Day 15:

Woodburn Hall – Morgantown, WV

Since I had the full day to explore Morgantown, I decided to take my morning a bit easy and head to the park first. I made my way to Dorsey’s Knob Park to have some breakfast. When I first arrived, I found myself in the midst of a ton of cars parked, so I assumed it was the main parking area. Actually, it turns out it was the parking area for the disc golf course, and there was a disc golf tournament going on. I only noticed that when I saw about ten people pass me carrying all of their gear, posters, trophies, etc. Needless to say I felt a bit out of place, so I quickly hopped back in my car to find the place I was actually looking for. The main parking area was a little ways down the road, and luckily there wasn’t anyone else there. So once I parked up I brewed myself some coffee, headed to a little pavilion, and sat and enjoyed the silence.

While I have been having plenty of moments of homesickness and loneliness, sometimes the peaceful solitude is really nice. The chance to really take in the scenery, sounds, and smells around you and being able to clear your thoughts is like nothing else. It’s so easy to get caught up in the bustle of chores, to-do lists, friends and family, etc., so having the chance to just hang out with yourself sometimes is priceless. After all, you’re the only person that you have to spend 24/7 365 with, so you might as well learn to enjoy your company.

Sculpture on the Caperton Trail – Morgantown, WV

After a peaceful start to the day, I headed into the city. I decided to take a stroll through the Wharf District on the Caperton Rail-Trail. The Caperton Rail-Trail is a six mile long asphalt trail that goes through the city. I didn’t do the full thing as I had plenty of other things I wanted to see that day, but it was definitely a lovely resource to have.

Bridge on Caperton Trail – Morgantown, WV

After leaving there, I made my way toward the university to check out some of their buildings. My timing was quite good, it seems, because as I passed one of the buildings I noticed a sign for a craft fair that was going on. I’m a sucker for a good craft fair, and it was the last day that this one was going on, so obviously I went. Another plus was that it was Sunday, so parking was free. That wasn’t advertised too well by the parking authority’s website, but after talking to many locals I found out that it was indeed free. The fair was filled with local artisans, craftsmen, and artists. I spent a solid couple of hours browsing through the different pieces people had created, and I even did a bit of Christmas shopping while I was there. I’d say it was a win.

Woodburn Hall – Morgantown, WV

From one art excursion to the next, I headed to the WVU Museum of Art (which has free admission). When I arrived, the museum was pretty empty, and the girls working the front desk were super nice and helpful. They had one permanent exhibit that was a private collection that had been donated to the museum, and on their second floor they had a traveling exhibit. It was an incredible museum.

Permanent exhibit in the Art Museum of WVU – Morgantown, WV

The traveling exhibit was the Cut Up & Cut Out exhibit that consisted of pieces that made use of negative space, cutting, and carving techniques. The skill and precision used in the work was absolutely painstaking and amazing. Downstairs, the permanent exhibit was made up of a vast array of pieces from different styles, mediums, and subject matter from classic oil portraits to social realism. It was a fantastic visit, and I would highly recommend it if you’re a lover of art or not.

Piece from the traveling Cut Up & Cut Out exhibit at the Art Museum of WVU – Morgantown, WV
Piece from the traveling Cut Up & Cut Out exhibit at the Art Museum of WVU – Morgantown, WV

Once I left the art museum, I decided to just drive around the city for a bit. The downtown area and business district were pretty neat places filled with theaters, restaurants, and unique shops. I didn’t get out and do much shopping as that’s not really my thing most of the time, but it was still really enjoyable getting to see what the city had to offer. Also, after seeing tons of advertisements and postings about pepperoni rolls, I decided to find out what the hoopla was all about. Apparently they’re a pretty huge deal in West Virginia, so of course I had to try one. The Mid-Atlantic Market had been voted best in the city, so I made my way over to try one out. It was about what you’d expect, I suppose. It was a bread roll filled with cheese and pepperoni. Nothing spectacular, in my opinion, but it was still pretty good.

After a full day of exploring, I made my way to the grocery store to do a bit of shopping. I made my first stop to Kroger because it was closer, but I quickly realized they were a bit pricier than I liked, so I headed to the superior Aldi to get my groceries before heading to Planet fitness for a good workout and shower. I had stayed there the night before, but I figured it wouldn’t be an issue to stay a second night before heading out. Around 1:30am, though, I woke from a deep sleep to the sound of someone walking past my car saying “I think someone is sleeping in here.” Of course I was startled. I hadn’t had anyone acknowledge me up until this point. I made a peak over one of my curtains to see who was outside, and it appeared to be a younger guy talking on the phone. He had continued walking, so I think he was more making an observation than anything, because he didn’t seem to care I was there. I watched him for a while to make sure he didn’t come back, but after a little while he left. I was a little shaken, and I considered leaving, but since he didn’t actually bother me and didn’t seem to care, I stayed where I was. I did lay awake for a while to make sure nothing else happened,  but I seemed to be in the clear, so I went back to sleep with no other issues.

Day 14:

View from Cooper’s Rock State Park, WV

The next stop on my list was a pretty long drive from where I had stayed, so I decided to stop about halfway between in a city called Morgantown, WV. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University, so it was bound to be bustling with all sorts of activity. My first stop on my way into the city was Cooper’s Rock State Park. When I arrived there were tons of people there, but that was for good reason. Not far from the parking lot was an incredible overlook of the Cheat River Canyon and surrounding mountains. I decided to spend a bit of time there and go ahead and have a picnic break. The air was slightly chilly, but the sun was out enough to make up for that. Because of just how accessible everything was at Cooper’s Rock, it was definitely a fantastic stop on my way into town.

