West Virginia: Wild And Wonderful
The plan was that I was going to climb a mountain.
This was back in November. In honor of my fortieth birthday. Climb a mountain. That seemed like a good fortieth birthday thing to do. And on Worldleathermen, I ran across a guy who was a rock guide. We planned a weekend, but it had to be postponed. And this weekend was the first time we could make it happen.
So yesterday morning, I loaded up the jeep (including Faithful Companion) and headed towards West Virginia.
As you all know, I love a long road trip. Nothing clears the mind like several hours of unrelieved turnpike. And this trip involved 350 miles of that. Each way. Out the Pennsylvania Turnpike, south on I-81, West on I-70, south on I-68, west on 219 until it turned into Route 32, then a right onto Lanesville Road.
The trip was beautiful. When I was crossing the Susquehanna river, I saw a bald eagle, riding an updraft.
I remembered that among Native Americans, eagles were considered to be messengers of the Great Spirit. This was gonna be good. And then there were the knobs and hollers of Western Maryland and West Virginia. Such an incredible landscape. And I'd never seen it covered in snow before.
And speaking of the snow...
Okay. My directions read "look for the driveway on the left" when I turned off Lanesville Road. I passed three driveways on the right, but nothing on the left, so I just kept heading up the hill. The really steep hill. When I was just about at the top, suddenly, my jeep started going backwards. Even though I was in Drive. And with my foot on the gas pedal. Hitting the brake did nothing. Luckily the emergency brake managed to get me to a stop. But what the fuck do I do know?
Unnerstan, this narrow, icy road. No guardrail. Just a steep drop-off over the embankment. I decided to try for the last switchback so I could turn around. Once down at the foot of the hill, I'd give a call to the rock guide and have him come get me. Or something. Slowly, slowly--except when I went into a skid, I managed to back down to the switchback. I turned around, and slowly, slowly headed down the hill.
And things were going fine. Until I lost traction, went into a skid, and went right off the road. Toward the steep embankment side.
I got clambered out and fetched Faithful Companion from the back. It looked like something out of a cartoon. My jeep was at about a forty five degree angle. The front left tire was down over the embankment, the rear right tire was about three feet off the ground. There was a wee little sapling stopping my jeep from heading down that ol' steep embankment. I grabbed my backpack and headed down the hill.
At this point, I realized that my directions must have been wrong. And sure enough, there was a driveway on the other side of the road fitting the description. And there to greet me at the door was my rock guide. (Let's call him 'Rocky,' shall we?)
Rocky greeted me warmly, and I explained my situation. So we needed a tow truck. Rocky called the local guys at Dave's Service Station. We headed back up the hill, and there was the tow truck to meet us. Those nice West Virginia good ol' boys greeted us and assessed the situation. The decided that they'd have to position their tow truck below my jeep on the hill, and loop the tow rope through a winch anchored to a locust tree. So they needed to back the tow truck past my jeep.
"Careful," I chimed in, "that road is really icy. It's easy to lose traction."
The tow truck, in reverse, went into a skid. Luckily, it stopped before it went over the embankment. Unluckily, it stopped because it collided with my jeep. And the think sticking out of the back that the tow rope comes off of? That big steel girder thing? That went right through my back window.
With a loud, sickening 'Pop.'
And my jeep went another four feet or so down the hill.
Oh. And I forgot. It wasn't the wee little sapling that stopped my jeep. There was a culvert (a steel pipe) sticking out of the embankment that caught my frame by about three-eighth of an inch. Now, the culvert had caught my rear axel.
Long (very long, sorry 'bout that, but I hope it was exciting, what with the near death of me and Faithful Companion all...) story short. They got the tow truck into position, they managed to haul my jeep back onto the road, and one of the good ol' boys was kind enough to drive my jeep back down to Rocky's driveway. At the bottom of the hill.
Y'know, I've always prided myself on keeping a cool head in a crisis. It's not the end of the world. That kinda thing. And I sure stood the test on Saturday night.
And Rocky was great. Dinner was ready. And he treated me to a nice massage.
This morning. Wherefore the mountain?
Well, y'know, that mountain will still be there. I had sort of had my life-endangering adventure for the weekend.
So Rocky made me breakfast, and we talked. And talked and talked and talked. Rocky is a pretty amazing guy.
Even though he's a lawyer! He kind of ditched a corporate job for being a rock guide. And I've never met a lawyer quite like him. There he was, quoting verse after verse of poetry. All of which merits repeating. But I'll hold it tight with this. It's Alfred Lord Tennyson's Ulysses. In the setting of the poem, Ulysses is returned to Ithaca's craggy shores. His journeys are ended. He's back home...
t little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads- you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
So now, Faithful Companion and I are home once again. Not in Ithaca. But in Carversville. Ready for another journey.