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West Virginia

Road Trip Recap: Appalachian Adventure

Road Trip Recap Appalachian Adventure

I love posting these recaps of our trips because it’s such a fun way to look back on our adventures and see all the ground we’ve covered. This trip definitely looks different from some of our previous trips — more on that below!

Appalachian Adventure By the Numbers:

Total travel days: 41 (September 6 – October 17)
States visited: 7 (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky)
Nights camping: 41
Nights in hotels or with family: 0 (!)
Campgrounds visited: 12

First of all — this trip was fun. In some ways it was more mellow than other trips we’ve done (no crazy off-roading, lots of KOAs) but in some ways, it was definitely an adventure (all the whitewater and all.the.bourbon). We definitely enjoyed getting to know a part of the country we’ve neglected. And we picked a great time of year to do it — let me tell you, West Virginia, Tennesee, and Kentucky in fall are gorgeous. The trip was also a study in contrasts; we stayed at both the swankiest campground we’ve ever visited (Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA) and the sketchiest (Camp on the Kentucky RV Park). We spent quality time in four states, and traveled through three more.

Every extended trip we take, it seems like we experience something new — and this trip was no different. This was the first extended road trip we’ve taken where we pulled the camper with us, and it was pretty eye-opening. First, we learned that it’s a lot easier to be lazy with a camper than when car camping; this trip definitely saw us doing a lot more TV watching and lounging indoors than we’ve done on previous trips. We also learned that pulling the camper is a little bit stressful, slows you way down, wreaks havoc on your gas mileage, and puts a major damper on spontaneity. Yikes! This trip was a bit of a test run, as we’re planning some pretty extended on-the-road time for 2017, and it was certainly instructive. So we’re taking it as a lesson to figure out how to improve for the future.

Traveling with the camper definitely changed our travel style. In the past we’ve often rolled into off-the-beaten path campgrounds, cooked dinner over the fire, went to bed early, and rolled out with the sunrise. This trip we averaged 3.5 nights per campground — unheard of for us! — and definitely traveled more slowly. We actually spent six nights each at two different campgrounds. Now, I know that for many full-time travelers that’s nothing, but for us, that’s the definition of S-L-O-W travel, which definitely had its pros and cons. (One thing that hasn’t changed: we’re still terrible at making reservations in advance. We actually got turned away from our very first full-to-capacity campground on this trip! I guess after 18 months on the road, it was bound to happen eventually.)

Now, without further ado — here is the official link roundup/recap of our Appalachian Adventure! We loved our time in the mid-Atlantic mountains, and we hope you enjoy reading about it, too.

Car trouble, camping in Coopers Rock State Forest, and excellent beer! (Morgantown, West Virginia)

Whitewater, whitewater, whitewater! (#GauleySeason kickoff weekend)

Books and burritos in West Virginia’s capital city! (Charleston, West Virginia)

Our new favorite West Virginia state park! (Pipestem Resort State Park)

Yeah, we’d like to be a guest of the Vanderbilts … (Asheville, North Carolina & the Biltmore Estate)

It’s America’s most-visited national park for a reason … (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

Celebrating Ryan’s birthday in “The Gateway to the South” (Chattanooga, Tennessee)

One night in Nashville + our new favorite campground! (Nashville, Tennessee)

Caves for days! (Mammoth Cave National Park)

Three days. So much bourbon. (The Kentucky Bourbon Trail)

We didn’t jump off a bridge — but other people did. (Bridge Day, Fayetteville, West Virginia)

If you’re interested in reading more of our road trip adventures, check out our 2015 Road Trip recap here (where we travel from the East Coast to the West Coast and back) and our 2016 Road Trip recap here (also known as our Great Southwest Adventure)!

Bridge Day Weekend 2016

So, if you’re not familiar with Bridge Day, its a giant festival at the New River Gorge at the end of Gauley Season that is essentially a huge celebration of the one day a year when base jumpers can hurl themselves off the bridge. I’d been wanting to go for several years, but didn’t plan far enough out to actually be able to jump now that we finally made it. Womp womp.