Cooper’s Rock State Park, WV

Because the previous day had been so busy, I decided to take things a bit slower once I got into Morgantown. I decided to head over to their Botanical Gardens which were located in the city’s old reservoir. I can imagine it would have been stunning during the spring time, but during November gardens aren’t usually at their peak; however, the weather was gorgeous, and there were tons of really nice trails to explore. I spent a couple of hours walking around the gardens and through the woods while talking on the phone with Joseph. It was definitely a really nice way to decompress a bit. Because of the fact that true downtime can be kind of hard to come by on the road, times like those are very welcome.

Cheat Lake – Morgantown, WV

Once I had covered the gardens pretty well I decided to visit Cheat Lake. When I arrived, it was getting a bit later in the evening, so the lighting was beautiful. I took a short walk around part of the lake until I came to a few floating piers in the water. They were right in the sun, and it just seemed so peaceful, so I made my way out onto one and laid at the end for a  while. The movement of the water, the sound of birds, and the warm sunlight were just what I needed, so I stayed there until the sun was almost down before making the walk back to my car. There was a little market with a sitting area near the Planet Fitness I planned to stay at that night, and they were kind enough to let me hang out for a while, so I posted up there for a couple of hours to use their Wi-Fi. You don’t realize how great Wi-Fi is until your parents call to tell you that you’re using too much data and you need more Wi-Fi…whoops

Day 13:

Sunset from Seneca Rocks, WV

After a stressful night of gusting winds and the potential of in coming snow, I woke up completely unscathed and safe. However, it did snow during the night, but not very much. There was just a light dusting on the ground, and luckily it wasn’t anything to inhibit travel. Despite the relatively good weather that morning, it was a chilling 27°F, so I opted to spend the morning in a local coffee house called Trailhead Coffee. Yes, I know, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, but they’re kind of the perfect place to spend hours writing and working without feeling like you’re not supposed to be there. Plus, coffee is a necessity, especially when it’s so cold outside. While I was doing a bit of work I ended up talking to an elderly Russian man named Victor who gave me some pointers on which trails to hit and what time of day was best for certain hikes. It actually turned out to be a pretty nice morning.

Blackwater Falls, WV

Once it had warmed up to a toasty 30°F and the sun popped out a bit, I decided to make my way into Blackwater Falls State Park (which was free) just down the road. Almost as soon as I crossed the border into the state park I started to see groups of deer everywhere that weren’t shy at all. The park was pretty sparse due to the cold weather, but that was perfectly fine with me. I made the short walk down the boardwalk to the main falls, and with all the rain they had had recently, it was flowing pretty heavily. The color of the water was a deep amber, and it looked almost like tea. At first I thought that was because of the rain washing down sediment, but apparently it was due to the release of tannins from decomposing vegetation, and the river is always that color.

View from Lindy Point – Blackwater Falls, WV

Now that I had seen the main attraction of Blackwater Falls, I decided to explore the park a bit more. There were tons of stunning overlooks that showed off the gorgeous river below as well as the bountiful fall colors. At the very back of the park past one of their ski lodges was a trail called Lindy Point which had been suggested to me by Victor. The trail was only about a third of a mile one way, so the walk was very short and easy. Once I made it to Lindy Point, though, I was absolutely stunned. I would have easily hiked 10 miles for a view like that. You could see for miles around you, and the view of the gorge was incredible. It’s definitely the kind of place you would want to watch the sunset as most of the view is of the west, but alas, it was about 2pm. That’s alright, though, because I had plenty of other things to occupy me for the rest of the day.

Elakala Falls – Blackwater Falls, WV

Before coming to the park I had wanted to hike to Elakala Falls. According to Alltrails it was about a 5.4 mile hike. Considering it was so cold, I got all geared up to make the trek because I didn’t want to be unprepared. I packed extra clothes, water, food, and some lights just in case. I started off on the hike, and after about a quarter of a mile I started hearing water. Right at the bottom of the ravine was the waterfall. Turns out I only had to hike about a half mile to get to the falls instead of the planned 5.4. I’m not gonna lie, I was a bit relieved. Even though I was wearing two pairs of socks and hiking boots my toes were numb from the cold, but I was going to hike the five miles anyway. I’m glad I didn’t have to, though. I believe the 5.4 milesYeah must have been from the trail head of a different hike that also went there, but I’m certainly alright with not having to walk that far in the cold.

Once I finished exploring Blackfalls to my satisfaction, I decided I would move on to my next stop: Seneca Rocks. It was only about a half hour away, and it was about 4:00pm. The hike to the top of the rocks was only supposed to be about three miles round trip, so I figured I could make that with plenty of time to watch the sunset. When I arrived, the temperature was around 40°F because it was much lower in altitude than my previous location. That made the hike so much more enjoyable. However, the hike was still quite steep. It was about 1.5 miles to the top of the mountain all uphill, but that just meant that I would get to go downhill the whole way back, so I was alright with that.

View from Seneca Rocks, WV

Finally I made it to the top, and I had about 30 minutes until the sun set completely. The view was absolutely stunning. It overlooked the entire valley below, and the leaves were extraordinarily vibrant. I climbed my way up to a good spot on the rocks to sit and watch the sun go down. Instead of taking pictures, I wanted to get a time-lapse. It’s not every day that you get to watch the sunset on a gorgeous fall day from the top of a mountain. So I took off one of my hiking boots and used it in place of a tri-pod (sometimes you just gotta make do). Then I just sat and watched. It was the most incredible thing when the sun got right on the horizon, because I could actually SEE the sun moving. Breathtaking. Once the sun made its final decent behind the mountains, I decided it was time to head back down because I didn’t want to be caught in the dark. I stopped the time-lapse only to notice that my phone had 1% battery left. It had lasted just barely long enough for me to catch the whole thing on video.

