"Smoke on the water; Fire in the sky"
State 2: West Virginia -June 4th & 5th, 2017
We departed our weekend campsite in the very southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, as it was the closest campsite we could find to the West Virginia border. We had completed our first week in our van, survived 2 spontaneous commode explosions, and just finished up exploring our first state. We were proud and excited! Our spirits were high, so we decided to depart the campground at 7:00pm Sunday evening to get an early start on exploring West Virginia. Our destination was Morgantown, WV, which the first significant sized town after crossing into West Virginia. We normally only take the back roads in order to really get to see each state. However, we decided to make an exception to this rule since it was a 2-hour drive to Morgantown, and it was starting to get dark. We began counting down the miles until we crossed the state line as Rosie sputtered down the interstate. We even began singing the most God-awful rendition of “Country Roads” ever performed that would have John Denver himself rolling over in his grave. Just as we began to belt out the chorus for a second time at the top of our lungs…”Country roads, take me home to the place I belooooong”, the following sign came into our view“, Welcome to West Virginia, Wild and Wonderful”.
As our van passed under that sign we began to cheer, but the celebration was short lived. No more than 100 feet after passing over the state line, we saw a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky. As we took the next turn on the highway we saw a large building fully engulfed in flames! Our jubilation instantly changed to sheer horror at the scene that was unfolding before our eyes. We tried to call for help, but the emergency number was not working. All we could do was say a prayer and continue on. We both sat in silence until we finally reached the Morgantown, WV Walmart at 10:30 pm and went to sleep.
June 5th 2017
We woke up in Morgantown, WV ready to continue our journey. We had Granola in our bellies, and a deep seeded desire in our heart to begin exploring the second state on our cross country trip. After last night’s fiery fiasco, we were a bit anxious about the additional surprises the “Mountain State” had in store for these 2 out-of-towner's!
We visited a local laundromat to wash our clothes, and then hit a local Planet Fitness for a work out, chair massage, and a nice long hot shower. Planet Fitness’s are independently owned and operated, and the condition of each facility varies wildly. Some in fact are so dumpy you can actually smell the bacteria in the air, and you leave wanting to take another shower afterwards. Once in a while you run across a gem like the Planet Fitness in Morgantown, VA. Either we just happened upon a brand-new franchise, or the Morgantown owner really takes pride in his business, it was the nicest Planet Fitness we have visited to date! On the ceiling of the gym there were 2 of the largest ceiling fans I have ever seen in my entire life. Literally, each fan blade had to be 10 feet in length. When you entered the gym, it was if you were stepping into a wind tunnel. I was glad I remembered to bring my hair clip. In the showers of the locker room are where things really became interesting! Each of the private walk-in showers had an undressing area. Each shower and undressing area were tiled from floor to ceilings in travertine tile. In the showering area, the main shower head was about 24 inches in diameter and rained down on you from the ceiling, and there were 2 adjustable shower heads on the wall at waist height that sprayed you on either side. I was in heaven!
If there are two things that run deep in the history of West Virginia, it is moonshine and coal mining, and I felt the need to experience both in order to really find out what WV was all about. Coal mining is on the agenda a little farther down the road in WV, but here in Morgantown, the opportunity presented itself to learn about moonshine. Moonshine is a clear corn whiskey that is distilled from fermented corn mash. When aged for two years it becomes Bourbon Whiskey, but that’s not what I’m interested in. The fresh corn whiskey is moonshine, and is consumed without aging, and that’s what I am after. First a little history on moonshine. For centuries, moonshine has been distilled in the shadows of the backwoods of West Virginia. Distilling it has been illegal for the centuries for two reasons. The first reason, was the 18th Amendment which made all alcoholic beverages illegal in the US, and was repealed. The second reason was evasion of taxes on the sales of moonshine, which is still enforced by the ATF or bureau of alcohol, tobacco and fire arms. As a result, moonshine has traditionally been hard to find, and required knowing the “right people” to acquire it. I did not know who the “right people” were, and even if I knew where the “right people” were, I am not sure I would want to meet the “right people” in person, in the woods of West Virginia. There had to be another option.
I began an intensive google search, and learned about Mountain Moonshine Distillery, LLC in Morgantown, WV. In 1999, Payton Fireman started West Virginia's first licensed, taxed and legal moonshine distillery. I spoke with Payton on the phone, and had a nice informative conversation. Regretfully, he did not offer tours of his distillery. He also does not ship products, or I would have sent my Uncle Tommy home a bottle. However, he did tell me where I could buy his Moonshine locally. After our call with Payton ended, we headed over to the package store to buy a small bottle of legal West Virginia moonshine. Since Nate does not drink, I was alone on this one, and a bit nervous. I am not much of a drinker, and when I do drink, and am a chocolate martini kinda gal. I can’t even remember the last time I took a shot of hard liquor. However, I came to experience West Virginia, and moonshine as part of the exploration, so bottoms up! Now I am far from a whisky connoisseur, but here goes nothing. I guess it was kind of smooth, but it burned like hell going down. I probably will not be drinking it again, but am glad I gave it a shot (pun intended)! We then drove to the Clarksburg, WV Walmart for a good night sleep. Tomorrow we will travel farther into southern West Virginia to tour the State’s Capitol in Charleston.