Thursday, December 17, 2015

Recommendations from our year of hiking

One of the major lessons we learned during our year of hiking is that certain trails are better at certain times of the year. Here's a brief rundown of some of the trails we hiked in 2015 and which month we would hike them if we had to do it over again:

Battle Run Mud
January - Craig's Branch Trail - This trail offers views of The Endless Wall, Beauty Mountain and Nuttallburg, but only when the trees are leafless. The trail is wide and gradual so snow shouldn't present too much of a problem.

February - Summersville Battle Run Trail - do this hike on a cold day when the ground is frozen. You will be able to walk right up to the sunken boats without too much trouble, not so if the temperature is above freezing and the sun is shining brightly like it was when we were there. 

March - The Stone Cliff Trail should be delightful in early spring before the leaves and bugs are out. Being one of the few trails alongside the New River, you will be treated to long river views and far less underbrush to fight. 
Keeney's Creek

April - Keeney's Creek Trail - April should have the best of both worlds deep in the Gorge: Fewer bugs and a good flow of water to make the Keeney's Creek falls beautifully photogenic. Walk the loop counter-clockwise, starting along the road so you will be facing the waterfalls as you walk.

May - Ansted Rail Trail - Since the Hawk's Nest tram opens for the season in May you can walk down the trail and then catch the tram up to the lodge. Make sure you watch for the trail to the old mine opening along the way: It's worth the short side trip. 

June - Butchers Branch Climbing Access - Don't be fooled into thinking that this trail is just for climbers, this might be the prettiest trail in the Gorge. The flora should be in peak form in June and the waterfalls should still be flowing well before the heat of summer sets in.
Long Point Trail

July - Long Point Trail (Gorge) - Two great things about staying on the high parts of the Gorge in the heat of summer is catching a nice breeze and not having to fight off the many bugs that dwell down near the river. And frankly, the Long Point view is great any time of year. 

August - Endless Wall Trail - A wonderful flat and shaded trail for the high heat days of late summer, oh and by the way, one of the best National Park hikes in America!

September - The Patterson Trail at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield State Park offers several great views of The Gauley River, which means seeing lots of rafts and kayaks during Gauley Season. 

October - The Skyline Trail at Babcock offers some of the best autumn leaf-peeping anywhere, and you can visit the iconic grist mill while you are there. 

November - Summersville Long Point Trail - The view from the top of Long Point is awesome when the lake is at winter pool. Go on a nice sunny day and you will no doubt meet climbers along the way. 

December - Rend Trail - If for no other reason than the views of Thurmond and the river will be will be much better with no leaves to contend with. 

Happy hiking!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Year of Hiking, part 3

Our last two posts documented two-thirds of our year of hiking. This post will take us into December, and then in the next post, the last of the series, we will tell you our favorites and give our recommendations for seasonal hikes.

Thurmond as seen from the Rend Trail
September took us to the Rend Trail near Thurmond. Another gradual rail-trail hike, this trail offers a bird's eye view of the town of Thurmond even with late summer full foliage. We made a note to go again during the winter and we expect to see much broader vistas of the town and of the river when we do.  A giant bolder that dislodged from the cliffs above now completely blocks the old railroad grade, but a set of wooden steps make it a simple traverse to continue on the trail. A couple of nice old trestles are still in service, but the trail ends at the third - which has fallen into disrepair which the Park Service has no immediate plans to fix.

We took a weekend trip in September to Washington DC, returning via Canaan Valley where we stretched our legs on the Biel Trail South which runs along the Blackwater River. We also took a bike ride on the North Bend Rail Trail in September, riding through the Haunted Tunnel near Cairo.

Skyline Trail vista
In October we ventured across the Gorge to Babcock State Park where we hiked to the Island in the Sky (our second visit) and walked most of the Skyline Trail. We also spent some time exploring the cabin areas and the old swinging bridge trail. Every time we visit we become more certain that Babcock is West Virginia's best state park.