Sunset from Seneca Rocks, WV

The hike back down the mountain went by very quickly since I wasn’t out of breath the whole time. Now that the sun was down, it was about time for me to find somewhere to settle down for the night. How about that Walmart I was going to go to the night before? It was actually on the way to where I was headed next, so it worked out perfectly. It was still a bit early in the night when I arrived there, so I drove around the town a bit and explored. There wasn’t a ton to see, so I mostly just ended up sitting in my car in a Sheetz parking lot, which is a huge gas station chain in this part of the country, and eating my dinner. It was a fine end to a long day, though.

Day 12:

Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum – Weston, WV

Halloween had finally come, and my plan for the day was touring an old insane asylum. No, I didn’t actually plan it out that way, but it just kind of worked out. I got up and went through my morning routine and made my way to a local state park river access area to make myself some coffee and oatmeal. The first tour at the asylum wasn’t until noon, so I had a bit of time to kill. For about an hour I just sat by the river sipping my coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet. Sometimes the quiet, uneventful moments are my favorite.

This section of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has been refurbished to look as it did when it was first constructed – Weston, WV

Finally the time came for me to make my way to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. When I arrived I was met by the sight of a stunningly ornate yet eerie building (which I later found out is the second largest hand-cut sandstone building in the world. It’s only second to the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia). The setting was perfect: grey sky, cold air, and a light drizzle of rain. What a perfect day to explore an old asylum, right? I decided to take the full historic tour rather than the paranormal tour. Yes, I know, it was Halloween, but the real history of what went down there was just as unnerving as the ghost stories. Everyone else that showed up while I was there was taking the paranormal tours, so I just had two cool older ladies on the tour with me. Old women seem to be a common theme on this trip so far. It’s fine with me though, because they’ve all been pretty cool. These particular women were on a road-trip too, so I got to talk to them about traveling for a bit before the tour started.

This is how time has changed the asylum – Weston, WV

The full tour was an hour and a half long, and it included sections of the hospital that had been refurbished to show how it would have looked during it’s time of construction, and then there were sections that were left with their deterioration. The hospital had been open from the late 1800s and shut down in 1994. It remained closed until 2007 when it was privately purchased at auction by the owners that have it currently. It was pretty amazing to see how these patients lived and hear about their treatment, which needless to say wasn’t too great. It had been an incredibly overcrowded facility, and many of the people that were admitted there really didn’t need to be there. There were many reasons such as novel reading, laziness, anxiety, depression, jealousy, and even just being a woman could all be cause to have you admitted. Because of this, they quickly outgrew their capacity. The facility was built to house 250 patients, but at their peak there were over 2,600 patience being kept in the hospital. I could go on and on about what I learned about that place, but I already ramble enough as is, so I’ll leave it there. I ended up spending about four hours at the asylum in total. After the tour was over we were open to explore a large portion of the bottom floor and see some of the museums they had set up. Overall it was an incredibly interesting stop, and it made my previously uneventful Halloween pretty neat.

This is how time has changed the asylum – Weston, WV

I had plans to visit a couple of state parks the next day, so I decided to head in that direction and stay in a dispersed camp ground in the Canaan Wildlife Area. However, when I got there I saw that it was at the very top of a mountain, it was incredibly secluded, and there was really bad weather coming in. My instincts told me not to stay there, so I looked for the nearest Walmart so that I could at least be in population if it did end up snowing like forecasted. Yeah, the nearest one was an hour away. I decided it was better to be safe than sorry, though, so I made my way to the bottom of the mountain. Luckily when I got there it was a little town called Davis, WV, and there was a Dollar General and a Shop ‘N’ Save. They were kind enough to let me park there overnight, so I didn’t end up having to drive very far at all. I’m really glad I made that decision, because the wind was blowing at 30mph all night, and the temperature was quickly dropping. Definitely not something I wanted to be alone on the top of a mountain for. I could feel every gust of wind, and it almost felt like my car was going to blow away (spoiler alert: it didn’t). It was a pretty nerve wracking night, for sure, and it really did make me homesick. That kind of weather wouldn’t be scary in a house with people around, but it definitely was while I was alone in an SUV.

Luckily I was able to talk to my boyfriend Joseph on the phone for a while. I mean, that’s been pretty standard on this trip, but I definitely needed it that night. The sound of a familiar voice, especially his, was really comforting. It did make me want to just turn around and go home right then, though. I would be comfortable and safe at home, I would get to be with the people I loved, and I wouldn’t have to worry about potentially getting snowed in, but I knew that it would be worth it to work through it. Having him as well as my other friends and family there to support me has really been what’s helped me in the tough times.

Day 11:

Capitol Street – Charleston, WV

Charleston was the first big city that I had stayed in over night. Prior to that, my sleeping arrangements had taken place in slightly more rural areas; however, I didn’t have any issues. It definitely made my commute back into downtown so much easier. So, if you’ve ever been to West Virginia or near the state line in a surrounding state, you’ve probably seen Tudor’s Biscuit World everywhere. Like, everywhere. I had never heard of it until I visited West Virginia, and I thought the first one I saw was a one of a kind, but no, that was not the case. They’re a major franchise in the state, and they’ve begun to branch out into the surrounding states. Since I kept seeing them everywhere, my interest was piqued, so I decided I would try it for breakfast. I must say I wasn’t disappointed by the biscuits and gravy and bacon I got. It was about what you’d expect from fast food breakfast, but it was pretty good. About the equivalent of Jack’s if you’re from the south.

