With the devastating economic and environmental news in West Virginia of late, I’ve questioned whether I should pen this lighthearted look at The Mountain State. However, one way to help an area recovering from disaster – be it New Orleans or New Jersey or the Philippines – is by traveling there and patronizing local businesses, offering support as a tourist, either for pleasure or business.
So, I proceed, in hopes of encouraging you to consider West Virginia when you’re planning your next vacation or conference.
Although I like speed, motorized toys and I usually don’t get along. I tend to send them into trees or over ledges. When a colleague invited me to join her and her friends on an off-road excursion in West Virginia, I accepted only because I’d heard such great things about the epic scenery.
Over four days on the Hatfield-McCoy trails, one of the largest off-road vehicle trail systems in the world, I learned how to drive (and not crash) a Kawasaki Teryx side-by-side vehicle complete with rock climbing and river crossings and a few other intriguing things about West Virginia:
Romeo & Juliet (WV Style)
The Hatfield and McCoy families were the Montagues and Capulets of the late 19th century. Their squabble, complete with arson, livestock theft, kidnapping, and of course – star-crossed lovers – was so bitterly long (truce declared in 2003), it’s now part of American folklore. For more on the Hatfield-McCoy drama – check out the made-for-TV series starring Kevin Costner.
Symbolically reflecting the immensity of the two families’ feud, The Hatfield-McCoy off-highway trails cross six West Virginia counties and total more than 500 miles, featuring varied terrains for all levels, marked much like ski runs: green, blue and black.
Dirt Snouts are Desirable
After hours of riding on dusty trails, going up to 45 mph, I took off my helmet to give my neck a rest. Our guide comes over with a grin and tells me to look in the mirror. I gasped, quickly grabbing my sleeve, wiping off the dust that darkened my nose and mouth in a near perfect circle. “In these parts, a dirt snout on a girl is a beautiful thing,” he says.
When I Grow Up, I Want to Be…
Bramwell, a town with the largest number of millionaires per capita in America in the late 1800s due to the booming coal industry, is now a quiet, quaint stop off the Pocahontas trail for riders to rest-up and refuel with a tasty burger at the Corner Shop Diner (photo above). Besides historic homes to marvel at on “Millionaires’ Row,” Bramwell’s mayor is an attraction unto herself.
Lou Stoker ran for office in her 70s and has more energy than two twenty-year-olds combined. She’s also an incredible storyteller, relaying the town’s colorful history as lifelong resident and author of “Bramwell: A Century of Coal and Currency” and “Bramwell: A Town of Millionaires.” She makes it a point to personally welcome riders with down home Southern hospitality and humor. After sharing a meal with her at the Bank of Bramwell Bed & Breakfast, I can say, when I grow up, I want to be like Lou Stoker.
White Lightning is Alive & Well
After a long, chilly day on the trails, I was invited back to my colleague’s hotel room for a “warm-up.” Inside a camouflage print duffel bag, a dozen canning jars with brightly colored liquid gleamed. It was a first for me – real moonshine – in orange, apple pie, grape and peach flavors. Apparently, it is illegal to make homemade hooch without a permit (I didn’t ask if the ones I sampled had a permit). Best to sample it from a legit moonshine distillery like the recently opened Hatfield & McCoy (owned by a real Hatfield). Just a word to the wise – sip slowly, they call it “lightning” for a reason.
On October 14, 2014, West Virginia will celebrate its 35th annual Bridge Day. As one of the largest extreme sports event in the world, you can rappel, highline or base jump for over six hours from the 876 foot high New River Gorge Bridge with an audience of roughly 80k. Now that’s a high.
Big as Texas
If you got out a giant iron and flattened the state’s mountain ranges (i.e. the Appalachians), West Virginia would be the size of Texas. With a total population of less than 2 million people, it makes for an ideal locale for those who want to unplug and reconnect with nature, as much of West Virginia is undeveloped and unpopulated. The soaring Hemlocks, Beech, Aspen and Maple trees dotting the hills combined with 36 state parks, make the state truly wild and wonderful, just as the license plate touts.
Intrigued to try out a motorized adventure in the stunning landscapes of West Virginia as well? If you’re not hauling your own vehicles, reserve rentals ahead of time at Wild Willy’s (the only rental outfitter available) and fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia (CRW). Hotels and cabins are available to rent near or on the trails.
I stayed at the Twin Falls Lodge inside the Twin Falls State Park, only 10 miles from the Pinnacle Creek trailhead. Request a room with views of the park, rather than the central concrete courtyard. A permit ($50 per non-resident) is required to ride on the trails, available at the trailhead and many other local businesses.
Hot tip: Because there are no guides to hire on the Hatfield-McCoy trails or lessons available for beginning riders, go with experienced riders if it’s your first time, like it was mine.
– Lanee Lee
Photo credit indicated on each photo. If not noted, ©voyagevixens.