However, a lot of my friends were in the area for Bridge Day and to go rafting, so we took it as an opportunity to relax a bit, check out the festival and watch some jumpers, and party with the raft guides. Not a bad consolation prize. We parked back over at Cantrell‘s, did some laundry and camper cleaning on Friday, then enjoyed dinner and a movie out while we waited for everyone to get into town.

Saturday was Bridge Day. We drove the mile into Fayetteville, planning on taking the shuttle down to the Bridge. However, after waiting for over a half hour, we realized we were young, healthy, and impatient, and decided to walk it. There were people EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t believe how busy it was, given the fact that only a few hundred people were permitted to jump.

There were vendors from all over the state–food, clothing, merchandise, outdoor gear, more food, even political parties (largely ignored, I should add). We made our way down to the bridge, and were greeting by a gorgeous view.

The Gorge really is spectacular, and incredibly deep. It’s really hard to get a sense of the scale in pictures. So that’s what the jumpers were jumping into. Here’s what they were jumping off of:

A 10×10 platform/diving board into the abyss. I like to do crazy stuff, and even I was a little intimidated by it–though I’m still gonna do it one day! Here’s a collage I made of three different crops of the same picture to give you an idea of the scope of the jump. Can you see the jumper in all three?

Like I said, it is WAY down there.

We watched those guys for a while, and finished walking the length of the festival, which is on both ends of the bridge. However, it was still unseasonably warm, into the high 80s/low 90s, and we were ready to go cool off. We made our way back to Fayetteville and the truck, where we snapped this picture of Rebecca with the beautiful mural on the side of the Fayetteville museum.

After drinking all the liquids we could find, and hiding out in the ac in the camper for a few hours, we were rejuvenated, and ready to go play. We spent a great evening having bonfires, telling rafting stories, and eating and drinking with a large group of friends new and old at a beautiful cabin they’d rented at the Carnifex Ferry Cottages. We were even treated to one of the best sunsets we’d seen the whole trip.

With the weekend — and the trip!! — over and done, we packed up our tacos and headed north for some fall foliage!

Our Visit to Pipestem State Park

pipestem

After another awesome weekend rafting the Gauley and spending time with friends, we left Fayetteville again and headed toward a new destination that Rebecca in particular was very excited about — Pipestem Resort State Park in West Virginia. Way back, before she was even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes, they had honeymooned at one of the park’s two lodges. They had always told her about how beautiful it was, and we were excited to check it out!

Turns out that if anything, they undersold it. This place was phenomenal. Trails and interesting things to see all over, and everywhere you turned, another gorgeous vista! We got in mid-afternoon, and were immediately impressed with how quiet and pretty the campground was, and with how nice the bathrooms were! We picked a great spot, set up, and decided to do some quick exploration before it got dark.

The first thing we went to see was the Bolar Lookout Tower. Only a 5 minute walk up a mostly-paved path from the parking lot right inside the park entrance, the tower commanded some amazing vistas.

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Seriously amazing. We could see for dozens of miles in just about every direction.

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From there, we gave ourselves the driving tour of the park, stopping to check out some of the sites and attractions. Probably the most amazing was this gorgeous overlook, right across from the gorgeous rental cabins that we’re totally going to come back and visit one day. It was the kind of place you could stay all day with a book and maybe some binoculars.

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Unfortunately, I woke up the next morning fighting some kind of illness, so we spent the next 2 days pretty well inert. Rebecca used it as an opportunity to get ahead on work, and I did a lot of sleeping and reading.

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By the second afternoon, however, I was getting antsy, so we decided to go take advantage of one of the highlights of Pipestem — the tram down to the valley resort!
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This part of the resort was where Rebecca’s parents had stayed on their honeymoon, and it was easy to see why. The lodge had a beautiful dining room with 20 foot windows looking at the river and up the mountain (which you can see below on the left).

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The river was very beautiful, and seemed very tame after our time on the Gauley!