If Babcock is the best overall, though, Beartown certainly has to be the best state park for its size. We were lucky enough to visit here on a foggy October afternoon which made the catacomb-like boardwalk seem like a set for a creepy movie.  Not a long hike, but an amazing place unlike any other; especially on a cool, misty autumn day.

Our last hike in October was on the Burnwood Trail, which sits just across the Gorge on the Lansing side of the bridge. The trail is mostly unremarkable - except in October when the fall foliage is near its peak - but it does lead past the American Alpine Club campground and we were able to watch some serious bouldering happen across the gully.

The Gauley River as seen from the Patterson Trail
In early November, with a slight chill in the air, we set out on Craig's Branch Trail, returning by way of Kaymoor Mine Trail to Kaymoor Top. The trail follows an old road for most of the way, and there are several archaeological points of interest in the form of rusting truck parts, and some giant boulders. As the leaves were beginning to fall, some vistas were beginning to open up and we could see the Nuttallburg conveyor and glimpsed the river a few times.

Also affording some nice views of the river - this time the Gauley River - was the Patterson Trail at Carnifex Ferry State Park which we also did in November. And then on Thanksgiving Day we met up with our friends Matt and Lori and their daughter Audrey for a Canaan Valley hike along the Rail Road Grade Trail in that state park.

Brooklyn Mine ruins
With eleven successful months down we couldn't wait to accomplish December's hike so we could pronounce our year of hiking complete. We chose the Brooklyn Mine Trail to officially close out the books, but then added a trip to Cedar Creek State Park in Gilmer County for a nice two mile hike on the Parkview Trail/Fisherman's Trail. With two weeks left in the month, it is quite possible that we will set out on another adventure before we ring in the new year, but we have no plans yet.

By any measure our year of hiking was a success. We saw miles and miles of new territory (we wish that we had kept track of our mileage), and enjoyed being together outside in all sorts of weather. If we had not set our goal and stubbornly stuck to it, our year would have been far less enjoyable. We've already decided to continue on into 2016.

In our next post we will share some of our favorite trails and share some recommendations for seasonally appropriate hikes based on our experiences, successes and failures.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A year of hiking, part 2

In Part 1 we told you about the brutal winter hikes in The Gorge and how we persevered to reach our goal of at least one serious hike per month. As the weather warmed up, our goal became much more pleasurable to face, but with so many trails and so little time, we had to plan our schedule carefully. We pored over Bryan Simon's "Hiking and Biking in the New River Gorge" (which is the definitive guide book and of which we have three copies at Lafayette Flats for our guests to consult) and made lists of the trails we wanted to try.

Amy and Emily on a Keeney's Creek Trestle
In May, we took our friend Emily to Nuttallburg and hiked the Keeney's Creek Trail. The verdant landscape was coming to life after along winter's nap and the Keeney Creek waterfalls were delightful to both the eye and to the hot, tired feet. The leisurely incline of the old railroad grade and the pleasurable company made the 6 mile hike seem shorter than it was. After the hike we showed Emily around the Nuttallburg ruins that we first explored last year.

With Lafayette Flats nearing full occupancy, we had to take our second hike in May closer to our Charleston home. We chose two of Charleston's new trails in the Neighborwoods trail system, the Hamilton Trail in Fort Hill, and the Chilton Trail off of Louden Heights Road. Neither of these trails pose much of a challenge, and they don't take you away from the din of the city and noise of airplanes and vehicular traffic, but they are hard to beat for a quick escape to go walk in the woods.

In June we hiked a loop from Kaymoor Top that started out on Butcher's Branch Trail, connected to Long Point Trail and then followed Fayetteville Trail back to Kaymoor Top. We decided to save the the climbing access spur tail for another day. Before we left the area, we hiked the shortest of the Arrowhead Trails, Clovis, and Shawn made a mental note to come back on his bike really soon.