Capitol Market – Charleston, WV

After my incredibly nutritious breakfast, I decided to make my way back into downtown and visit the popular Capitol Market that was at the end of Capitol street. Who would have guessed? On the inside of the market there were booths with cheese, wine, local honey, baked goods, containers of dried goods and spices for you to purchase in bulk, meat and fish vendors, among so many other delicious local goods, and there were also a few restaurants inside the market. Outside of the building was a traditional farmers market with tons of fresh, local produce and flowers. It was essentially my dream market. I could have easily spent tons of money there and not been mad about it, but alas, I’m trying to be frugal and stuff…boring.

West Virginia State House – Charleston, WV

Once I managed to stop fawning over all of the incredible looking food and products at the market, I made my way to the state house, because you can’t visit the capitol of West Virginia and not actually see the state house. When I arrived I felt a tad under dressed. Everyone I saw entering or leaving the building was dressed in business attire, and here I was in jeans and a sweater. It was fine, though, because everyone could tell I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, so I think that gave me a pass. When I went in, they had a visitor’s desk where they had maps and self-guided walking tours. I spent the next hour wandering around the building and reading about the history and architecture, but don’t ask me any questions about it because I don’t remember. I did thoroughly enjoy it, though. Unfortunately the famous golden dome was undergoing some repairs while I was there, so I didn’t get to see that in person, but that was fine. The grounds outside of the building were perfectly manicured and filled with memorial sculptures, so I made the block around the building and checked out all of the incredible bronze statues that filled the grounds. The Governor’s Mansion and the state’s Cultural Center are also located right by the State House. The Governor’s Mansion was not open to just anyone, but I did get to see it from the outside. The Cultural Center, on the other hand, is free and open to the public, but when I got there it was filled with every area school’s 3rd grade class, so I opted to pass.

West Virginia State Senate – Charleston, WV

My next stop of the day was the Elk City District which was a really neat area of town filled with eclectic shops, record stores, and cafés. I stopped in Kin Ship Goods which had the coolest t-shirts, hand crafted candles, blankets, and loads of other items that made me want to buy gifts for everyone I know. Right around the corner was Elk City Records. As I walked through the door I was greeted with the sound of some old unfamiliar bluegrass artist playing on the turntable and row after row of vinyl records. They had anything you could think of from pre-WWII Jazz (yes, that was a specific section) to modern alternative. You could easily spend all day combing through the large selection of music that they have to offer, but I only had 18 minutes because that’s all the change I had left to feed the meter outside. It was still enough for me to get a feel of the place, and I liked what I saw. Once I started back to my car, I saw a wrestling ring being set up in one of the lots between two buildings. That’s definitely not something you see every day, so I had to see what was going on. Apparently they were going to be having a local wrestling match there later, so my plans for the evening were set.

Elk District – Charleston, WV
Elk City Records – Charleston, WV

After driving around the city and exploring a bit more, I decided to head back to Taylor Books and actually spend a bit more time there. I spent a little while browsing through their used books section before finding a seat in their café to write for a bit. I ordered my drink of choice, a cappuccino, and sat down to get to work. After getting a bit of writing done, I decided to head back to the Elk City District to check out the street wrestling match. I’ll admit, I’m not really a fan of theatrical wrestling, but I just felt like this was one of those opportunities you don’t come across very often. I didn’t stay a super long time, but it was pretty enjoyable while I was there. It was one of those things that was kind of silly, and it’s just fun to be there and watch everyone interact and get into what was going on.

Taylor Books – Charleston, WV
Street wrestling match in the Elk City District – Charleston, WV

My destination for the next day was a couple of hours from Charleston, so I decided to go ahead and start in that direction and stay somewhere in between for the night. I ended up settling on a Walmart that was about halfway there. Right next door was a Starbucks, and if you know me, then you know I’m not a fan of Starbucks. They’re open late and have Wi-Fi, so I’ve had to come to terms with my dislike when there is no other option around. So I ended up sitting at Starbucks for a solid two and a half hours trying to catch up on writing. The reason I’m always stopping to write is because I didn’t start documenting this journey until a few days into it, so I’ve constantly been a few days behind on my writing. I’m determined to get caught up, though. I probably could do that a bit quicker if I didn’t ramble on so much…

Day 10:

Humpback Bridge, VA

Day 10 was a busy day. I pretty much made a beeline to West Virginia that morning, but a little while before crossing the state line I passed a sign for the Humpback Bridge. I had no idea what that was, but I tend to like the things that are on the brown signs on the interstate, so I got off at the exit and followed the signs. Just a short ways off the interstate was the most precious arched covered bridge. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from the name “Humpback Bridge,” but for some reason, that wasn’t it. In front of the bridge was a large “L” made from local bricks, a cog from an old paper mill representing an “O,” a tree that had grown in the shape of a “V,” and an “E” made from old railroad ties. This location turned out to be one of the locations that Virginia was using to promote their “Virginia is for lovers” marketing campaign. I must admit, it was definitely worth the short detour.

Humpback Bridge, VA

Once I got back on the road, I continued on into West Virginia. Not too far into the state I saw signs for Lewisburg, WV. Another place I hadn’t originally intended on going, but the sign said it was voted America’s coolest small town, so who was I to turn down this opportunity? I made my way just a few short miles down the road into Lewisburg’s historic downtown, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. I was greeted with streets lined with cafés, book stores, art shops, and antique stores. The sidewalks were busy, but in a comfortable way. Everyone was friendly, and the atmosphere felt very welcoming. Mixed in with the old store fronts were even older buildings that still remained from the late 1700s. The blend of old and new definitely gave Lewisburg its unique touch. While I didn’t stay too long, I’m glad I ventured into America’s coolest small town.

