July 3, 2014
OK, so I always forget to pack something basic.
This time it was extra handkerchiefs (but despite my big nose, that was no problem) and my camera. Say what?
I did a Google search at the Best Western on Wednesday night for Canon cameras. I chose Manassas as the place, because I was going to pass right by there on the way to Smoke Hole in West Virginia.
There is a Best Buy in Manassas. God, I hate Best Buy. So I read up on the selection of cameras and knew what I wanted, something under $100, light so I can carry it in my pocket. OK, so I won’t need a lot of the help that isn’t available there.
As it turns out, it wasn’t too bad. I had to serve myself and then wait around till the one guy who may be able to answer a couple of questions was available. The phone at the counter rang two or three times while I was waiting, and I was astonished. Somebody actually answered the phone. At Best Buy. Wow, try to call up the store in Totowa sometime. That’s really why I hate Best Buy.
I bought a package that included a camera case, tripod (which maybe I’ll use someday), and an eight-gig memory card. I also bought an extra battery, which is a good thing because the one that came with the camera had almost no charge at all. That one’s in the charger now, plugged into the wall.
Batteries and memory are important. My battery started to go in Albuquerque, but I was lucky because the city has a Batteries Plus store. My memory card, back in the days when two gigabytes was a lot, filled up when I was on top of the Petroglyph National Monument. I cringe to think what images were lost to posterity by that mishap.
I was planning to make a quick stop at the Manassas battlefield to try out the new camera, and to see the place for the first time, but I got onto Interstate 66 in the wrong direction. Actually, I wasn’t supposed to get onto the Interstate at all. So rather than go back, I said, no, some other time. It isn’t really difficult to reach, maybe four hours from home without traffic, like if you leave New Jersey after 7 or 8 p.m.
The trip to West Virginia from Washington isn’t overwhelming, and the traffic drops off as you get away from the capital. I took a small detour that sent me through Strasburg, Va. I’ve been there a couple of times before but not in the past 15 years.
It’s a small town that has seen better days, but it has enough attractions, including the old Strasburg Inn, that spending a day and a night there can be fun. Ah, but Strasburg on this trip was a moment’s distraction and nothing more. I was headed west to grow up with the country. Well, maybe not grow up, but I was headed west.
This was extra fun, by the way, because I was using the GPS for the first time in a couple of years. It’s not bad, as long as you check on other sources where you want to go, just to confirm that it isn’t sending you around the bend.
Strasburg wasn’t on the GPS agenda, so the computer voice kept saying “Recalculating,” “Recalculating,” and giving me new instructions that I was ignoring. It’s fun to mess with a computer’s head.
I did it several times. I was buzzing down the road when I saw a sign for Lost River Recreation Area. OK, is this where the river dives underground and gets lost? Let’s go see. “Recalculating,” “Recalculating.” But then a sign gave me the distance, another 16 miles. That would be a couple of hours at least, or more, depending on how fast I could find the hole where the river disappears.
So I went back to a grocery store and self-styled deli to order a sandwich. But you can’t order at a counter here. Instead, you pick up something made beforehand—in my case ham (which is all right) and American cheese (which isn’t all right). It was on whole wheat, because of course I have this fantasy that I am shoring up my body with whole grains, if for no other reason than to be able to abuse my health properly.
The sandwich was stale on one side, so much so that for a second I thought the bread was toasted. The other side wasn’t soggy so much as wet. But I remembered what my good friend Jack Ryan told me many years ago: The best sauce is hunger.
I had eaten a four-ounce container of yogurt and three mini corn muffins (about an ounce each) for breakfast. That was around 8 in the morning. I had that scary sandwich at 2 in the afternoon, and the timing was perfect. I knew it was awful, but I wolfed it down.
I picked up a piece of cheese at the same store. It was supposed to be an ersatz pepper jack. Jack cheese is usually pretty soft and fatty, and this was atrocious. Jack T. may want to do something about the association of his name with such a poor excuse for food. But Jack, maybe you should wait till the verdict comes down in the copyright suit that Lindsay Lohan has brought against the video game that includes a caricature of her.
Above all, the pepper processed cheese food product left me craving sweets. I took care of that when I stopped to buy gasoline. I got some cherry gum drops and Chips Ahoy cookies.
So far, I haven’t touched the cookies, but I ate some of the gum drops with some more of the cheese. Somehow, disrespecting my stomach like that really confirmed that I was on a road trip.
At some point I stopped at West-WhiteHill Winery for a tasting. I had passed a couple of wineries in Virginia, and some Virginia wines can be good. Something made me stop in West Virginia. Maybe mischief.
