Disconnected, unplugged, offline – there are many ways to describe our Labor Day weekend in West Virginia. The entire area is under the National Radio Quiet Zone, which means that there are no cell signals (it’s true, look it up.) It’s like the quiet car on the train, but greener. Going cold turkey from my omniscient iPhone is quite a leap. I can’t check the sports scores, how many books I sold in the last 15 minutes, what the weather would do (unless we asked at the ranger station), or even look up the distance to the moon and back if a certain young boy might ask. There’s no TV, and the game apps all stayed in the van. We are completely alone. It reminds me of Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House books I’ve broken out for their third run with my youngest. I walk outside, and everything is completely still.
Our days outside Cabin 19 in Watoga State Park are busy, and at night I feel more tired than I did at home from sitting at my desk all day, but it’s more fulfilling. There was a rumor of a bear crossing the street a couple cabins down but we missed it. (Although he may have been watching us on our late night walk back from Nana’s cabin.) My golden retriever, Charlie, has seen more swimming than he’d ever dreamt of, and the rest of us are staying plenty entertained with paddleboats, kayaking, hiking, water balloon toss, ping pong and more.
My struggles to get all five of our bikes on our van’s hitch rack proved worthwhile as we trekked to the Greenbrier River Trail, an old railroad bed that’s been converted into a 78-mile biking trail. Even my five-year-old made it a few miles to the old steel bridge on his training wheels, albeit with a little motivation of a waiting stuffed animal at the local country store. Later on, we cooled off West Virginia style in the Greenbrier River, swimming, splashing and watching the clouds drift by as folks made rock sculptures and Charlie fetched sticks.
In the evening we had an extended family cookout under a park pavilion that was nestled down a secluded path. It opened up to a private grassy paradise in the middle of the forest. Playgrounds were climbed, footballs were thrown, dogs ran free and chased down Frisbees, and hordes of youngsters battled with Styrofoam light sabers. As the daylight faded, aunts and uncles, cousins and kids gathered under the pavilion for stories set against a backdrop of folk songs from cousins strumming on the guitar.
It made me think of how days gone by must have been. Golden end-of-summer days, running through the grass, eating food, and singing songs. I don’t know what I’ll find when we move back within range of civilization and technology on the other side of the mountains tomorrow, but somehow being unplugged seemed better, and strangely enough, I didn’t feel disconnected at all.