Lewisburg, WV
Lewisburg, WV

After another pit stop, I finally headed towards the destination I originally had in mind that morning – Babcock State park. Once I arrived, I immediately drove around the park for a bit to get my bearings. The fall colors added to the already spectacular scenic views that the park had to offer, so I decided to stop at the very top of the mountain and have my lunch. What more could you ask for than beautiful weather, a park bench overlooking the wild and wonderful West Virginia, and a turkey sandwich? Sounds like almost heaven, if you ask me. After finishing my lunch, I made my way down to the old mill that makes Babcock so iconic. The water wasn’t quite high enough for the wheel to be turning, but it still made for a lovely scene. Right behind the mill was a short hiking trail called Island in the Sky. The trail was a very short and easy out and back trail, but of course I ended up making it a bit longer than necessary. There was a nice pavilion at the top of the trail to sit and enjoy the view before heading back to either the mill, or the parking area on the other end of the trail. There wasn’t enough at Babcock for me to make a full day of it, so I continued on to New River Gorge.

Babcock State Park, WV
Babcock State Park, WV

At the New River Gorge Visitor’s Center, there was an easy trail down to a fantastic overlook of the New River Gorge bridge. This was considered one of West Virginia’s most visited tourist locations, and I could definitely see why. The architecture, foliage, and stunning river made for the most spectacular view. After taking in all of the sights, I made the trek back up to car and decided to drive to the bottom of the bridge. It was definitely a tight fit even for my SUV, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to take that road if you drive anything larger (again, sorry van-lifers).

New River Gorge Bridge, WV

At this point, it was beginning to get a bit late in the evening, so I decided to go ahead and drive into Charleston, WV. I made a couple of stops along the way to take in the scenery, but for the most part it ended up being a straight shot. I took Hwy 60 the whole way there, and it was such an interesting drive. Many of the towns I drove through just seemed so foreign to me. The way they were positioned right on the river and consisted of many Victorian style houses just didn’t seem right compared to what I’m used to seeing. I’m sure the fact that it was sunset, and I was listening to the “Dummy” album by Portishead probably had something to do with it, but it was such a surreal experience. It’s strange how the smallest of things can end up being the most enjoyable. While I didn’t stop and do anything in any of those places, just getting to drive through and get a small glimpse into their everyday reality was a treat all on its own.

Charleston, WV

Once I arrived in Charleston it was pretty dark, and I didn’t want to be out walking around a lot, so I made my way to Capitol Street to visit Taylor Books to do some writing. This was definitely any bookworms dream. The main room of the shop was a book store, and a rather large one at that. In the used books section at the back there was a door that led downstairs to their pottery studio where they had pottery wheels and offered classes on how to use them. On the right side of the store was a coffee shop with a great variety of beverages and baked goods. Then off to the left was an art gallery filled with work from local artists, and a theater where they held shows and open mic events. So yeah, pretty much all the things I love in one place. Unfortunately they closed not too long after I arrived, so I didn’t get to stay very long (don’t worry, I went back for more).

Art gallery in Taylor Books, WV

Lucky for me there was a hand-dip ice cream shop right across the street called Ellen’s. I had been craving ice cream, so naturally I stopped in. Their selection was HUGE, so I opted for something a little simple – coffee and chocolate chip. Once my craving was satisfied I decided to find my place for the night, so I headed over to a town called Nitro which wasn’t far outside of Charleston. There was a Planet Fitness and a Walmart within a half mile of each other, so I was pretty much set. I went for a good upper body workout and shower at Planet Fitness, and I had considered staying there that night. However, there was a man hanging in the back of the parking lot for a while in a van, so I opted for the much more populated and well lit Walmart. It’s always better to follow your instincts and be safe and not sorry.

Day 9:

Natural Bridge, VA

I woke up in the parking lot of Planet Fitness in Roanoke, VA on Monday. It worked out quite well, except I did feel a bit weird about checking into the gym just to go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and change clothes. Thankfully the guy at the front desk wasn’t there to give me a strange look when I went to leave. After getting ready to go for the day, which has been taking substantially less time on the road because I’ve completely given up on wearing makeup and doing anything fancy with my hair, and I wear pretty much the same thing every day, I headed straight to downtown to explore some more. Luckily the traffic was light and parking was easy to come by. There were tons of 2 hour parking spaces which was more than enough time for what I had planned. I mainly wanted to visit the Roanoke City Market, however, when I got there it didn’t seem to be going on. It said that it was seven days a week 8am-5pm, and I was there around 11am. Maybe I was missing something. None the less, I still managed to stop in for some coffee and breakfast at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea. The chocolate chip scone was perfect to satiate my ongoing chocolate cravings.

Once breakfast was eaten, I walked around the block and decided to head back to my car. I’m sure there is tons more to do in Roanoke, but it didn’t really strike my fancy a whole lot, so I decided not to stick around much longer. I already had plans to visit Natural Bridge State Park, so that’s where I headed. It was about 45 minutes outside of town, and it wasn’t very busy when I got there. The ticket was $8, but I’d say it was worth it. The hike to the arch itself was rather short, but I did the full hike to the waterfall which was around 1 mile. The falls weren’t anything extraordinary, but it was definitely worth it to enjoy the nature. The arch, on the other hand, was incredible. Apparently it used to be a large cave opening that has slowly deteriorated over time leaving only the arch left. I’m really glad they had that little tidbit of information because I had always been a bit curious how the natural phenomenon occurred. The arch is an incredible 215ft tall, and it’s rumored that George Washington left his initials on the wall of the arch during a survey expedition there. However, there are only the initials “GW,” so it’s not confirmed that they were actually carved by George Washington himself.