Old cabin along Farley Loop Trail
July was a busy month for Lafayette Flats, so we had to take our hiking on the road since our Fayetteville lodging was occupied.  On Independence Day, we headed over to Summers County and hiked the Farley Loop Trail in Pipestem State Park. Although the weather was hot, sticky and it rained on us a few times, the hike was magnificent. After a steep climb to a rocky outcrop with a eagles-eye view of the Bluestone River, we found an old log cabin in the middle of a meadow just in time to weather the hardest rain shower of the day on its porch. The trail returned into the woods where we had an encounter with two brave little fawns and a couple of snakes - including a five-foot long black rat snake.

So much beauty in the Cranberry Glades
Our second July hike, also away from the Gorge, was memorable for reasons good and bad. We decided to go to Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas County because the weather was hot and we knew that the 3,400' elevation would ensure tolerable hiking temperatures. The beautiful flora of Cranberry Glades made the 7.5 mile hike worth every step, but we were so distracted by the natural beauty that we missed a turn on the trail and found ourselves between confused and lost, and more importantly, running out of water. We eventually found the road and hiked back to the visitor's center where we were able to refill our water bottles and rest our aching feet before hiking the road back to our car. That 7.5 miles turned into approximately twelve miles on one of the hottest days of the year. Memorable indeed.

The upper portion of Butcher's Branch Falls
Before July was over, though, we made another trip back to Butchers Branch, this time down the climbing access spur tail to the beautiful Butcher's Branch Falls. We knew that the falls would be worth the hike, but we were surprised by the stunning beauty of the trail down to them. Moss, ferns, hemlock and fungi of every type, color and size made the steep hike worth every step. Since we had been blessed with so much rain in July, the falls were flowing spectacularly and we spent the better part of an hour just sitting in its spray and shooting photos. On our way out, we both agreed that this would go on our favorites list and would definitely be one that we would recommend to guests of Lafayette Flats.
Henry Clay's Furnace

August took us on another road trip, this time to Morgantown where we decided to check out Coopers Rock State Forest. We loved the namesake rock and the way it seemed to be sliding off the rim of the canyon, and we traversed the Henry Clay Trail to get a look at the centuries old stone oven at the trail's end.

The New River along Stone Cliff Trail
Back in the New River Gorge at the end of August, we doubled up again on the Stonecliff Trail with Amy's father Carl. Newly added to the "Old Growth Forest Network" this trail goes along the New River through some of the oldest stands of hardwood trees in the region. One of the few trails in the Gorge where you can actually touch the river, it gives many opportunities to see wildlife, flora and archaeological points of interest. About five miles out and back, the trail is mostly level but in the summertime it can be a bit buggy, so don't forget the DEET.

As you might see, for most months up till now, we have been surpassing our goal of one hike per month. Read the next installment to find out if we were able to continue our pace into the fall and winter months.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Year of Hiking, part 1

Last November we set a personal goal to take at least one serious hike each month in 2015.

Trestle on Mill Creek Trail (Ansted Rail Trail)
It actually seemed to us like a modest goal, because we both love to hike and it sounded completely doable to us at the time: Memories of biting winter chill and sweltering summertime heat are less vivid when you are sitting inside a warm house in the fall. Determined not to let the weather give us an excuse, though, we took a trip to the local outfitter store to outfit ourselves with long underwear, waterproof boots and balaclavas. Good thing we did, too, because when the winter weather showed up just in time for our first hike of the year, we were prepared. Mostly.

Mill Creek Falls
Not ones to put off getting started on a project, we took our first hike of the year on New Year's Day on the Mill Creek Trail in Ansted (aka "Ansted Rail Trail"). Mill Creek was running full and the many waterfalls caused us to stop often on the way down for photo ops. We also loved seeing the ice formations hanging from the cliffs above the trail and loved exploring the old mine opening off a side trail. The views at the bottom of the New River and the Hawks Nest crossing and the beautifully preserved trestle near the top made this one of our most memorable  trails of the year. Two miles down and two miles back along the old railroad grade was just about the right distance for our warm-up hike.

