This past Fall, Seraphim had a training seminar for Wilton Method cake instructors up in the wilds of Pittsburgh. Seeing as how I'm never one to pass up the opportunity to take a road trip, especially to places I've never visited, we made a mini-vacation out of it.
If you're curious, the trip spanned September into October -- check the archive for various posts during the visit.
A fairly good chunk of the route between Rincon and Pittsburgh includes West Virginia. Now, mind you, the impression I've had over the years was that The Mountain State was on a par with Arkansas and the Deep South states -- that is, a state with a lot of baggage. A reputation for "hillbillies" on every corner, squealing like pigs, if you catch my drift.
That impression changed somewhat after I moved to Savannah, and I got to know one of my co-workers, who is a proud West Virginia native (and extremely devout Marshall University fan).
And then came our visit. It started on the morning of September 27, 2006, when it was raining sheets, buckets and canned hams as we entered West Virginia on I-64. We stopped at the welcome center, and that's when I got the surprise of my life: it was staffed by people who not only were genuinely friendly (ref. my recent tirade about so-called "Southern hospitality"), but who loved their state, and -- get this! -- knew about their state. I had several questions about a landmark nearby which, as a road geek, has piqued my curiosity for years. They were practically animated as they all but threw brochures and maps at the two of us. There was even a county map in the mix. Wow!
It was, honestly, the best experience I've ever had with a welcome center. It's how a welcome center is supposed to be. This is a blog treatise waiting to happen, so I'll hold off on what I think about the great, the middling, the bad and the ugly.
Our next stop was the museum at Point Pleasant. We were not disappointed. And the two ladies who managed the facility were sooooo nice. Again, it was a genuine niceness. I had a number of questions about the Silver Bridge, and they had nothing but answers. The museum also had a working steamboat whistle (I have to say it was strange seeing a lot of river and paddlewheel lore this far from Memphis and the Mississippi River ... but I was forgetting that we were a block away from the banks of that other big river, the Ohio!).
Then came the return trip, taking us through West Virginia's midsection. The highlight was a stop at the New River Gorge visitor's center, where we copped a view of the world's largest steel bridge (and the second highest in the U.S.). Then I looked down the canyon from the observation deck and saw the OLD bridge ... and the winding, narrow roads leading down to it on both sides.
My heart went aflutter. That's when I realized something: I'd fallen in love with West Virginia. By then we were pretty much on a timetable to get back home at a reasonable hour, so there wasn't the time to drive the "old road." I wanted so much to go down to that old bridge and see the arch span from that angle.
In recent years I've grown to love the mountains. I love driving on winding roads, or modern-day interstates with peaks and gaps visible from all angles. For me, there's nothing like early '70s Van Morrison, Steely Dan or - more recently - Norah Jones as a soundtrack while my heart becomes one with the hills.
In past years, Seraphim and I have made a tradition of making an anniversary trip (give or take a month or two, heh heh) to a cabin in the mountains. Previously we've enjoyed north Georgia's Appalachian spread from the Fannin County town of Blue Ridge. But not this time. I have to return to West Virginia. Her terrain is calling my name in a voice nearly as sweet as Seraphim's.
Tomorrow (Thursday), we're bound for Mount Nebo, W.Va. and a cabin therein. I am so looking forward to this. What's more, we have tickets for this Sunday night's taping of the Public Radio show Mountain Stage. Bruce Cockburn is headlining the show. I don't believe I need to tell you my excitement level is off the chart right about now.
The big question I have, of course, is will it be as wonderful on our sophomore visit? I'll have that answer when next I post to this blog ... probably next Tuesday.
Best of all? The weather forecast calls for SNOW on Friday into Saturday.
Yeah. Bring it on.
Ciao for niao.
--Talmadge "Flatland Tourist" Gleck
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