Natural Bridge, VA

During the hike back from the falls I was adopted by three adorable old women. They were walking in front of me, and then when they went to let me pass, one of them struck up a conversation with me. She was very talkative and seemed so excited about life, so I let her talk. She told me she used to live in Philly, so considering I will be visiting there soon I asked her what she recommended seeing. Her only answer: Botanical gardens. She listed, like, four different ones. The woman was so excited about plants. She told me so much about the gardens, and she even had pictures to show me! It was pretty sweet, I must say. As we neared the exit to the trail, she invited me to join them for lunch, but I declined as I had plans to spend more time at the park. Besides my time at the Workaway, that was the longest conversation I’ve had with anyone face-to-face since I started this trip.

Natural Bridge, VA

One thing that’s so easy to take for granted is human connection. While I’ve been gone, I haven’t had a whole lot of it. I’ve been very lucky to have extensive phone-calls with my boyfriend, and many texts and calls with my parents and best friend, but it just isn’t the same. I miss being face-to-face with the people I care about, and being able to touch them and see them. I’ve always been a pretty introverted person, so I usually handle solitude pretty well, and for the most part I’m fine out here. However, in those moments at night when I don’t have anything actively occupying my thoughts and time, it’s really easy to get homesick and feel lonely. I’m not the most outgoing person, so it’s hard for me to just strike up conversations with strangers, and even if I did, I would have to be really careful about what I say. Being a solo-female far from home isn’t exactly safe, so I have to be cautious about the things I do and say. For instance, I don’t want people to know I’m alone, or that I’m far from home and have no one around that I know, or what my full name is, or that I’m camping in my car. Too much information can lead to potentially dangerous situations depending on not only who I’m talking to, but who around me could be listening. So for those reasons I haven’t been the most social person, and that can take its toll after a little while, because like it or not we are social creatures.

Enough of the deep talk, though, because even with the low moments, this has been an incredible experience. As I left Natural Bridge I decided to go to Lynchburg, VA. That was another last minute decision, and I really didn’t know anything about it. Needless to say, I don’t feel the need to go back there again. As soon as I made it into the city I headed towards to library to use their Wi-Fi for a minute to get my bearings, and the first thing I saw was a man being arrested by five officers…outside the library. Great first impression, right? I decided to drive around for a bit anyway to see if there was anything I wanted to do, but I really didn’t feel too safe anywhere that I went. After a little while of driving around, I just decided to move on, so I started to head towards my campsite for the night – the Pine Campground in Jefferson National Forest. While my visit to Lynchburg proved to be a bit uneventful, it was still worth the drive so that I could eliminate the curiosity there.

One of the pit stops I made on the way to my campsite

When I made it to my campsite it was just after sundown, but there was still plenty of light to build a fire by. I finally made it to a campsite before dark! This was an extraordinarily nice campsite, too, considering it was free. There were picnic tables, fire rings, lantern posts, and bathrooms. For that reason, it was quite packed, and I managed to get the last campsite available. So I parked up and started a fire. I was quite proud, because I think that’s the first fire I’ve ever started without any assistance. Some kids (I assume) had come in and painted faces on many of the trees around my site in glow in the dark paint. I must admit, it was a bit unnerving. It’s funny the things that are unsettling when you’re alone that wouldn’t otherwise bother you. Like the scary movie that you laugh at with friends but get nightmares from when you watch it alone. It’s easy to find solace in others, I suppose.

Day 8:

The Devil’s Bathtub – Duffield, VA

On Sunday I made my way into Virginia and went on a hike to the Devil’s Bathtub. Fitting, right? It was out in the middle of nowhere, and it seemed I was the first one to the trail that day, so I was a bit weary starting off. However, once I got on the trail I felt fine because the trail was market pretty well, and it wasn’t very strenuous. It was a leisurely stroll compared to the previous day’s hike. It was a short 4 mile round trip that I would probably rate as easy/moderate, and I would only go so far as to say moderate because of the many river crossings. Once I made it to the focal point of the trail, the Devil’s Bathtub, I was amazed. The changing leaves made the view even better. I was definitely glad to be the only one out there at the time. It made the whole experience that much more enjoyable. I spent a fair amount of time exploring the area before making the trip back. I did pass several families making the hike in as I was on my way out, so I guess the isolation that I experienced was due to the time that I made the hike.

The Devil’s Bathtub – Duffield, VA

The other hike that I had wanted to do was to the Channels Nature Preserve. However, it was a slightly longer hike, and I wouldn’t have the time to do it that day. I wasn’t really wanting to stay in the area again that night since I had so much ground to cover, so I decided I would venture back another time to visit. Instead I made a last minute decision to head to Roanoke, VA. That wasn’t previously on my list, but it was on the way to my next destination, Natural Bridge. So I drove the two hours to Roanoke, and I’m glad I did.

Red Spotted Newt at The Devil’s Bathtub – Duffield, VA

On the drive into the city I had seen a beautiful church, and if you know me, then you know that I love visiting churches. So once I made it into downtown I went on a hunt to find that church. It didn’t take very long since it was pretty large, so naturally I stopped to take some photos. However, it had a sign saying it was a Catholic school, so I didn’t know if it would be alright to go in. To be on the safe side I didn’t.