Captain Amy 
We decided to be over-achievers in January and before the month was over we had also explored a couple of Summersville trails: Battle Run (to visit sunken boats while the lake is at winter pool) and Long Point (the Lake one, not the Gorge one). The warm day, however, meant that the lake bed was muddy instead of frozen, which made walking very difficult. We still made it down to the sunken boats, though.

The trail to Summersville Lake's Long Point is beautiful any time of year, but the frozen over lake was a sight to behold from 120 feet above.

Bridge Trail
Our cold weather gear was much in demand for our February hikes, plural because we thought two shorter ones would be safer in winter weather than one long one.  First, we braved the Bridge Trail on a day that wasn't so terribly cold, but in the shadow of the south rim of the Gorge, the footing was icy and treacherous on the downhill switchbacks that lead under the bridge.

Ninja Hikers on Long Point Trail
On the second hike of the month, we were determined to see what Long Point (the Gorge one) was like after a deep snowfall, but we had to turn back short of our goal. Next time we take snowshoes.

March also provided us with two hiking opportunities. The first was an obligatory sojourn around the Fayetteville Town Park Loop trail on a sunny afternoon. Park Loop  is the closest trail to Lafayette Flats, and while it is no great beauty in the early spring before the foliage returns, it is the town's gateway to the rest of the National Park trail system.

Sunrise at Long Point
March's second hike was a photo safari to Long Point to try for a sunrise shot over Fern Creek Falls across the Gorge. Obviously this meant getting on the trail before daylight and walking by flashlight. The sunrise that morning proved to be a dud, but the satisfaction of setting and achieving the goal was savored over pancakes and coffee at Cathedral Cafe before most of the rest of the town had rolled out of bed.

Upper Falls of Fern Creek
In April we had our easiest and hardest hikes. The easy ones coming at Grandview, as we stayed along the road on the Tunnel and Turkey Spur trails. But later that month we attempted a bushwhack approach to Fern Creek Falls on the north side of the Gorge. We finally made it to the upper falls, but we were too tired and scratched up to attempt the lower falls even though we could hear its thundering torrent just a few hundred yards below us.

In May we journeyed with our friend Emily to the Nuttallburg area for one of our favorite hikes of the year. More about that in the next post.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

2016 Writer-in-Residence Announced!

We are thrilled to announce that Mary Ann Henry has been named as the 2016 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence!

As Writer-in-Residence, Henry will live at Lafayette Flats, a luxury vacation rental in downtown Fayetteville, from January through March. During the three month residency she will be working on her own writing as well as contributing to the Lafayette Flats blog.

Mary Ann Henry was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia; graduated from West Virginia State College; and completed a Master’s degree at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. After five years as a public school teacher, she transitioned to a twenty-five year career as an advertising copywriter and scriptwriter/ director/ producer of video and interactive media, winning many regional and national awards. While working as a paid commercial writer, she also studied screenwriting with a variety of professionals including Robert McKee, author of Story and Linda Seger, author of Making A Good Script Great. She wrote two PBS documentaries and one independently produced comedy that earned a national writing award and which aired on The Learning Channel and in seven countries. She was included in a book about independent filmmakers titled Girl Director and also wrote several feature-length screenplays, one of which, Wayward Girls, was presented at The Independent Feature Film Market in NYC.

In the year 2000, Mary Ann left her career in media production to move to a barrier island in South Carolina where she turned her hand to writing fiction and teaching creative writing at the School of the Arts in Charleston, where each year she earned Outstanding Teacher of Creative Writing awards from the National Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Summers, she spent writing and studying alternative belief systems with internationally known teachers in the areas of Reiki, Shamanism and the Lakota Sioux belief system. Bringing together her writing background with her spiritual studies, she began teaching a series of weekend workshops called Writing is Good for the Soul and completed a soon-to-be-published spiritual memoir titled The Late Bloomer’s Guide to the Universe. Today, she teaches fiction-writing workshops to adults at the Lowcountry Writers’ Retreat in Folly Beach, SC where she is also at work on a novel based on a story from the recently published collection of short stories, Ladies in Low Places.