I tasted the two dry varieties available and bought them both. Just for the hell of it, I’m going to ask Larry to taste them and hear what he has to say.
Larry is watching the house for me right now. Yeah, he’s back in the States. He says his visa ran out in the European Union, but I don’t know. Maybe they ran him out.
I came through Petersburg, West Virginia, for what I remember as the first time. It’s a charming little southern town, but not much to write about.
Using both the GPS and a Google map, I was headed to a local landmark, the Old Judy Church. It used to be Methodist, but I wanted to see it anyway. It’s a log building made in the 1830s., and blah, blah, blah, (more information than anyone needs). My friend Jean Thilmany plugs that into copy that she’ll fix up later.
I plowed down the highway for two days, maybe a week, without eating or drinking. Sorry, on reflection, I see that may be an exaggeration. But I’m not sure.
Anyhow, I passed a historical marker headed “Old Judy Church.” Damn, all right, I found it. I came back to read the sign that says it was a church until it was abandoned in 1910, and then was rededicated in the 1930s as a place for public gatherings.
The only weird thing is that there’s a sign telling me it is the oldest log building in Pendleton County, and it was made from logs cut right nearby, but there is no trace of the church.
The sign is in front of a closed gate that blocks a path that goes down precipitously to what appears to be a stream. (That sentence, by the way, apparently was inspired by “The House That Jack Built.)
There’s no other road in sight. Are there restricted hours for this? You know, like from 6 to 9 on Saturday you can put your boots on and hike to the church?
I dunno. Life is like that, full of mysteries.
So after that disappointment, I headed to Smoke Hole Cavern and Seneca Rocks.
Smoke Hole Cavern is a natural formation with a hole in the top. The Indians and later the European settlers who displaced the Indians used it to smoke meat. Now it seems to be controlled by people who own a motel there. That may be fine and worth a trip someday, but today I continued to Seneca Rocks. These are impressive rock formations, looking almost like Mohawk haircuts.
There is a legend that an Indian princess named Snow Bird challenged her suitors to chase her up the peak and the guy who could catch her would be her boy.
Heading back north, I saw a sign that had sounded weird enough to be interesting. I had ignored it the first time around because I was going too fast.
There was a brown sign (U.S. Dept of the Interior) that only said “Dolly Sods.” A weird name like that, you know I had to go there. It’s a national forest or something like it. There’s a long washboard dirt road that goes up and up, maybe forever. I got weary after about six days and came down the way I’d gone up.
A sign at the bottom of the hill said what the place was about. A parked UPS truck blocked the view of the sign when I came down. So I parked a little farther down and walked back to look.
The driver, a lady, came out of the back of the truck and saw me as I walking by. The last thing she expected to see was another human being—that is on his feet, standing outside her truck. The poor woman almost fainted.
“I’m terribly sorry. I just want to get some information off this sign. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Then when the lady got her breath back, she told me that hunters go up to Dolly Sods for big game, including bear.
From there I pretty much pushed to Morgantown, which was some distance away. GPS did a great job, but insisted on a street and number. So I wound up in a residential district.
Next step was to find a bar. Gibby’s Pub and Eatery on High Street sounded OK. I went there and than asked GPS for places to stay. This is the magic of GPS, by the way. Top on the list was the Morgan Clarion Hotel, a fifth of a mile from the bar.
I parked in front of the hotel. They not only had a room, but they also had parking. I’m writing from my room there now,
I walked back to the Gibby’s. The food was OK. Well, not exactly. I ordered something called Cajun Penne Alfredo, just for the cultural weirdness. It even came with salad.
When the salad came, I was reminded that I was in West Virginia. The dressing came on the side, in a plastic envelope.
Way too much garlic in the main dish.
The taps, however, surprised me. I expect West Virginia to be the Midwest, so when I walk into a bar and find half a dozen ales on tap, I am brought up short. In a good way,
I forget the name of the first ale I tried. It was something artisanal that I had not heard of before. Forgive me, future generations, for not being able to name it, because it was good. The second was called “Alpha Blonde,” and also very good because blond ales usually are.
On the walk back to the hotel, I passed a young lady talking to a man who was lying on the sidewalk.
“Do you need help?” she said.
I think he said yes.
That’s when I horned in. “Call the police. They’re trained to handle stuff like this. You and I aren’t.
I stayed around till the cop car came. Then I got the out of there. Hell, I had a switchblade in my pocket.
Be well, all, and don’t sleep on the sidewalk.