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church – Roanoke, VA

Instead I decided to visit the famous Roanoke Star and enjoy the sunset view of the city. It was pretty crowded when I got there, but I still managed to find parking and join the crowd in watching the sun go down. As 7:00pm hit, the star lit up causing excitement in the small children and adults alike. It was definitely a nice welcome into the city. Since it was now pretty dark I decided to make my way to my spot for the night: Planet Fitness. I opted to stay there instead of Walmart because when I called all of the local Walmarts they all said they did not accept overnight parking. I’m sure that I would have been fine to stay anyway, but I decided I would just stay at PF since I was there anyway, and it was a very lit area. I was able to use their Wi-Fi to get my game plan together for the next day also, so it worked out quite well in the end.

View from the Roanoke Star – Roanoke, VA
Roanoke Star – Roanoke, VA

Day 7:

Profile Trail – Boone, NC

Well, I woke up in my first Walmart parking lot in Boone, NC. I can’t say that I disliked it. There was a bit of noise throughout the night, but not enough to keep me awake at all. No ticket, my car didn’t get towed, and I didn’t get the dreaded window knock in the middle of the night. Overall it worked out perfectly! I even had easy access to a bathroom once I managed to get myself out of bed. I only got a couple of strange looks from people as I made my way into Walmart at 7:00am in sweatpants, messy hair, and a change of clothes. I was officially a person of Walmart.

After getting ready for the day, I made my way to Howard’s Knob so that I could watch the sunrise (and yes, if you’re not familiar with the mountains in the fall/winter, the sun doesn’t rise until around 7:45am which seemed really late to me at first.) Unfortunately, however, once I made it to the park, there was a sign foiling my plans that said the park had been closed for the season. I was pretty bummed. I still managed to catch a pretty spectacular view while I was making my way down off the mountain, though.

About the time that I made it back to downtown it was just a little after 8:00am which was when the Watauga County Farmer’s Market opened. In a parking lot right next to a lovely wildflower garden there were rows of tents and food trucks lined up. Vendors were still setting up as the first few people began to make their way through the market. Locally grown apples, freshly made goat cheese, hand-crafted jewelry, and warm bread right out of the oven are just a few of the fantastic goods that filled all of the tables. As I strolled through the rows of tents I was offered samples of cheeses, pesto, smoked trout, honey, and even given an apple to take with me. I was definitely a kid in a candy store. I also just managed to luck out because they’re only open on Saturdays from 8am-12pm, and I was only in town for the one day.

Once I had explored the farmer’s market to my hearts content, I made my way to the local park to cook up some breakfast. Luckily it was empty, so I had free reign to spend as long as I needed. I lugged all of my cooking ware and ingredients out of my car and up to the pavilion and began setting up. I decided while I was at it I should go ahead and cook my dinner, so I cooked up a bulk batch of couscous, fried sweet potatoes, green peas, and my breakfast of the day: oatmeal. (Tip: couscous is the easiest thing when cooking like this. You literally just add boiling water and then let it sit for about five minutes. It was perfect to have that sitting while I cooked my other food.) Since I was cooking so much food, I was at the park for quite a while, and several people drove past as I was doing my thing. Needless to say I got several strange looks from people as I was chopping up sweet potatoes at a picnic table.

Profile Trail – Boone, NC

Breakfast was eaten and dinner was cooked. I was ready to move on. I decided to take a hike on Profile Trail in the Grandfather State park just up the road. It seemed like a pretty popular hike, so I figured it would be pretty simple. Boy was I wrong. First off, the trail map says that it’s 3.6 miles in and 3.6 miles out which totals to be 7.2 miles. Yeah, no. I knew once I had hiked over 4 miles one way and still hadn’t made it to Conway Overlook that something was off. I was on the correct trail, but the mileage wasn’t quite right. The first 1.5 miles was pretty easy going. The leaves were beautiful and the hike went right along a stunning mountain stream. Around mile 2, though, things were all uphill…literally. I’m talking the switchbacks, rocks, burning quads, red face, and panting kinda uphill. It had been a rainy evening the night before, and they were expecting rain again that evening, so as I got further up the mountain the fog began to set in. I didn’t mind it, though, because I like fog. However, with the lack of sunlight to dry the ground the path became progressively more muddy…and more, and more. By the time I started nearing the top of the trail I was doing my best not to fall or splash mud all over myself. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for hiking boots.

Profile Trail – Boone, NC

I finally made it to what I thought was the top after about 4.5 miles, but then I passed some locals that told me no, in fact, I had about another .5 a mile one way. I figured I had come this far, so I might as well continue on. Well, this was no regular trail. It was an old river bed that consisted of large boulders straight up. So this was more like climbing than hiking, and mind you, it was very wet up there, so these rocks were slick. Well, I made it to a fork in the trail, and there was a sign pointing to the ending overlook that was 1 mile away. At this point, I was done. There was rain coming in, and you could feel it in the air. The wind was whipping, and there was the occasional rain drop, and I knew I was going to have to hike back down everything I had just come up. I wasn’t willing to hike another two miles round-trip for a view that I wouldn’t even be able to see because of the fog and risk getting caught in a downpour, so I decided to make my way back.

Profile Trail – Boone, NC

As I made my way back down the trail I had to take things very, very slowly. My ankle and knees were very unhappy with me, so I was having to be very strategic about where I stepped. Once I made it back to the dirt (mud) trail, I was having to watch every step I made so that I didn’t fall and bust my ass. Finally, as I made it most of the way back the trail began to dry, so I was able to pick up the pace a bit. However, if you’ll remember that the first 1 ½ miles of the trail was pretty easy, that was because it was downhill. So that means that it was uphill on the way out. I was beyond ready to make it back to my car, and finally I saw the light of salvation: the welcome building. Yeah, so much for 7.2 miles. I had trekked right over 9 miles, and I believe it was one of the, if not the, hardest hikes I have ever done. I’m sure the weather conditions played a big role in that, but I was beyond tired.