Although Henry is a native of Charleston, Henry is no stranger to Fayette County having spent many summers on a family farm near Meadow Bridge. “The reverence for nature, learned while wandering the fields and woods, underlie why I still consider the area to be my spiritual home,” Henry wrote recently.

We are very pleased to be able to facilitate a return home for Mary Ann. We know that Mary Ann is excited to have this opportunity and is going to make the most of her time in Fayetteville.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

2016 New River Gorge Winter Writer's Residency

We received several great applications for next year's Writer's Residency. Over the next few days we hope to interview the finalists and begin the difficult process of selecting that one person who will have the opportunity to live, work and create in Fayetteville from January through March.

Just as we are making this selection, there is some big news from this year's Writer in Residence Eric Shonkwiler. His new book of short stories and novellas, entitled "Moon Up, Past Full" is hitting the shelves this week. One of the stories in the book had its creative beginnings in Fayetteville during Eric's Residency. You can order the book online here.

As Eric's writing career continues to unfold, we feel fortunate to have hosted this talented young man for the inaugural New River Gorge Winter Writer's Residency and we look forward to welcoming our next writer to town.

Stay tuned, the announcement will be made soon after November 1.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Year Under Our Belts

May marked the one-year anniversary of the opening of Lafayette Flats. As we begin our second year of welcoming visitors to Fayetteville, we are thrilled that some of last year's guests have already booked their flats for this summer, and that we continue to receive nothing but 5 star reviews from each and every guest that stays with us! We promise to keep the quality level high and continue to exceed your expectations.

Here are a couple of updates on past and future happenings:

Art Fund
Last may we blogged about our Art Fund, which was our way of making sure that we kept The Flats fresh and new where art is concerned by using a portion of our vacation rental income to acquire at least one new piece each year. Earlier this spring we contacted local stained glass artist Stephanie Danz about filling a space that one of the old transoms formerly occupied in Nuttall. Since Nuttall has a bit of a West Virginia nature decorating motif, we asked Stephanie to create a panel that features West Virginia's state flower, the rhododendron. We couldn't be happier with the result.

2016 Winter Writer's Residency
We were pleased to host Eric Shonkwiler as our first Writer-in-Residence this past winter, and we are looking for our next writer - or writers - who will be awarded the 2016 Residency. If you are a writer or if you know a writer who would benefit from a three month stay in Fayetteville where they could work on their writing in a beautiful, quiet setting, please encourage them to apply. Here is the link where they can find out more:

New Restaurants in Town!
Two new restaurants within walking distance of Lafayette Flats are slated to be opening soon in Fayetteville. Vandal's Kitchen will soon be serving breakfast and lunch and we hope to see The Station (in the old DiOGi's location) opening soon to provide a great lunch and dinner spot. In addition to these two in-town locations, Mackie's Biergarten is now open just across the New River Gorge Bridge. Speaking of DiOGi's, we were sad to see them move from their former location just down the hill from Lafayette Flats, but we're glad that they have now re-opened a couple of miles away on Laurel Creek Rd.

We hope to see you soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

You made me feel at home.

Editor's Note: Eric Shonkwiler is the New River Gorge Writer-in-Resisence for 2015. He has spent the past three months living at Lafayette Flats where he has been writing a new novel. The Residency ends this week and Eric will be leaving Fayetteville in pursuit of his next adventure. This is his final post on this blog. 

