When I snuck out of the townhouse at 6:30, I nearly tripped over my brother-in-law sleeping on the pullout in the living room. I vaguely remembered a middle of the night screaming episode, which seemed to have resulted in some bed shifting. This kind of thing had been going on for exactly four years with varying frequency. Thankfully, I should point out, not with my sister, but with their preschooler. He and my youngest are fast friend cousins and tried to have a sleepover for my nephew’s birthday. The nightmare, or whatever it was, cut that event short. I think there was something about being hot but refusing to shed his brand new Spiderman pajamas. A tough dilemma to be sure. So I was forced to silently navigate the dark room to find my shoes and camera before I slipped outside into a still West Virginia morning.
The sun hadn’t yet peeked over the mountains, but the morning sky was glowing, and all around me tall evergreens cast silhouettes against a pale pink and orange glow. We spent Labor Day weekend at 4800 feet in the mountains of West Virginia at Snowshoe resort. While my aforementioned brother-in-law had thrashed the mountain frequently on his snowboard, it was my first time. Of course it was a bit tamer in September without snow. It turned out to be a great break from the usual beach vacation. Just long enough for some time away, but didn’t drag on for more than my sun-drenched skin could unhealthily endure. Perhaps the crisp air had already begun clearing my head because I uncharacteristically woke without an alarm at daybreak. My digital SLR in tow, I began my hike down the mountain. Perhaps I would encounter a red-tailed hawk or a fox. As I rounded the peaceful turns in the trail leading downward, I kept my eyes open for bear. Or, as my sons had suggested, Sasquatch. Hey, you never know what you’ll come across in the West Virginia wilds.
In the end, the only creature I discovered was a group of virtually tame deer on the side of the trail. But I did get some good shots of the lake at the bottom of the mountain. No one else was around but me and the glistening water that reflected the forest all around.I watched the rising sun brighten the horizon, and as I peered up at the mountain now above me, I could follow the light moving slowly down, tree to tree. Soon, I too was engulfed in light, which I took as my cue to head back up. The boys, and as a result my uncomfortable brother-in-law, were likely up by now. My feet were already soaked from hiking through the long grass coming down. Going up, I made a zigzag course across the run like a backward slalom skier. My thighs were much sorer the next day from the climb than I’d expected for someone still so far from 40…
I think I heard a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Or it might have been my nephew. While I did come across a mysterious footprint, the only ones who mistook it for Sasquatch were my boys, much to the wide-eyed confusion of their cousins. My youngest, while only four, seems to have no fear of such beasts or most anything else, as evidenced by his conquering a twenty-foot rock-climbing wall the day before. I looked up in amazement at his determined little face as he methodically scaled the cliff. Technically he was held in the safety of the harness and bungee rope, but I think he might have tried it untethered if we let him. He doesn’t get it from me. I was dizzy just taking the long lift down to the bottom of the mountain with my two oldest boys, nervous that every time they moved they were about to bounce forty feet down to their death. Not to mention the curvy roads that snaked up the mountain. I guess getting to 4800 feet doesn’t happen by itself, but I think they need to find a new term to describe a 10-degree grade – it doesn’t give a true picture of the wall that my Odyssey was scaling. Why isn’t there a guardrail next to that big cliff, Dad? I don’t know, Son, shut up already please.
The entire weekend, but for a few momentary teases of connection from a neighboring townhouse’s unsecured Wi-Fi, was low tech. The area around Snowshoe is blanketed in something like a 100-mile quiet zone. Most cell and radio transmissions are blocked out by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (I had to look that one up). As if going into West Virginia were not roughing it enough, the giant satellite dish pushes you into another time. In the car ride up, as the hour crept further into our four-year-old’s nap time, we tried to coax him into a rest with some quiet music. The choices grew increasingly Country as we ascended into the hinterland. I knew our efforts were in vain when he announced from his car seat that he wanted some Hip-Hop. That’s what two older brothers will do to you, I guess.
On our last day, we boarded the Orient Express, I mean the Cass Scenic Railroad on a trip up the mountain to an old logging site. A train ride seemed like a fun low-key activity for the family, until we got there shortly before departure and realized that Labor Day weekend might not have been the best day. As the whistle blew, we hustled aboard and found a few empty spaces in different cars. Despite a few gripes about having to give their seat to an old man from the less empathetic of my children, the boys seemed to enjoy the change of pace. As the steam engine huffed and puffed its way along the track and switchbacks at an impressive maximum speed of 13 miles an hour, we were all taken aback by the thick black smoke the locomotive spewed out of into the forest. Once again we were taken back to another time when things like pollution didn’t seem to be a problem. At least not to the interesting assortment of fellow passengers that accompanied us on the journey. I think a few gave me dirty looks when my Yankee logic decided that getting on the train early for the return trip might be a good way to secure a seat, but maybe I was imagining things. I might have been distracted by the man in front of me’s mohawk mullet.
Back at Snowshoe, as we watched the sun sink through the rows of deep blue mountain ranges all around us, it truly felt like we were on top of the world. It wasn’t quite like Pike’s Peak in Colorado which seemed like outer space, but we were up high. The clouds had nestled into the valleys between the mountains like giant pillows and one couldn’t help but wonder if we were a little bit closer to heaven. No cell phones chirping, the only sound coming from the whir of my camera shutter and the drunk guy in the Jeep that crashed into the pole in front of the lodge. Well, maybe it wasn’t heaven, but it was pretty. And for a few days, before I returned home to find my water main flooding my front yard and our bedrooms a stifling 90 degrees because I’d turned off the air conditioning, it felt peaceful. And we even had the kids with us.