Since it was later in the evening at this point, I decided to make it to the town I was going to stay in that night: Kingsport, TN. I made it there right after dark, and it was a great little town with theaters, coffee shops, and bars that were very well populated. I made my way into a coffee shop called Hibbert-Davis Urban Brews to do some writing and use their Wi-Fi. The blueberry rooibos tea was fantastic. Luckily there was also a Planet Fitness in the area, so after enjoying my tea I decided to go get in an upper body workout, because clearly I needed more exercise after that hike. Needless to say I was pretty beat by the end of the day, so after a workout and shower I figured it was time for bed. Guess where I stayed that night…Walmart.

Day 6:

River Arts District – Asheville, NC

Well my final day at the Workaway finally came. I decided to stick around for breakfast for some final conversation before heading back to Asheville. As quickly as my time there had come it was over. It was definitely a great way to really kick off my trip though. It allowed me to ease into being far from home without completely taking away the travel element or plunging me into complete isolation.

Central United Methodist Church – Asheville, NC

Around 10am I took off back towards Asheville. Luckily the weather was cooperative this time, so I was able to explore on foot. I parked up on a street in front of a lovely tea shop called Dobra Tea. From there I just walked around with no particular destination in mind. There were so many unique shops, restaurants, and cafés. I tend to feel somewhat unsafe in a lot of cities, but Asheville felt incredibly safe and clean, so I had no issues walking around alone. However, I was still sticking to more populated places during daylight hours, so no dark alleyways or parking decks for me. I spent a couple of hours weaving my way in and out of book stores, record shops, boutiques, and other eclectic storefronts. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to visit the Asheville Art Museum as it’s currently moving locations, but I would definitely like to get back to see it one day. The arts are alive and well in Asheville, without a doubt, and that was also very evident in their street art. Many alleys and brick walls donned beautiful murals and scenes. Nothing prepared me for the art in the River Arts District, though.

River Arts District – Asheville, NC

After exploring the downtown area for a while I made my way to the River Arts District. Both sides of Depot Street were lined with old warehouse buildings that had been converted into art studios, galleries, restaurants, bars, skate parks, and venues. The outsides of the building were absolutely COVERED in art. I’ve never seen graffiti or street art quite like it. Everywhere you look your eyes were met with stunning, vibrant images. As I started to wonder inside the shops I was greeted with many different types of art and mediums from paint and clay, to wood and old bike inner tubes. Many of the shops and galleries I entered either had artists at work or were teaching classes. So it was pretty neat to walk into one shop and see an artist working on an incredibly intricate painting and then walk one door down and see a glass blowing workshop being taught. The River Arts District is a definite must when visiting Asheville.

River Arts District – Asheville, NC

Once I finished walking the streets and galleries of the River Arts District I was getting pretty hungry. Now, I know I’m supposed to be on a budget and everything, but part of traveling is having food that you can’t have anywhere else. So considering I’m a huge fan of Mediterranean food, I decided I would find some local and have that for dinner. I ended up settling on the Gypsy Queen Market, and I must say that was a fantastic decision. I had the kibbe wrap, and I think that was one of the best Mediterranean dishes I’ve ever had. It was a pita wrap with tomato, cucumber mint slaw, onion, hummus, ground lamb, and some other incredible Lebanese ingredients that made for an incredible meal. 10/10 would recommend.

After a fantastic dinner I headed to Boone, NC to spend the night. Boone is an adorable little big college town. There was a fantastic downtown area called King Street where I spent most of my night. Parking was free in the evenings, and I managed to luck up with a parking spot right on the main street, but that was only after a (nearly) catastrophic parking situation. Okay, so catastrophic may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. I had pulled into a parking lot only to see that it was for college students only, and I probably could have gotten away with it, but I didn’t want to risk it (again, I’m terrified of having a traffic violation). So once I got into this parking lot, I realized it was quite tight and there was nowhere to turn around, so I was going to pull into a parking space so that I could turn around that way. Bad decision. The two cars in which I tried to pull in between were closer together than I had realized, so I accidentally pulled really close to one of the cars, like way close, like MAYBE my mirror was two or three inches from this car. Luckily it was a compact car, so my mirror was above theirs. However, there were wooden beams on either side of the parking space marking them off, and I was pulled up on one…I just knew I was going to hit that car or just not be able to get out. However, after adjusting my car maybe 10 (okay, probably closer to, like, 30) times I was able to finagle my way out of the parking space with a hair of space to spare. Definitely the closest I’ve ever come to hitting something, and I was not a fan. However, I was quite proud of my maneuvering ability. Hopefully I’ll never have to put it to the test quite like that again, though.

Once I managed to find a nice spacious place to park my car, I went on the hunt for a coffee shop to do some writing in. I had been told about Espresso News by Adam from the Workaway, so I wondered the streets trying to find it, and it was definitely a hidden gem. It was hidden behind a climbing shop on the backside of King Street on Howard Street. I only walked the block like three times, because according to Google it was right there. Once I finally managed to find it, I spent a couple of hours enjoying their nice music selection and working on my game plan for the next day.

I hadn’t found a campground for that night because I was going to try my hand at a Walmart parking lot. I’ll admit, I didn’t call in advance to see if it was okay, but when I arrived there were several RVs there already, so I figured it was fine. I did all of my setup as discreetly as possible and crawled in the back for the night. I managed to sleep rather well with no issues, so thus the love of Walmart parking lots began.

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