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Wild and Wonderful West Virginia
By Gretchen Gales
As summer wraps up, you’re probably fondly remembering the places you went over the summer…or noticing you didn’t do too much at all.
Either way, there’s always an opportunity to plan the next trip. Tired of the beach? Want to go somewhere with a high altitude but can’t handle Colorado? Look no further than West Virginia.
Back in the summer of 2013, a couple of months after graduating high school, my father was sent on the annual work business trip for transportation workers. Families of the employees are always invited, but since I typically work during the summer (and have an irrational fear of planes), I don’t normally attend. But that year the conference was scheduled to be within manageable distance on the east coast.
The conference was scheduled in West Virginia's capital, Charleston. To get the most out of a trip to West Virginia, you’ll have to forfeit any preexisting stereotypes about the state—some I don’t need to mention here. The state slogan is “Wild and Wonderful,” describing the mountainous scenery and rocky, winding roads. For most of the trip I was either reading a book (as usual) or looking out of the window, amazed.
Massive slopes of boulders hovered over the road, and some of them looked as if you lightly nudged it, every rock would tumble into the road. West Virginia is known for its mountains, and thank goodness I don’t get car sick, because our family SUV had to swerve around sharp turns and dodge the leather-clad bikers sharing the road with us. The road warriors were on every side of the car. My dad is a fan of motorcycles, but at that moment, not so much. The same could be said about my mother and being a fan being ladylike and meek. Was also the first time I ever heard my mother curse.
“SHIT!” I heard her hiss as one of the bikes nearly grazed her door.
I didn’t think I had heard her correctly. “Did you just say—?”
“Yes.” she gasped, holding the door handle.
I decided not to ask anymore questions.
About an hour later, we arrived at the Marriot where the conference was being held. But it turned out the transportation conference was not the only conference being hosted. Familiar leather jackets swarmed the entrance to the hotel. I heard Mom groan “Oh, no…”
You guessed it: the motorcyclists from the mountains were also in town. The hotel parking garage was completely coated in Harleys, Suzukis, and Yamahas. Mom wasn’t too happy about it, but I doubt the LAMAs (which stands for the Latin American Motorcycle Association) cared. All three days, we somehow always shared an elevator ride with at least one member, and my father would make small talk with them about their motorcycles for the 10 second ride down to the lobby.
What made up for it was the expansive Charleston Town Center Mall, just across the street from the hotel. After unpacking our bags, we dashed over to the 3 story retail wonderland. It’s where we found out the LAMA conference was a larger occasion than originally thought. The local Hallmark hung a poster in the front window welcoming the LAMAs and letting them know about the limited edition, customized motorcycle ornament to mark the occasion. If you were wondering where to get your coffee fix, there’s a large Starbucks in the middle of the mall, next to a three-tiered fountain littered with pennies. I was taken aback over how unbelievably kind and polite the employees at the stores were. Stores I was used to being ignored or glared at—my typical experience in the more high-end stores. Frankly, I’d say the majority of the people I spoke with were nothing but pleasant and polite and always willing to help.
If you’re into architecture, history, or just want to look at something pretty, an ideal stop would be the capitol building. The West Virginia State Capitol building is a gorgeous ornament to the city, but is also in sharp contrast to the more humble surroundings, mostly due to the gold-plated roof. The State Museum was next to the capitol building. If you’ve ever seen the movie October Sky, I can confirm that West Virginia was—and still is— obsessed over its coal mining history. Each section of the museum was modeled after the time period and matching artifacts. There was a section dedicated to West Virginians in war times. The exhibit had military uniforms dating back to World War I and included today’s modern camouflage. If you’re not convinced West Virginia has its own culture and history, you’ll be delighted to be proven wrong. But the best part of the museum?
It was completely free.
One of the nights a large dinner in the hotel ballroom was scheduled. Jessica Lynch, the first female POW, came to speak at the banquet. Lynch was captured in the early years of the Iraq War after the vehicle she was traveling in was ambushed and she was knocked unconscious. Her rescue was also the first successful rescue of a POW since World War II. She is greatly admired in Charleston, being a native of Palestine, West Virginia. Many of Lynch’s belongings, including her old army uniform and fan letters are on display in the local museums. She spoke with finesse about her capture, admitting much was a blur, and described what it was like to have been a POW, having her leg amputated, her rescue, and learning how to walk again. After being honorably discharged and earning the Purple Heart, Lynch went to college and received her Bachelor’s in K-6 Education at the West Virginia University at Parkersburg. She now teaches at an elementary school and has a child. If you're ever lucky enough to meet her and hear her speak, it's more than worth it to see a living part of history, even if you're not that interested in military affairs.
Unfortunately due to time constraints, I wasn't able to visit everywhere I had hoped. I didn't have the chance to shop around in the local stores or visit the popular artsy side of town and see sights like Taylor Books, the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences.
Guess that means I’ll have to go back.
#Real #Traveling #WestVirginia #Charleston #JessicaLynch #TownCenterMall #Museums #Sightseeing
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