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Tame enough that the Yoga Queen was at it again.

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After we finished exploring and took the tram back up, we decided to end the day with a hike out to Heritage Point, a beautiful overlook less than a mile’s steep hike from the Canyon Rim Center parking lot. It was a beautiful and challenging hike, and we were rewarded with even more tremendous views.

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Overall, we spent four days in Pipestem, and loved our time there!

Have you ever been to Pipestem Resort State Park? What did you love about it? Let us know in the comments!

Books and Burritos in West Virginia’s Capital City

After enjoying beer and hiking in Morgantown and a wild weekend rafting the Gauley River, we had another important stop to make in West Virginia: the capitol city, Charleston. (I should mention that when trying to plan things to do in Charleston, you must always specify “Charleston West Virginia,” or you’ll just get a bunch of results about Charleston South Carolina, and then you’ll be just a little sad you aren’t going there instead. Actually, sometimes that happens even when you do specify West Virginia. But I digress.)

I should mention before I get started that this post will be a tad light on pictures. That’s not because we didn’t enjoy our time in Charleston; quite the contrary! We were surprised by how much the city had to offer and how much we found to do there. Instead, it’s because we spent a good part of our time in Charleston doing this:

Taylor Books Charleston West Virginia Our Streamlined Life

After a week of fun, it was time to get caught up on some work — and we spent a good part of each day we were in Charleston in front of the computer. Unfortunately our campground, despite being just 20 min outside the city, had absolutely zero cell service — which meant no Internet for us, either. So each day we’d pack up our bags, head into town, get some work done, then wander the streets. It ended up being a pretty pleasant way to explore the city.

I should back up to give you the timeline for this trip. We headed to Charleston on Sunday evening. It was a pleasant two-ish hour drive from Fayetteville, and we arrived at our campground in Kanawha State Forest in plenty of time to get set up before dark. On Monday morning we dropped Ryan’s cousin Barry off at Charleston’s teeny-tiny airport, and set off to explore downtown.

The one piece of the trip we did manage to photograph extensively: the West Virginia state capitol building.

West Virginia Capitol Building 3 Our Streamlined Life

Constructed from 1924-1932 from buff Indiana limestone, the building’s magnificent 293- foot gold dome is five feet higher than the dome of the U.S. Capitol!

West Virginia Capitol Building 2 Our Streamlined Life

And two-thirds of the interior is marble. The building features classical styling throughout — it was absolutely gorgeous. It reminded us a lot of the Utah state capitol building in Salt Lake City.

West Virginia Capitol Building 1 Our Streamlined Life

Like I said, that’s where our photographing ended … but it’s certainly not where the fun ended! Charleston blew us away with its delicious food, awesome riverfront downtown, and welcoming atmosphere. The highlights of our stay include:

  • Taylor Books, an independent bookstore and cafe on Capitol Street in downtown. We loved Taylor Books and it’s where we ended up going for wifi (and coffee!) every day. The bookstore was terrific and had a welcoming, laid back vibe.
  • Black Sheep Burrito & Brews was so delicious that I’m not ashamed to admit we went there two days in a row. I can’t even express to you how delicious the Tempura-Fried Fresh Avocado tacos (topped with chipotle-orange mayo) were … and then there were the spicy pineapple margaritas. Perfection.
  • Haddad Riverfront Park offers gorgeous views of the Kanawha River, and some pretty terrific waterfront homes, too. (I have to admit, Charleston low prices and friendly, small-southern-city vibe had us looking up real estate listings like crazy.) It would make a great spot for running and also hosts frequent events.

Our final verdict on Charleston was that it was a great place to visit … and it seemed like it could also be a good place to live. The downtown was bustling with young professionals, and it looked like there were plenty of cool apartments over shops available, which reminded us of our darling downtown apartment in Leesburg, Virginia. And we have plenty to go back for: Ellen’s Ice Cream, Brick + Salt, and Capitol Market were all spots we didn’t get to visit (apparently we were too busy eating flights of tacos!).

