Category: Road Trips

That Time I Met the Lord on a Virginia Backroad

That Time I Met the Lord on a Virginia Backroad

Some might say that riding along through the mountains and valleys of Virginia backroads is heaven. I’m inclined to agree.

After dipping off of Virginia 42 in favor of some smaller roads, I found myself in a rolling valley. The road I was following didn’t have a stripe up the middle. It was just a small, tar ribbon snaking among the greenery.

Without anyone else around, I stopped often to take in the view. At one point, I sat for about 10 minutes observing 6 or 7 deer munching away, scratching, and being wary of me.

Continuing along this quiet little road, there were few houses and no other traffic.

It would be totally understandable that if I pulled over near a home in such a lightly traveled area, that a person who lived inside might stop what they were doing to see what I was up to. Who is this stranger on a motorcycle? Why are they parked near my house? Do they need help? Are they selling encyclopedias? Valid questions all.

While parked along a little bridge, some woman working in a churchyard just kept staring at me so intently that I found it unnerving. So much so that I said, “geez, what the hell is up with this lady?” out loud.  I figured it was clear that I was just taking photos. Afterall, I looked like a traveler given my dress and the luggage on my bike. And, I wasn’t presenting myself in a menacing way. But man, she just wouldn’t take her eyes off me.

After stowing my camera and setting off again, I figured I would just give the lady a friendly honk and a wave to let her know I wasn’t some creep casing the joint.

But when I got closer…

Oh. Right.

The Old Burke’s Garden Virginia Post Office

The Old Burke’s Garden Virginia Post Office

Following the very wiggly VA 623, will drop you into the upland valley of Burke’s Garden, Virginia. When there, something about it feels like you’re in a place cut off from the rest of the world.

The local whitepages:

My travels brought me to Burke’s Garden because of a photo I’d seen online of an old post office with a Pepsi ghost ad on the side. I was surprised to see what nice shape the mural is in. By the looks of things, that Pepsi ad is pretty well cared for.

I gingerly stepped up onto the front stoop to take a look inside. My chances of either falling through the step or being stung by bees seemed to be about 50-50. It made me chuckle to myself to think that if I was really lucky, maybe I’d be able to pull off both.

The sign above the door reads: “Burkes Garden, Va – God’s Land”

 

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial – Whitesville, West Virginia

Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial – Whitesville, West Virginia

While riding along Route 3, I passed through the town of Whiteseville, West Virginia. The small town doesn’t stand out much from any of the other small towns nestled in the West Virginia mountains. But it is home to a memorial that is an arresting sight.

“Come to me, all you who labor, and I will give you rest.”

On April 5, 2010, 29 coal miners perished in the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion. Many times during my ride through West Virginia I repeated the phrase “the mines giveth, the mines taketh away” to myself.


Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial
Whitesville, West Virginia

Just a few miles south of the memorial in Whiteseville, is a roadside memorial near the mine. It bears twenty-nine helmets perched atop crosses and photographs of the men who died there. It was moving.

While the granite memorial is important and will withstand the crush of eternity – seeing these more human elements, fragile and temporary, felt poignant. I could imagine the loved ones who replaced wreaths, came around to tidy up and to generally check on things.

And in a particularly sad twist, the absence of one word, just three little letters, said so much…

Cruising Along Route 3 – West Virginia

Cruising Along Route 3 – West Virginia

After passing through Rhodell, I spent the night in Beckley, West Virginia. That evening I sat drinking a beer alone in a restaurant, thinking about everything I’d seen along the way. Spilling my observations and secrets into my little pink notebook was cathartic.

When taking in so much input all day long, it can be hard to keep track of everything. Little vignettes that feel monumental as they pass can be so touching at the time that it is hard to imagine you could ever forget the details. But, you do. Or at least, I do. As a trip goes on the intake-then-forget process compounds as I absorb more new things and more new things and more…

Each evening during this trip after hanging up my keys for the night, I would start writing a basic outline of the places that I passed through for the day. Just a very loose timeline. From there, tracing my steps I found that I was often able to jog my memory and hang on to little snippets that might’ve otherwise been tucked away in my mental filing cabinet.

Doing memory keeping by hand requires a deliberate concentration and a general slowing down in order to make the words happen. That slow savoring is something that I never get when typing. It felt good.

The morning that I left Beckley, my plan was just to follow along route 3 to head towards Ohio. I would let the day unfold on its own while passing through coal country.

There is no telling what will move or disturb me along the road. As I’m traveling, raw nerves that I didn’t know were there become exposed. When the layers of day to day living fall away and I stop being my get up, kid to school, go to work, dinner, bedtime, repeat, robot-self, I rediscover who I am. My me. My private me.

Something about seeing this tiny shuttered library, overgrown with weeds made me feel like weeping. It felt so symbolic of everything I’d seen in the past few days. It felt like cause and effect all rolled into one.

Passing through Whitesville:

You can see the three-story brick building in the photo below. Everything changes, everything stays the same.


Photo source

Snapshots: The Odd, West Virginia Post Office

Snapshots: The Odd, West Virginia Post Office

Maybe I should just go ahead and have all my mail forwarded here 😉

I think that the first time I ever saw the name Odd, West Virginia was in a photo from David over at Less Beaten Paths blog. He always features great Americana from his travels on his site. And he’s working on a book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names. I’d say that Odd fits that bill.

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