Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Where in North America is Uncle Rod? Day 18

July 1, 2009
Parsons WV
180 miles (4,590)

From Greencastle I headed west into the mountains, and then south through the country and some of the most beautiful riding so far.
Cloud showers all along the way until the last 60 miles or so during which I rode, once again, through relentless terrible rain and thick fog.
The rain did relent within an hour after my arrival, and then just drizzled and misted. I borrowed Jodi’s car and drove back over the mountain to Black Water Falls to try to get some good photos of the falls in the misty evening.

I was convinced while riding across Rt. 9 that West Virginia truly is the most beautiful state. I was astounded by the beauty of Cape Breton, but honestly, it does not go on forever. West Virginia’s beauty just seems so much more unending, and natural. Last year, when I returned from 9,000 miles through 23 states, Allison asked me which state was most beautiful. Gee, I’ve got to say that I’ve still not seen one more beautiful than West Virginia. I realized that I could assign an awesome adjective to every state, and that adjective could probably translate to “beautiful,” but biased, or not, West Virginia is most beautiful. I decided that California was the most astounding. A completely different beauty around every turn. I also thought California had some areas that would certainly compete for most beautiful, but as far as entirety, and uninterrupted mile after mile of awesome landscape, well, you know...
One forgets though. I can say that, and still be taken aback every time I ride through the mountains of West Virginia. Rugged, steep, secluded, high. I also remembered a statement that a lady made to Molly last November when we were in Arizona. Molly told her that she was used to mountains because her family was from West Virginia, the lady smiled and said, “In Arizona, we call West Virginia “hilly.” Hilly indeed. But not much of Arizona knows the altitude differential that West Virginia is made of. It’s one thing to drive 100 miles on flat ground at 7,000ft, but quite another to go from 4,000 feet to 600 feet and back to 4,500 feet in only a couple miles – over and over and over again all afternoon. Much of this state has only been made passable by dynamite and special trains with top speeds of 4 mph, and tons and tons of torque.
The perfect heaven for a motorbiker.

Though it seemed like late evening because of the rain and thick clouds, after drying and sitting for a moment, I realized how beautiful all the misty goodness is I’d just passed within a mile of Blackwater Falls on my way in, but was unwilling to stop in the pouring rain, while already soaking wet. So I rode on down the mountain in thick fog.
By now, the rain was light, the air cool, and the foggy mist was moving around a bit.
The truck felt extremely odd to me. I’d not driven on four wheels for 3 weeks. When I climbed out of the truck there was man climbing the path down to the river. He said, “it’s worth it.” Of course I knew that, and the climb in both directions is rather easy, but I smiled and agreed, and started down.
I’ve pondered before about how our understanding of time and durability change as we age. It’s odd really. If we live to be 100, we still can only understand a tiny slice of a tiny slice of history. And yet, our ability to believe, and trust is greatly strengthened by watching faithfulness over only a short lifetime. When I was a kid, Dad used to bring us to these Falls. I say “used to bring us” as if it was a regular occurrence, which it very well may not have been. We tend to remember certain occasions as if they were regular occurrences, and sometimes remember a single instance of a regular occurrence as if it only happened once. Who knows what causes memories to be engraved in specific ways upon our psyches?
At any rate, when I was in college, I used to visit these falls often. I patrolled these hills in a little green car, armed with a tent and a fishing pole. When I visited the falls, I always remembered coming here as a kid. I was always surprised that the visitor center/tourist trap at the top of the hill was not as I remembered it, that the path and wooden stairs were more worn, or completely new, but the falls are always there, despite noticeable seasonal differences. For that matter, the rocks, by which I fished, were always there and always the same. When Allison and I were married, we drove there and spent the night in the lodge. When we walked down to view the falls, I noticed that a Hemlock tree that had always been there was gone. When we got home, I looked at photos I had taken earlier, and sure enough, there was the missing hemlock tree. The falls, though, are always there.
Things do change though. A portrait of me beside these falls does not show the same guy that scrambled around on these rocks 40 years ago. That’s why the faithfulness of the falls is so important. Most of life is about learning to deal with change. Constancy is a balm.

But even nature changes. There are other sites among my beloved locations that are not at all like they were years ago. When I was a senior in college, West Virginia experienced a serious flood. River towns all over the state were devastated, including the one where I went to school. A few months after the flood, I drove to Seneca Rocks, planning to fish in what I considered one of the most amazing trout streams in the known world. But it was no more. This stretch of the North Fork of South Branch of the Potomac, was forever changed. What had been wildly running, deep whitewater, was no longer even fishable.
Only a few years later, 1000 feet above this very same spot, the legendary rock pinnacle, known as “The Gendarme” fell during a rare quiet moment when it was not being climbed, and shattered into indistinguishable pieces below.
So, a waterfall, that accepts visitors, and their changing access; that watches trees grow and fall; that stands under the spring melt of surging, frigid water, and then trickles a slow stream under the colored spectrum of fall foliage, is a much needed symbol of constancy.
I’m not foolish enough to think that nothing is changing, that a thousand years ago, these rocks jutted out another 5 feet from where they stand now. I understand that the rocks lying in the deep water below the falls at one time provided the path over which the water ran before it plunged 57 feet. I understand that at one time the water fell further before wearing those rocks down and taking a lower path.
But these changes take place over such a long period of time that no lifetime can register them. They go on behind the scenes, until enough has changed to cause a weakened structure. Rocks topple, sands shift, and stone that has withstood flood and earthquake, crumbles under the sonic waves of an airplane 5 miles up, or a gunshot from across the gorge.
I’m reminded of my own strength and fragility. I think of the slow breaking down and weakening that don’t register in my day to day, until enough accumulation has occurred that I break down in a moment and am changed in the twinkling of an eye.