Writers like me love getting emails from readers — until somebody writes in to tell us that we’ve blown it, that we screwed up in some completely preventable and hopelessly stupid way.
The email from the reader in Monroe County was hostile. Among other things, she was angry that I’d confused Peterstown for Petersburg.
There’s a Petersburg in the eastern part of the state, I’ve heard, though I was probably confusing it with a town in eastern Virginia, where my grandmother lived — not that it mattered.
I grew up in Pearisburg, Virginia, roughly 15 miles away from Peterstown, almost next door.
My mother taught school with friends who’d lived there. The Virginia Leader, the weekly newspaper in my hometown where I interned for a summer, sent me out to Peterstown for assignments.
I guess we had readers there, or at least the readers in Giles County were curious about the happenings over the hill in Monroe.
It was as dumb an error as I could have made — and to the people of Monroe County, I apologize. I didn’t mean it. I had a nice time at your museum in Union and if I’d had more than five bucks in my pocket on the day I visited, I would have stayed a little longer and had a bite to eat.
Through traveling the state and visiting all 55 counties this summer, I’ve learned a lot and made plenty of mistakes along the way.
My editor has pointed out some of them out. In Nicholas County, I called Richwood, Ravenwood, for example — and then there was the whole thing with Wirt County.
I can’t take anything back from that trip. The things that happened, happened, but I was still new at doing these trips. I hadn’t quite figured out what I was supposed to do when the apparent options for gawking were limited and nobody was happy with the results.
But because of what happened there, I learned and adjusted how I made plans, because a lot of places are like Wirt: they’re not really big tourist centers, but places where people just live, work and go to church.
Nevertheless, I’ve felt bad about that one visit all summer long and I’m trying to find time to go back.
In other places I’ve learned that there’s a limit to what I can do and what I can write about.
When I visited Huntington in Cabell County and Bramwell and Princeton in Mercer County, I ran all day, but could really only glance over the things I actually did in print.
Less isn’t necessarily more, but more is sometimes just way too much.
And my luck has been weird during this project.
Several times I’ve received emails or calls from people who had great suggestions for places I should visit, but they contacted me a few days after I’d already been there.
I spoke with a nice guy in Tyler County who said I should come to Sistersville, the largest town in the county, and see the Sistersville ferry.
He wasn’t entirely sure, but he didn’t think there was another ferry in the state. I couldn’t find mention of one either — but the day he called, I’d visited the week prior and gone to Middlebourne, where I’d found a locked museum and ended up talking to the local librarian.
This was perfectly fine. I had a nice time, but sure, I wished I’d seen the ferry. That would have been cool, too.
Of course, not all suggestions sent in fit. Several readers thought that I should play a round of golf in their home counties, which I’ve declined.
I don’t know how to play golf and have never wanted to learn. I’ve dug my heels in on this one pretty good.
My best friend, Brad, used to offer to take me along and teach me how to play. Brad grew up playing golf. He drove a golf cart before he ever drove a car and his lovely home is located maybe a mile from his regular golf course.
Brad used to spend part of his summer vacation caddying for professional golfers at the Greenbrier Classic, which as far as I understand it was an unpaid gig.
He stopped asking about taking me golfing around the time I “acquired” a sign from a local golf course and nailed it up next to the bed in my college dorm room.
I think Brad worried that I might try to start a collection and country club memberships are expensive.
Some of the lessons I’ve figured out this summer have to do with how to travel, what to bring and what not to bring.
You should always deliberately pack extra socks and a swimsuit. You won’t need the swimsuit until you do and if you deliberately pack one pair of extra socks, that will make up for the pair you were supposed to pack but didn’t.
It also helps to have a spare pair of walking shoes in the trunk of your car.
Every time I’ve finished hiking a trail, I’ve needed to at least change my socks. Half the time, my shoes are soaked through, too, because I’ve stepped in a stream or a wading pool masquerading as a puddle.
By the way, every time you go for a hike in a state park, always, always, always check for ticks.
Also carry a spare set of reading glasses and keep them with you. If you can’t read the fine print on a menu without your glasses, you’re not going to be able to make heads or tails out of a state park map printed on a single 8.5 x 11-inch sheet of paper.
I also figured out why the bugs bothered me so much in Hardy and Morgan Counties, where I spent quite a bit of time out in the woods.
In Calhoun County, barber Susan Conrad gave me some good advice on beard care. As long as I’ve had hair on my face, I’ve never done much to it, except occasionally shave it off when it started itching too much.
Over the summer, I’ve been growing out my facial hair because the Friends of Spring Hill Cemetery have asked me to reprise my role as 19th Century businessman Moses Frankenburger for their Cemetery Walk in October.
Moses had a mop of curly hair and a bushy beard.
I can do nothing about the hair, but I can wear a hat and grow a beard.
Anyway, Susan told me about using a coconut oil-based beard balm to soften and condition the hair, as well as the skin underneath. She promised me this would help with skin irritation, cut back on the itching and also make my beard softer.
So far, it seems to be working, but Susan used a more neutral smelling salve, while I went in for a more fragrant balm.
I like the smell and can overdo it a little.
The balm also attracts bugs like an abandoned slice of watermelon left on a paper plate after a cookout.
I’ve learned that if I’m going into the woods to put nothing on my face, nothing in my hair. I don’t wear cologne and don’t even wear deodorant if I’m hiking anywhere. The bugs love that stuff, too, and so far, no park rangers have complimented me on my scent.
I still have a way to go with this summer series. Thanks to everyone who has written in so far. I appreciate the support, the suggestions (even when I can’t use them) and the corrections when I blow it.
I’m still learning as I go. Sometimes, this is awkward or embarrassing, but it’s still the best part to this whole summer.