Time has flown. I’ve been scratching my head the last couple weeks, trying to figure out where exactly it all went. Did I do all that much? Did I see all that much? What do I have to show for the three months I’ve spent here in Fayetteville?
            Three hundred and fifty pages is the answer to that question. That’s a book. It’s a messy one, and it’s not quite finished (I’m afraid it’ll push 400 pages by then), but it’s a powerful amount of words. Had I not come here, had Lafayette Flats not opened up their doors to have me here as their Writer-in-Residence, I’d be lucky to have any of those pages written. I’d have been out in the world, trying to find a way to keep myself indoors. Instead (and here I look around myself, at what’s been my home: my bed, my couch, my art, my desk) that’s all been taken care of. I got to work, thanks to this residency. My real work. Not the work that feeds me—as much as I wish writing did right now—but the work that nourishes me, and hopefully will someday nourish others.
            I can go on and on about the people I’ve met here, the great food and drink there is to be had in Fayetteville, the New River Gorge, the trails, the history. There are all those things, too. But that can be found covered by others already. There’s Yelp for that, and Google. This is for the people who may follow me, and be lucky enough to come here in the future: Fayetteville is the perfect writing environment. The town is quiet during winter. It’s relaxed. The flat you’ll stay in is great for working, and there’s a café and a bar minutes away by foot. There is no source of inspiration that isn’t immediately available to you, whether it be natural, historical, or potable. If you get the chance, take it. Come here.
            I’ve had a wonderful time. I’m an enormous leg-up on this book, and I couldn’t have done it without the generosity of Shawn and Amy, the folks behind Lafayette Flats. Nor could I have done it without the people and establishments of Fayetteville. You all were so kind to take a stranger like me in. You listened to me, and let me listen. You bought my book, and bought me drinks. You made me feel at home. Thank you all, very much. I’ll come back, someday.

- Eric

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fayetteville - a place at once familiar and surprising

Editor's note: Eric Shonkwiler is the 2015 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence and is living and writing at Lafayette Flats this winter. This is his second contribution to our blog.

Eric will be reading from his book
"Above All Men" at Taylor
Books in Charleston
at 6:00 on March 12
             I find it hard to believe that I’m nearing the end of my time here. Just last summer I spent three months in a near-border town in New Mexico, and let me tell you, the days crawled. But it’s been a pleasure living in Fayetteville, and I’ve been working hard, doing what I intended to do. This was supposed to be an opportunity to explore and to write, and I have. I’ve been down to Wolf Creek; I’ve gone driving along 16 and 60.; I got to see a wonderful concert with The Honeycutters at Cathedral Café; I’ve been to two (only two! My bad) gatherings of Poetry, Prose, and Plainsong. And I’ve written nearly 270 pages—more than the final pagecount of my first book. There’s little else I could ask for out of a residency (maybe an earlier break in the weather?). It has been a great time.

            This Thursday, I’m going to be reading at Taylor Books in Charleston.
And in the light of everything else that I’ve done here in Fayetteville, it reminded me that this place is supposed to be seen as an uncultured backwater, and that I’m here to help, in some small way, tackle that perception. And after over two months of experiencing the real West Virginia, I’m tempted to say that you all ought to just keep the truth to yourselves. You have a wonderful community here in Fayetteville, and what I’ve seen of the region speaks to that being the truth throughout the state. If the culture’s narrative-at-large says otherwise, all you’re doing is likely keeping out the dregs, those who wouldn’t appreciate what they’re experiencing. You’ve got a nice mix of newcomers and originals in town, and it’s clear that the people you do have coming in are the ones you’d want. And while of course you want more, I don’t think there’s any reason to be unhappy with what you have for the time being.

            I’ve noticed that West Virginians talk about West Virginia quite a lot. This comes from, I imagine, that perception that has been perpetuated by outsiders and forced upon you. To combat that, you talk the place up amongst yourselves, even brag a little. I’m an Ohioan, and we don’t do that—well, we brag about The Ohio State University, but we don’t brag about our state. Likely this is because we’ve never been pushed into any boxes (or maybe it’s just OSU and Cedar Point is all we’ve got?). Being here for this long, though, I’m able to see what the perception has done in this state, as wrong as it may be. I feel a bit like I’m talking to a teenager saying this, but West Virginia is great, folks, and soon America will see that. In the meantime, enjoy the peace that you’ve got. Once word gets out, things are going to get rowdy around here. They’ll see all the opportunities you have; for taking in or creating art, for having fun, for eating, drinking, hiking—the list goes on and on. This state has so much to offer, far more than the country already takes for granted.

