Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

Sorry for the disappearance, blog friends! But I have a good excuse. We spent the last three days in the mountains of West Virginia, hiking, rafting, rock climbing, and playing some mean games of Hearts at our campsite. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Our route - Good thing I like long drives.

My university has this fancy little thing called "Fall Break," which is basically a four day weekend in the middle of the semester. We decided, rather last minute, to go on a camping trip with two new friends. M is in my MFA program and her boyfriend, E, moved to Wilmington with her. They're super active and adventurous people (traveling all over the world, competing in ultra-marathons, and down for just about anything) which means they're perfect friends for us. M and E had gone whitewater rafting in West Virginia earlier this year and learned that in October, when the damn is drained, the Gauley River is home to some of the most intense rafting in the country. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Waking up to this makes for an excellent morning.

We left Sunday morning, drove for seven hours, and ended up here - at our campsite in the New River Gorge, next to the river itself, and surrounded by the most gorgeous trees that were just beginning to don their autumn colors. After living in Texas for so long, experiencing an actual fall season was dramatic, to say the least.

Our intrepid adventurers!

Breaking hearts and shooting the moon.

We spent the first night setting up camp and playing Hearts around the fire while drinking wine (for the ladies) and beer (for the boys). I've been on a serious wine kick lately - there's nothing better on cool autumn evenings. We've played Hearts before but needed to look up the rules for a reminder and discovered that we have never played with the Black Maria, which is crazy. She was the best part of the game! If you know what I'm talking about, good for you. If not, get yourself a deck of cards and Wikipedia, and dedicate an evening to Hearts. You won't be sorry!

The next morning we woke up early, had granola and almond milk + coffee, and drove to meet the rafting group. Unfortunately, only the guys were rafting this time. M sprained her ankle during her ultra-marathon a few weeks ago and it was still swollen, so she couldn't raft. I've never been and they recommend previous experience on this particular route, so I decided to stay behind with M. I was disappointed but managed to console myself with a few things. One, we plan to come back next year for a longer trip and raft down two sections of the river, which I will be able to do. Two, M and I had a chance to explore Fayetteville, WV and eat an awesome lunch, which is always nice. And Three, by not rafting I saved myself $100, which is kind of necessary right now. So: disappointed, but for the best.

The guys, on the other hand, had a blast on the river. They were gone for about five hours and M and I managed to hike to an outlook near a bend in the river and take some photos of rafts heading down the rapids. I have no idea if the guys were in any of these boats, but it was fun to pretend that we caught them on camera. The river looked wild and for a moment I was glad I'd stayed behind. But only for a moment.

The Gauley River.

Rafts approaching the rapids.

And they're off!

Hello, Autumn! I've missed you!

One more shot of the river. Gorgeous. Or GORGES, if you're punny.

As I mentioned, the ladies did not sit by the river and pine while the boys were out adventuring. Oh, no. We took our photos and then drove to nearby Fayetteville (the Coolest Small Town, according to a sign), explored the quaint streets, and had the best lunch ever.


Menu at the Vandalian. Such a great find!


The Vandalian.

We ended up eating at the Vandalian, which was the best little restaurant I've ever randomly stumbled upon. West Virginia is gorgeous but the focus in this particular area was more on natural wonders and less on small luxuries, so I didn't have high hopes for a vegan-friendly meal in the little town near the river. Oh, how wrong I was! The Vandalian looked cute so we went inside and we were blown away. An extensive wine menu (we each had a glass, which was perfect) and absolutely delicious lunches. I had a Spicy Thai Burrito, which had just the right amount of heat and so satisfying. After lingering over our wine we finally bid the Vandalian goodbye, promised to return next year, and made our way down the street to see what else Fayetteville had to offer. A theater showing Steel Magnolias, an outdoors store where we got some great rock climbing tips, a bakery, vintage stores and a Cajun restaurant, among other things. The Coolest Small Town was an excellent slogan.

Sadly, the Hobbit Hole wasn't open.

Once the boys were done rafting we got some coffee, visited the New River Gorge Bridge, which is the third largest arch bridge in the WORLD (the photo below doesn't do it justice) and then drove to a rock climbing spot we had heard about for some top roping. I haven't climbed in a long time and didn't make much progress up the wall but it was fun to hang out with other climbers and remember why I once loved to climb. Definitely a hobby we have to get back into, and when we come back next year for rafting we plan to dedicate a whole day to climbing. This was just a preview.

The New River Gorge Bridge.

A friendly caterpillar.

Nathan climbing up the crack.

That night we camped again, played some more Hearts, and polished off two more bottles of wine. When we woke up, we had a leisurely morning of coffee by the river, which was now covered in fog. Just as it started to rain lightly, we packed up our gear and started the long, long drive home. We had such wonderful weather for most of our trip that we couldn't be upset about the rain on the last morning. In fact, it made it a little easier to say goodbye to West Virginia.
Fog hanging heavy over the river.

Our campsite, before the rain started.

Clearly, we had a great time on our last minute trip. I've spent so much of the last seven years camping in East Texas that being in West Virginia felt like a foreign country. Even if we just drove through the mountains and gazed at the leaves changing, I would have been happy. I forget sometimes how diverse the US is - watching the landscape shift and change as we drove over bridges and through mountains was a powerful and beautiful thing.

Today I'm back home in Wilmington, drinking coffee and giving my massive to-do list the side eye. But first: an easy five mile run and a trip to the dog park. Priorities, people. Priorities.