Do any of our readers know and love Charleston, West Virginia? What are your must-see sights? 

Gauley Season Kickoff Weekend: Let’s Go RAFTING!!!

Having enjoyed our time in Morgantown, we made our way down to Fayetteville, West Virginia, and prepared for a weekend of Gauley River Rafting Goodness!!

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46 weekends out of the year, the Gauley River is a pretty average boating experience. In the fall, however, everything changes. For six weekends (beginning the weekend after Labor Day) the Army Corps of Engineers provides a series of twenty-two controlled dam releases for the express purpose of downriver recreation. And for those six weekends –known as Gauley Season — the Gauley River one of the premier whitewater runs in the world.

It’s an epic experience every boater longs to participate in, and attracts over 60,000 adventurers every year! The Upper Gauley offers tremendous class III to V+ drops in steep, turbulent chutes, and rocky routes that demand constant maneuvering. It’s a constant thrill ride and definitely not for the faint of heart!

We were meeting a number of people there to boat with, including three HFAC raft guides. The first was Teakwood, a longtime Gauley and Shenandoah raft guide who had been one of my trainers when I started rafting. He had graciously agreed to spend the weekend taking us down the river, and brought his awesome family along to join in the fun!

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Teakwood and Co!

Also joining us was my buddy Ian, a great young guide who has taught me much about the water. Ian was also my “Bro-day Brew-day” buddy over the summer and we spent a lot of time together exploring local breweries. Ian brought his girlfriend Erin, another good friend and fellow raft and zip guide. Ian and Erin are two of our favorite HFAC people, and we were super excited they made it down with us.

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Also joining us was my world-exploring cousin Barry, who was actually part of our inspiration to live our mobile lifestyle. Barry has traveled the world, rafted the Zambezi River in Africa and other big rivers overseas, and was eager to try out the Gauley. Rebecca and I arrived in Fayettevillle on Thursday, and Barry flew in midday on Friday. My wife was kind enough to go get him from the airport, allowing me to run the Lower Gauley (class IV and below) with Teakwood, his family, Ian, and Erin. And we had an awesome time.

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After a summer of dropping water levels on the ‘Doah, these raft guides were thrilled to finally be on some real water. The temperatures, both air and water were incredibly comfortable, and we had a great day. On top of the rafting we did, we got to watch Ian playing on down the river in his kayak, which was a lot of fun.

Rebecca, not one to waste time or opportunity, picked up my cousin and took him exploring around Fayetteville, checking out the New River Gorge Bridge, famous for the annual Bridge Day Fest, which we ended up attending a few weeks later.

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We all met up back at our base camp for the weekend — the campground at Cantrell Ultimate Rafting. Our group enjoyed a great dinner and a bonfire, and talked about the next day.

Morning dawned clear and bright, and we loaded up for a Teakwood-guided customer trip. Teakwood has been working at Cantrell’s for years, and we spent several weekends this trip camping and rafting with them. It’s a family-owned outfitter, and we had a great experience with them. The showers are awesome, there’s a very convenient camp kitchen, they have both RV and tent sites, and a very popular bar with live music right one site! They even let us do laundry in an empty cabin on a few occasions.

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One of the Cantrell family, Adam, was the guide of the other boat in our two-boat trip, and we had an awesome day on the river. Rebecca, who was a bit nervous, fell out almost immediately, ending up under the boat and popping up right next to me. While not at the top of her priority list, she was glad to get her first swim over with and get on with enjoying the rest of the trip.

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Although I haven’t spent much time with my cousin Barry since we were both pretty young, we got along famously, and had a great time both in and out of the boat. Our group took a lunch break up on Postage Due, a rock overlooking Sweet’s Falls, and enjoyed watching boats of all sizes and shapes shooting the falls.

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We made it safely to the end with only a minimal amount of swimming, and the next day, got up and did it all again! We had a tremendous weekend, and were very grateful for Teakwood showing us a great time on the Gauley River.