            While my total writings here don’t exactly equal an essay, I’ve tried since I’ve started to craft a narrative as I see it. This narrative says that West Virginia, and Fayetteville in particular, is a place at once familiar and surprising. I feel at home here, and though few places in the country actually feel like home to me, I could see myself living here. There’s everything I could want, and more. A small-town feel with big culture and attractions, lively, caring, giving people. And something else, too: a cause. I’ve stayed positive while writing on this blog, but it bears addressing that West Virginia is a land that’s under a not-terribly-subtle attack. Because of its riches, this wonderful state has been used. And, perhaps because of the perception most of America has, it has also been forgotten. And while I do think that will change someday, I don’t think it’s any reason to quit the fight. This is your land, and it is good. You should try to share it and protect it just as you are. This one outsider hasn’t told you anything you don’t already know, but just the same, I thank you for the opportunity. I’ll do my best to spread the word.


Find out more about Eric on his website:

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Finding my Feet in Fayetteville

Editor's note: Eric Shonkwiler is the 2015 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence and is living and writing at Lafayette Flats this winter. This is his second contribution to our blog.

When I applied for the residency here at Lafayette Flats, one of the terms of the deal was that I, with my very presence, I think, and in my writing here on the blog, try to help change the narrative of West Virginia. That seemed and seems to be quite the task—help change the story people are telling about an entire state. Sure. But, naturally, this idea has stuck with me. What is the narrative of West Virginia? What does the culture at large say about it? What does the culture say about my home state, about the other places I've been? It’s rarely a wholly good thing, no matter where you hail from. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been exposed to a great deal of West Virginia—or even all that much of Fayetteville—but I’m struck by this particular difference from the narrative America is fed and what the real thing is: West Virginia is like any other state. Not in all ways—not nearly—but it’s no distant, faraway land.

            There are a number of TV shows that exploit the popular idea of West Virginia as being composed of moonshiners, ginseng hunters, and your standard tooth-deficient hillbilly. Of course this isn’t the case, but that’s what we’re told, what’s reinforced, and though the public won’t believe this wholesale, what does register, I think, is a notion of distance. West Virginia takes on a fairytale quality that, regardless of what that tale is, makes it seem further from your average American’s everyday experience. But that’s simply not true. The West Virginia I’ve seen, and am coming to love, is every bit as close and familiar as all the other states that I've visited (44 out of 50, for those wondering at home).

            The thing that I love most about traveling, when I have a good deal of time to spend in one place, is getting to know its quirks, and thereby coming to know a little bit about the soul of the place. Despite all the places I’ve been, the popular narrative of West Virginia still made me wonder if, perhaps, I wasn’t going to be dropped into foreign territory. (There’s a difference between finding your feet and having to learn a new metaphorical language, when it comes to exploring the country.) Come to find out, though, that’s not a problem here. There is no great cultural barrier. There’s just culture. My life has continued here in much the same way it would were I in any other state. I’ve been to a reading, drank locally-brewed beer, and sold some of my books. Fayetteville seems possessed of many of the trends that flow through the country at large. And that’s what might surprise people. It’s vibrant, current, young. It feels like any other town in America that’s awake and receptive—something you can’t say about my hometown, bless it. There is no great wall blocking West Virginia from the rest of America. That narrative of the redneck, the bootlegger, the ‘sang hunter, is out of date and misinformed—and besides, I’ve studied the mine wars; there’s no shame in that red handkerchief. 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Change of Seasons, Fayetteville Style

Seasons change subtly in Fayetteville. Or perhaps we should say, people in Fayetteville change subtly with the seasons.

