphim had seen in her entire life.
Plans to just 'hang out' in the cabin all day were shelved because we just had to get out in the snow and build a snowman. No gloves? No problem! Seraphim had an idea: we raided the stash of Wal-Mart bags from Thursday night, and put one on each of our hands. We always pack an extra days' worth of socks 'n' undies, so we put our "just in case" socks over those. Yeah!
My wife wanted a snowball fight. So she got one. We both had it out in the field behind our cabin. I don't think I'd thrown that many snowballs since living in Missouri back in early high school!
Did I mention a snowman? Well......the best-laid plans of mice and men, and of older people who don't have the endurance and stamina of young chirren, went astray. Plan B: I put some more Wal-Mart bags over my shoes (so as not to track a lot of snow into our living room) and went out onto our front deck and proceeded to build one. We named him Darrel (don't ask).
Hey! We said we were going to build a snowman -- we said nothing about how BIG it was gonna be, so just shut up!
Alas, we had to improvise a bit on his facial features. We had some baby carrots on hand, so that took care of the nose. The "eyes" came from two of Seraphim's ibuprofen tablets. Sometimes ya gotta with the army you have.
After immersing ourselves in a second childhood, we had to get out and drive in this winter wonderland (March 17 = still Winter). As I was clearing the snow from the windshield, headlights and side windows, I forgot about something. I still had those Wal-Mart bags tied over my shoes. Traction = nada. I realized this as I was airborne. I slipped on a slick piece of compressed slush, my smiley-faced feet moving forward in a Tenacious D power slide and the rest of me en route to a rendezvous with the cold, cold ground.
That's right, gang, I fell flat on my head, back and arseparts. Fortunately (!) I was okay. A little dazed, but no more confused than I usually am. My cap fell off right against the support post for the deck outside the kitchen door. It's a good thing I'm 5"11", 'cuz had I been as tall as my brother or father (both 6' 5"), my head would've hit that post. Not good.
But boy did my neck and upper back feel plenty sore that evening. Phew.
Lucky for me I still had my lower functions. We got into the car (after having discarded my shoe covers) and first went into Summersville to have lunch at one of our favorite eateries, Bob Evans (our first meal together as a married couple was at the Bob Evans in Lake City, Fla.), and then drove around the countryside. Just down Old US-19, a/k/a WV 41, I found a wonderful piece of Americana - certainly dating back to when this was the main drag:
A Mail Pouch Barn!! These puppies were as common up in the WV/OH/PA/KY area as "See Rock City" barnroofs were in the Deep South. Mail Pouch chewing tobacco ("Treat Yourself to the Best") hailed from Wheeling, WV, and - to my knowledge - is still being made. For decades they would barter with barn owners to have their buildings painted with the advertisement, in exchange for having their entire barn painted and, often, with a healthy supply of Mail Pouch chew on the side. There are a lot of sites dedicated to these disappearing icons, just plug the name into Google and have at it.
Sunday: we made The Drive. Yes, the narrow and winding road down New River canyon to the "old bridge", the one we saw from the overlook last October. As I said recently, I wanted so much to see the arch bridge from that angle. And I did!!!
Luckily for our safety (and Seraphim's sanity), the 'old road' has since been converted to one way traffic. After seeing the condition of the road throughout her daunting descent (some of those hairpins were royal doozies!), I did not quibble with this decision. Going up, though, was less nerve-wracking.
From here it was to Charleston - again - via the West Virginia Turnpike, where between Beckley and Charleston it winds most of the way between two steep mountain walls. Our destination? The Cultural Center Theater on the State Capitol grounds. We had the immense pleasure of watching a recording of Mountain Stage with Larry Groce. Bruce Cockburn's performance was spot-on good, but I'm afraid he was a bit eclipsed by this one young Hawaiian who, with his ukelele, performed so magnificently and fiercely (I swear, our own fingers were bleeding after watching him play!!), that I believe it was the bottom of Arthur Godfrey's dropped jaw from above I was feeling on my head. Brave Combo were pretty good, too.
It was a great time we had in West Virginia. A great time. Truly, I love it up there and already I'm aching to go back. There's a peace I feel up in the mountains. When I drink it all in, I feel close to God. He gave us that vision as a gift. And I revere the citizens of West Virginia for taking pride in their landscape and being such good stewards of His creation.
I wonder if, at age 42, I've found my future retirement home? Time will tell.
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "Mountaineer" Gleck
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