Is The Middle of Nowhere Still The Middle of Nowhere Anymore?
My wife and I just celebrated our 11th anniversary on the 27th, and instead of fancy gifts, lately we’ve celebrated by traveling—using our anniversary to visit a bed & breakfast in a unique small town within five hours’ drive. We’ve done Salem, MA (witches!), Cape May (water!), Ocean City, MD (more water!) and Hudson, NY (… I still have no idea why we went to Hudson, but the place we stayed had great coffee and the scenery was beautiful).
This year’s destination? Smoke Hole, West Virginia. This trip put us outside our comfort zone more than any we’ve taken before. It was not the relaxing getaway we’d originally thought it would be, and I’ll explain via a few vignettes.
As soon as we entered West Virginia, our cell signal cut out. Almost right at the border, as if by design. And I’m not talking “calls had static” or “phones went into Extended Service Network”. No service, at all. It was as if we had gone back to using Sprint!
Our phones were now Apple-branded cameras and paperweights which would have been fine, except we were using my phone for navigation. Nothing like having your map go out with 80 miles to go on winding mountain roads. Luckily, fearing my battery might die on the trip, I had printed directions to and from our hotel as a precaution.
When we got to the inn, which was eight miles (aka, a 25-minute drive!) off the main road, I found out that their Internet was satellite-fed, and they had already exceeded their bandwidth allotment for the month. No phone, no Internet for three days—all of which my wife was fine with until she realized that also meant no Netflix.
We had no GPS, nor did we have a map of West Virginia to use. We were on our own, apart from the “map” they include in the tourist brochures. The incredibly accurate one where all the road signs are cartoon characters, there’s no indication of “North” and distances and measurements were afterthoughts… with such top-notch cartography it’s a wonder we made it anywhere.
Back Off The Saddle Again
We went horseback riding up Seneca Rocks, which is a mountain with a particularly picturesque sheer granite face. Absolutely stunning to see up close, and it’s amazing how quiet the world can be when you’re that high up and that far removed from other people. But…
Did you know horses can get involved in love triangles? Did you know horses can bicker back and forth like teenagers?
As we learned later, my wife’s horse and the trail guide’s horse were both attempting to… uh… bond… with the same mare, and were each making their case by nipping, kicking and generally being jerks to each other the entire ride back down the mountain. Pushing & shoving is fine in the stable… on the edge of a narrow trail with a 100’ drop a foot away, not so much. The trail ride soon turned into a trail walk for my wife and the trail guide, until the horses started nipping and kicking each other behind the trail guide’s back. Then it turned into a trail get-back-to-the-stable-on-an-ATV-while-farm-hands-laugh-at-you.
My horse, George, was fine. Chocolate colored with white patches above each hoof, strong & gentle and about 16 hands tall. He was a handsome devil, but apparently he had a physical defect or something, because all the hikers we passed would talk about “the goofy-looking ass” on that dark brown horse. I didn’t get too close but I did try to look. While I’m not a vet, his hindquarters looked like all the other horses’. Weird.
The Long & Winding Roads
The whole area is deceptively small. Months ago, when we planned all this, we looked at the map and saw that most everything we wanted to do was within 15 miles of the inn. Those would be quick trips, right?
If you are ever given a prognosis of “months to live”, just go ahead and move to West Virginia. Every day there takes forever.
Trips up and down these narrow, winding mountain roads, when handled carefully and cleanly by my wife, produced 10 mile trips in the 30-40 minute range. Calm and quiet, no drama and we could have pleasant conversation. When I had the wheel, those same roads started to bring back memories of watching the Pikes Peak Hill Climbs as a kid. Ever heard the sound a minivan’s tires make when rounding a hairpin corner, downhill, at 45 MPH? Ever heard the sound a terrified woman can make as the passenger in a minivan performing such a maneuver?! I didn’t drive much the rest of the trip.
But outside of the Internet thing, navigating blindly and my driving like a race car driver/idiot (The argument’s still out on this one. Stay tuned!) we had an unexpectedly wonderful time. We saw more stars than my wife had ever seen, and that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in the Alabama countryside. To go outside and hear nothing was refreshing. For all intents and purposes, we disappeared off the face of the earth for a weekend and, while it was difficult, we loved it.
The middle of nowhere is still the middle of nowhere! Our technology was useless and we weren’t connected to anything. We were forced to rely on what know instead of what the Internet could tell us, and at first it was disconcerting but quickly became an entertaining challenge. And I know this sounds trivial to anyone reading this, as most everyone reading this grew up and raised a family without the Internet or cell phones, but that disconnect was jarring at first. Try running your errands this weekend without your phone. See how many times you instinctively reach for it only to not have it. Then you’ll see what I mean.
And I would be remiss to ignore the hospitality we received at the inn. It was out of this world. This B&B was a B&B&D—they did dinner, too—and Saturday’s five-courser included a bear soup legitimately made with bear meat. Ever had bear? It tastes a little… Smokey… The owners were a sommelier/chef and a baker. The cookies she kept in the always-full jar were almost as good as Emily’s. Almost! I got the recipe from her and told her I would share—get it here—but be warned that it makes six dozen BIG cookies. Maybe halve the measurements?