From the windows of Lafayette Flats we have a unique perspective on these changes. We have a bird's eye view of Waterstone Outdoors, New River Bikes, and a long view down Court Street to the visitor's center. From here we see many indicators of seasonal change, like:

Hats - Early spring toboggans change to ball caps and visors, then to floppy sun hats and then cycle back through ball caps to toboggans. Early season toboggans are usually snug fitting and the further into winter we go the looser and more decorative they become. There is one particular style of hat that we have come to think of as the quintessential "Fayetteville Hat": The no-frills ski cap worn by seemingly 85% of Waterstone Outdoors customers.

Cars, or more importantly, what is strapped to cars - Generally speaking, cars in the spring rarely have more than one or two kayaks or bikes attached. Heading into summer, the number of bikes multiply but kayaks stay the same. In the fall Gauley Season, both the number of cars with kayaks and the number of kayaks per vehicle explodes: We've seen as many as 12 cars in a row coming up Court Street with as many as 6 kayaks per car in Gauley Season.

Buses - We never get tired of seeing busloads of rafters headed up Court Street on their way to the put-in at Cunard. The number of buses and the number of passengers on the buses swells rapidly after the first few weeks of season and remains strong through summer until school buses start to roll, then fades away as traffic is diverted to the Gauley.

Speed - The pace of life changes with the seasons as well. In the summertime people on the streets of Fayetteville seem to be moving quickly, trying to get things done so they can head out to do what they really want to be doing like climbing or kayaking. In the winter, there are certainly far fewer people out and most of them seem to be contemplative; perhaps wistfully dreaming of warmer weather or pondering whether there is enough daylight left to head off on a hike or a bike ride.

As we sit here in the dead of winter, it's hard to imagine that the sun will shine warmly again and that the cycle of seasons will begin anew. Groundhog day is just a couple of weeks away, and then  - hopefully - an early spring?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Coming to Town

Lafayette Flats co-owner Shawn Means
and Writer-in-Residence Eric Shonkwiler
Editor's Note: Eric Shonkwiler is the first-ever New River Gorge Winter Writer in Residence at Lafayette Flats. He will be spending the next three months as a guest of Lafayette Flats during which time he will be working on a new novel. His first novel, "Above All Men" was published in 2014 and has received high praise in literary circles.
Eric will be contributing to the Lafayette Flats blog during his time in Fayetteville. This is his first installment:

I travel a lot—I’ve lived in five states in the last four years—and living the sort of life that I do, I’m used to living with relatively few (though cherished) luxuries. Time, decent gas mileage, good coffee and the occasional bourbon, are about all I look for. I’ve rolled into several towns looking at the same sort of time I’m going to spend here in Fayetteville, or even longer. Places that I should have, at least for a little while, thought of as home. But never, in all those places and towns, have I felt with any ease, that I was home. That is, until I came here.

It’s been just over a week, and I’ve already written forty pages of a novel. I’ve had some very delicious food at local eateries—and a fine dark porter from a Fayetteville brewery. I’ve had the chance to meet a few of the local faces at Cathedral Café, and I’m thankful for the welcome. But what’s harder to say, even though it’s my job, is that something about this town, and about Lafayette Flats, made me feel at home from the start. I haven’t had an off step here. I settled into my flat immediately—it’s hard not to. It’s a lovely place, and I have to thank Shawn and Amy for the chance to experience, not just the flat, and not just Fayetteville, but a moment of peace that I would not have otherwise had.

Here, in Fayetteville, I’m going to write a book, and I’m going to do it on my terms. I won’t have to worry about where my money is coming from, or where it’s going, for a little while. It’s that peace, coupled with the fact that I am somewhere different, somewhere new, that I think has led me to feel completely at home here. That’s me, too. I’m not at ease if I’m not a little stirred up. I’m looking forward to seeing more, doing more, and writing more. It’s been a heck of a long week, and this is just the start. I'll have more to say about my time in Fayetteville as I experience it. In the meantime, I'll be out among you (and holed up in my flat) writing and researching.