The stack of maps on the lower shelf underneath the register at the Go-Mart hadn’t been touched in a very long time. One map had been opened and then awkwardly folded back. It looked tattered and ragged.
I flipped through the stack and found maps for Virginia, Ohio and a couple for the city of Beckley, which seemed weird. Charleston was maybe 10 minutes away. Beckley was an hour or so past that, and a little out of the way.
This could be why the maps hadn’t sold.
Before I gave up looking for a state map, I went to two other gas stations, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a Dollar General and an auto parts place. None carried a plain paper map of West Virginia.
I didn’t get my hands on a real, live map until I was at the convention and visitor’s bureau in Weirton.
I guess if you live in West Virginia, it’s just assumed you know where you’re going, or maybe we’ve just given up on paper maps. GPS is built into a lot of new cars, and most of us have some kind of navigational app on our cellphones, so who needs a map?
Well, I did.
I wanted to look at the lines crisscrossing the state and figure out a plan.
I moved to West Virginia in January 1990, seven months after a lackluster freshman year at East Tennessee State University, which I’d spent reading comic books, watching cult classic movies in my dorm room and drinking for two.
I could have gone back, but I didn’t seem to be ready for the whole college experience. So I spent a gap semester washing dishes and figuring out that I did not want to make that a career.
With that piece of insight, I started school again in West Virginia. The slate wasn’t exactly clean, but it was clean enough.
I’ve been here almost continuously ever since. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve been out of West Virginia for longer than a week since I graduated from Concord College.
But that doesn’t mean that I’ve actually seen much of the state, or been anywhere outside of the more metropolitan areas like Charleston, Morgantown or Huntington.
There are 55 counties in West Virginia. In 30 years, I’ve probably driven through 15 or 20 of them — that’s driven, not visited.
This summer, that’s something I hope to correct.
Over the next couple of months, “One Month at a Time” is taking a break and I’ll be taking on the biggest project I’ve ever attempted. Through early August, I’m heading out to visit each and every county in West Virginia.
I’m going to take in some of the sights, try a few new things and eat whatever I can fit in my big, dumb mouth.
There will be daily updates, little postcards from the road, Tuesday through Saturday in the Gazette-Mail, plus something on Sundays to explain what I’ve learned, add what I may have left out or just explain how this is really going.
There will also be pictures on social media, that podcast I’ve been working on (hopefully) and whatever else I can come up with.
Think of it as the vacation version of speed dating, except I have deadlines, a very limited budget, and I may not be sure where I’m going.
Seriously, I get lost a lot.
The trip has been underway for a couple of weeks. I had to start early to try and get it all done. There is just so much to do and so many places to get to — and if living and writing “One Month at a Time” has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that things will not go as planned.
Sometimes, I may be able to squeeze in several stops in one visit, but I won’t be able to get everything. I may not even get to the most popular things in a particular area.
As always, there are time constraints and budget constraints. Not everything is going to fit in with where I am or when I get there. Not every county has a lot going on in the middle of the week or on a Sunday, but I am trying to find something interesting everywhere I go — and share in my own peculiar way.
To help defray some of the costs (and also, to make a living) the newspaper got some sponsors for this. It was the only way something like this is even possible.
It’s not like I can afford to pay for this on my own.
Also, I reached out to various CVBs around the state for help figuring out what to do. They would know. Answering those questions is what they do for a living.
Some were interested in having me come see their counties. A few sent suggestions or offered to host me for an activity they thought I’d like.
Others weren’t against me coming, but they were too busy to do much more than wish me well.
Regardless of sponsorship or kind offers, this whole trip really only works if I just do what I do, see what I see and say what I want.
I’m a man of broad tastes, who likes novelty, new experiences and a little bit of a challenge, but I also have distinct preferences.
For example, to the disappointment of friends, family and the occasional former wife, I’ve never been much of an outdoorsman. Fishing and tent camping aren’t much fun for me.
Next to a river, mosquitoes hover around me like a cloud and besides, my favorite freshwater fish comes in a can (packed with spring water).
I’ve never slept well in a tent. — the distractions get to me. I fall asleep for a while, but then I’m up because of the frogs in the creek, the noise in the bushes, or that one guy in the campground who has to start his diesel pickup truck at two in the morning because he wants to charge his phone.
And then there are the ticks, which I’m always certain are slowly working their way up from my ankles toward my navel, where they will dig in and not be discovered until Christmas.
I like the outdoors. I like hiking to take in a glorious view or floating down a stream in a kayak. But at the end of a long day, I’d just as soon not sit around a campfire and eat burned-yet-cold-in-the-center hot dogs. I’d rather just head back to the motel for a hot shower and then maybe go find a Waffle House or a cold beer.
Anyway, the point of this trip is to have a good time, learn a few things, and try to share the experience. Though I’ve already made a few trips, I’m still looking for places to see, things to do and, always, a good place to eat.
If you’ve got any ideas, I’d sure appreciate them.
Thanks and Happy West Virginia Day.