When I told friends and coworkers in New York I was spending Memorial Day weekend in West Virginia, the response was invariably, “WHY?”
Most city folk spend their long weekends in the Hamptons, or the Jersey Shore, or various other locales about an hour or two outside of Midtown, so West Virginia is certainly out of the ordinary. But I had good reason to head out to the Mountain State. One of my best friends, Jolene, lives there and I wanted to see her and get a sense of her new life.
I also wanted to go far, far from the city, somewhere totally new.
It wouldn’t be my first time to West Virginia. Sophomore year of college I spent a week in the southern part of the state, picking up litter in the Appalachian Mountains as part of a university service trip. Then, my senior year, a few friends and I drove through on our way to Hilton Head Island for spring break (yes, we blasted “Country Roads”).
But I’d never been up north to Morgantown.
My other good friend, Laura, and I left from New Jersey early Friday morning, grabbing Dunkin’ Donuts coffees on our way. I was nervous about the drive, since I rarely get behind the wheel any more now that I live in the city. But my nerves calmed pretty quickly–I forgot how exhilarating highway driving can be.
The land rose and fell beneath us we moved into Pennsylvania and then West Virginia. We passed cows, horses and farmland. Over and over we marveled at how expansive and breathtakingly beautiful our country is, things one easily forgets when living in such a densely populated area.
The ride was pretty smooth, and aside from two Jersey girls trying to pump gas at a small country store (Billie’s was the name) with a single pump (what do you mean you don’t take credit cards?!) we made good time and arrived in Morgantown at around 3 p.m.
After hanging out with Jolene’s boyfriend Will and cat Gilligan, the three girls went to a concert in downtown Morgantown. Saturday morning we checked out the shops and had a leisurely breakfast at an eclectic coffee shop called Blue Moose Cafe. It was a perfect setting for girl talk and catching up. We missed Jolene! Growing up, you don’t think about your good friends moving far away. Even when you’re separated for college, you assume you’ll all be back together again eventually. But that’s not how real life works.
The sign of true friends, though, is when after months and months of being physically separated, things are exactly the same when you’re all together again.
Will’s parents own a lake house in Maryland, so we finished off the weekend in the idyllic setting of Deep Creek Lake. We arrived early in the evening on Saturday, ate sandwiches, and then sipped beers on the dock as we waited for the sun to set. It was incredibly relaxing–I’d forgotten what that kind of relaxation feels like. Since cell phone reception was spotty, I didn’t even feel compelled to check my phone, instead just enjoying a good book and good conversation.
Sunday morning we brewed coffee and espresso and walked down to the lake, watching the picturesque sailboats go by. Later, we sat around on their porch and drank white wine. Will’s parents were incredibly generous throughout the trip, putting together gourmet meals and making sure we all felt at home.
It was a wonderful trip–so great to see Jolene and experience her life in West Virginia. And as Laura said on the way back, we “broke the ice” with this one. More road trips are definitely in store for us!
As sweet as vacations are, it’s always a great feeling to be home. Coming back to Hell’s Kitchen Monday night, I was happy to smell the $1 pizza, feel the pounding music from nearby bars, and hear the sound of hundreds of rolling suitcases hitting the streets.
My own suitcase slung over my shoulder, I walked the flight of stairs up to my apartment, the sunset over Deep Creek Lake still tangible but fading rapidly into my imagination.