The sun was scorching hot. I could feel the sunburn starting and I was soaking wet, but none of that mattered because I was focused on the white water ahead on the New River. It was the first time in months that I couldn’t tell them the time if someone had asked. My phone was miles away in our cabin, but crashing through the rapids was the only important thing going on around me; the only connection that mattered was that of my paddle with the frothing water.
“The only connection that mattered was that of my paddle in the frothing water.”
1 West Virginia Will Feed You Well
We drove down from Morgantown the previous day, and stopped in downtown Fayetteville for dinner. We walked down streets lined with small shops and signs that proudly proclaimed it to be America’s Coolest Small Town. We came to an old house tucked into the side of a hill that has been repurposed into the small, lively Secret Sandwich Society. I ordered the Hoover, which had fried chicken, greens, Swiss and sweet butter—it was the best sandwich and fries I’ve had in a long time.
Back at Adventures on the Gorge (AOTG), Chetty’s Pub provided a second delicious dinner Saturday night. I enjoyed a chicken gyro wrap and salad while listening to live music, and discovered that pecan pie is an amazing dessert.
2 It’s Important to Unplug for a Bit
After sleeping in the cozy cabins at AOTG, we were up bright and early for a Saturday on the river. It was spring, which means fewer people on the water, but some of the best rafting conditions of the year, according to AOTG reservations director Randy Underwood. “It’ll be a big, wet roller coaster ride,” he said.
Oh man, was he right. Our raft guide, Doug Ludwig, insisted we call him Doug, and explained, “If you dig me, you Doug me.” He immediately knew us by our first names, cracked cheesy jokes as we floated down the river on calm stretches, and yelled for us to paddle harder while we rode through rapids with unique names like Colgate, which, according to Ludwig, “Makes you smile and cleans your teeth.”
Some other interesting rapid names include Surprise, The Meat Grinder, Typewriter, and Double Z. Ludwig has been a whitewater raft guide on the New River for 22 years and has done at least 2,000 trips down the river. He’d never rafted before abruptly deciding to become a guide, but inexperience didn’t stop him. “It was just like riding a bike; something just clicked,” Ludwig said. He’s now one of the most senior raft guides at AOTG and the most requested guide—partly because of his jokes, but mostly because of his ability to make people comfortable on the water, which, according to Ludwig, can be one of the hardest parts of his job.
3 West Virginia’s Vibrant History
Along with his arsenal of dad jokes, Ludwig also shared the history of the New River Gorge region. The steep hillsides surrounding the gorge used to be filled with coal mining towns and hundreds of miners and their families. Supposedly the world’s longest poker game took place in a small town along the New River—it lasted off and of for 14 years.
The hills are mostly empty now, with mostly wildlife and the occasional adventurous family, but remnants of the people who once lived there—most notably the ruins of the Low Moor and Kaymoor One mine complexes—can still be seen from the river. The old flash flood warning bell tower still stands next to the river bank and coal-fired coke ovens line the cliff side in places.
4 West Virginia’s best Natural Resource is her Beauty
The natural beauty of West Virginia has never been more prevalent to me than it was from the New River Gorge. The views of the landscape—both high and low—were breathtaking from the river and the overlook at the New River Gorge Visitor Center we went to later that day.
Visitors from outside the United States also tend to find West Virginia beautiful. While at the outlook that evening, we ran into a group comprised of folks from Denmark and Iceland who were preparing for the 2019 International Boy Scout Jamboree. The group said that they’ve not seen mountains in their home countries like the ones here in West Virginia—there just isn’t that kind of topography in Scandinavia. “It’s beautiful here, that’s for sure,” said Martin Duus of Denmark. “I imagine there’s really nice hiking areas around here. I would like to come here just to hike myself. Next time I will probably extend my trip just to take a hike.”
Like Duus, I am already planning on coming back to the New River Gorge. Nowhere else I’ve been has beauty comparable to the rolling hills of green surrounding the New River Gorge.
5 An Early Morning Hike is Better than Coffee
After a good night’s following a full day on the river, we hiked Long Point Trail early Sunday morning. It leads to an exposed promontory leading to steep cliffs, and offers an awe-inspiring view of the New River Gorge Bridge spanning the raging river below.
After taking tons of photos, we hiked back to the vans to drive to Cathedral Café for breakfast before the ride back to Morgantown. Cathedral Café is a quaint breakfast joint in an old church building in downtown Fayetteville where the stained-glass windows cast colorful light throughout the spacious dining room. I ordered a steaming cup of delicious coffee and a plate of potatoes and toast with fried eggs and bacon—it was the perfect food to refuel after the three-mile hike.
I was a little sad to get back in the vans after breakfast. I’d never understood the idea of “unplugging,” but after a weekend with no email or social media or internet, I now understand the appeal of a few days connected only to nature and those around me. AOTG provided an adventurous weekend full of the right kinds of connections.
Amy Pratt is a WVU senior who enjoys exploring the adventure opportunities throughout West Virginia.