Figuring that most people would try to hit the beach on Memorial Day Weekend, I decided to head for the mountains and avoid the crowds and traffic. From Pennsylvania, my best bet looked like Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, home to Spruce Knob, the highest peak in West Virginia, and, not surprisingly, also home to Seneca Rocks. Seneca Rocks is a crazy set of Rock formations that seem to shoot up from the hillside (beautiful photo courtesy of Ronald Hilton):
There’s also a great legend attached to them:
The Betrothal of Snow Bird, Princess of the Seneca Indians
The only daughter of chief Bald Eagle and his wife, White Rock, was Snow Bird, the most beautiful of all the maidens of the Senecas…. When the day arrived to choose a mate, seven young warriors, all suitors for the hand of the Seneca princess, assembled in an open space and arranged themselves in a semi-circle facing the mighty rocks…. [Princess Snow Bird] lifted her hand and silence fell upon the assembled.
“As a little girl, I watched yonder rocks push their rugged summits into the heavens, and many times I longed to be able to climb to their topmost crags. There have I spent the happiest, the most enjoyable days of my life. Of all the Seneca Indians, I am the only one who has accomplished the feat. One day, about a moon past, I decided upon a contest, a trial of bravery and endurance. You will soon engage in this contest, and to the successful one of you, I will give my hand, my heart and my life.”
Princess Snow Bird set out on the journey, followed by the seven braves. Upward they climbed, the sure-footed maiden always leading. As the climb became more and more difficult, five of the seven turned back… The two that remained followed closely in the footsteps of the maiden. Finally, with renewed determination, they set out on the last and most dangerous stretch of the journey, the maiden as always in the lead. At last she reached the summit and turned to look for her most persistent suitor. He was only a few feet below her. In this moment of waiting, his foot slipped on the ledge of the rock. The maiden hesitated for a fraction of a second [and then] with the alertness and strength of her young arms, she caught the falling brave and drew him to safety and to herself. Long they sat together talking of their future, and then as darkness approached, the two lovers descended by the trail at the rear of the gigantic rocks, … and the great chief conferred upon his newfound son-in-law the authority to become his successor as chief of the tribe.
In addition to the Seneca Rocks themselves, there are other similar formations all over the area, they just jump out at you as you round corners.
Knowing that I’d be spending the next day wandering the park, my goal was to reach Petersburg, WV for the night. Petersburg turned out to be squished right in the middle of a mountain range, though, which made for a couple hours of pitch black, nerve-wracking twisty roads up and down mountain-sides. There was no barrier separating the road from the valley, and I’m sure if it had been daytime I’d probably have been too nervous to drive. When I got into Petersburg, population 2700, I right away found the Hermitage Motor Inn, which had a vacancy that I snapped up.
Built sometime before 1841 (before West Virginia was even a state!), the inn served as a private home until it was seized during the Civil War to house Federal Troops.
Since then, the inn has been known alternatively as the Cunningham Hotel and the Taylor House, and in 1904 two (possibly drunk?) guests found some paint and in the middle of the night repainted the sign to say “The Hermitage,” which they thought had a more high-falutin’ sound to it.
The Hermitage was gorgeous inside, and after weeks of sleeping mostly in whatever Motel 6 I could find, I flipped for the wood panel interior.
As I drifted off to sleep, I watched a local broadcast show about a West Virginian couple that travels around the country in cowboy boots. I immediately began dreaming that I was driving down a road with a blindfold on that I couldn’t take off because my hands were stuck to the wheel. Unable to see anything and feeling an increasing sense of impending danger, I then realized there was something growling at me from the darkness. A monster? Bears? The growling got louder and louder until it was a full on ROAR and I shot up in bed, very awake and a bit sweaty. I established that it was just a nightmare, but then I realized I could still. hear. roaring. Sleepily disoriented and a little terrified, I peeked out the window and saw about 10 motorcyclists situating themselves below my window and talking loudly. Feeling relieved and silly, I crashed back into bed and passed out.
The next morning I stumbled into the office for a complimentary breakfast and found four middle aged ladies decked out in studded leather and denim chatting over mini muffins. I grabbed my standard complimentary breakfast (three tiny styrofoam cups of coffee, one apple and a bowl of fruit loops), and sat down at their table, uninvited as always. Soon a very tall middle aged man dressed completely in light colored denim joined us and we all bonded over the upsetting drive we had to take the night before.
“I mean, I was in a car and I was pretty nervous, so I don’t even know how you all made that drive,” I said.
“Oh it was a blast if you know what you’re doing, but if you’re a newbie, the signs alone will scare the crap out of you.”
“Are you talking about-“
“Yeah, she did ok though. Those signs are the scariest part if you don’t know what you’re doing. I don’t even believe them, no way it was that much of a grade.”
“Oh sure, but it’ll scare you enough to wipe out for no reason.”
“See, that’s why it takes so long to join my club,” added the man. “We ride two by two, so you gotta know that the guy next to you is gonna sacrifice himself before he lets his own mistake wipe you out. That’s why I ride with Scorpion, we can tell if something’s up with each other just with a look.”
“That’s the way I feel riding with John. Even the first time we met I just instinctively trusted him riding next to me, I usually don’t feel that,” said one woman with dark curly hair. “And you know he’s going to be calling all day whining that he can’t come, that’s what you get though if you’re gonna be gettin knee surgery you know! Poor baby, he’ll be back out soon.”
“Is there a long initiation period?” I asked.
“Well we don’t do any of that,” said the same woman. “We don’t do any of that ‘trial period’ or anything like a lot of the mens clubs, we just make newbies write an article for our newsletter about their first ride with us,” she laughed. “Hey y’all, we’re taking off at 9:30 exactly, you better get ready.”
The rest of the bikers left, and she and I stayed at the table sipping coffee and trying to wake up. She walked over to the TV, which had ESPN on and started flipping around. “Do you know what any of the channels are up here? Isn’t The View on about now?” she asked. We tried to figure it out together when a slender woman in a white jean jacket wandered in and stood for a couple seconds before saying, “Hey there, um, good morning!”
“Oh hey sweetie, how you doin this morning, feeling all right?”
“Oh yeah. That drive last night was crazy though, all those hills and turns, it was rough, huh.”
“Oh sure, sure, I think they were just trying to scare us all with all those signs, you feeling good today? You all ready to go soon?”
“Oh yeah, yeah. Think we’ll have a lot of traffic?”
They made small talk about weather highway congestion and then headed out to the bikes. While a short-haired woman checked in with the newbie and made sure everyone else was set to go, the curly haired woman, the Princess Snow Bird of middle aged bikers, headed to the front of the driveway to lead the group.
Inspired, I drove the rest of the day with my windows down, reveled in the bug carnage beginning to collect on my windshield, and considered buying a fox tail to hang from my rear view mirror.