There are many things that you bring back from a great trip: stunning photos, memorable moments, friendships that will last a lifetime. But when Terri and I got to travel to southern West Virginia’s coal country to go four-wheeling on the Hatfield-McCoy trails, we brought back something that stuck with us even more.
Lots and lots of mud.
Now, I own a Jeep, so I’m no stranger to a little off-roading. But spending the day flying through the West Virginia mountains on all-terrain vehicles brings getting dirty to a whole new level. Admittedly, we could have missed a few of the puddles (our guide suggested that more than once), but what’s the fun in that?
When we first got to town, it was all quite civilized. We had a lovely lunch at Soho’s Italian Restaurant in the Capitol Market—a renovated 100-year-old rail yard that now houses stores and restaurants—and wandered the shops of downtown Charleston, West Virginia’s capital city. We visited the Spring Hill cemetery, which is unique in that it not only features unique graveyard art, including Celtic crosses, monolithic obelisks and my favorite, stones carved into tree stumps in the Stump family plot, but also an amazing view of downtown, including the gold-domed capitol building. Another highlight is the hollow zinc monument that marks the graves of the Thayer family; the story goes that it used to be used by bootleggers as a hiding place for their “product” during Prohibition.
We toured the very impressive West Virginia State Museum in the Capitol Complex, and also visited The Coal House in Williamson, WV, made of 65 tons of bituminous coal—since 1933, it has withstood four major floods and even a raging fire. While we were there, we got the chance to hold some bullets that had recently been discovered at a new Hatfield-McCoy dig site—nothing like having a bit of history in your hand!
But the real highlight of the trip was the chance to follow in the Hatfield and McCoy families’ footsteps—all of the parts except the shooting—as we careened though West Virginia hills and hollows.
Our host for the day, Jacqueline Proctor, introduced us to Mike from TrailsHeaven, who asked us if we’d be comfortable going out on UTVs (utility type vehicles). We could even drive them if we’d like. Sooner than Terri could say, “Watch ‘is!” we were helmeted up and heading out.
Terri (to Mike): So how dangerous is this?
Mike: Just pay attention and you’ll be fine. And don’t get too close to the side of the cliff.
Vanessa (looking at the 30-foot drop): We’re going to die.
Terri: Hush. We won’t go over the cliff.
Vanessa: Not willingly, at least.
Mike pales slightly, but keeps a strained smile on his face. And then Terri hits a huge puddle. Full speed. And we are covered—head to toe—in mud.
Vanessa (howling with laughter): Do it again! Do it again!
Mike: If you go slower, you won’t splash as much…..
Drenched. We are now drenched with mud. We stop to clean off our goggles, and Jacqueline pulls up in her ATV, also covered in mud and still looking like a fashion model. We snap a photo for posterity, just in case we somehow end up over the mountainside and our memory needs to be used as a cautionary tale for future riders. Now it’s my turn.
Terri: Do you need any advice? I’m good at this, you know.
Vanessa: You might just want to stay quiet—I swallowed mouthfuls of mud while I was in the back seat.
Terri: This was your plan all along to stop me from talking, wasn’t it?
And so we head down the hill. Fast. Slip-sliding every bit of the way and plowing into ever deeper puddles, spraying mud and guck and goodness knows what else. When we pull back into the parking lot and shut the machine off, it’s suddenly quiet, except for the sound of sucking mud detaching itself from the machine’s undercarriage and smacking to the pavement. The ATV, once a cheery yellow color, is now as brown as….well, mud.
We walk into the ladies’ room to clean off and dissolve into laughter when we look in the mirror.
Terri: I don’t think a handful of single-ply paper towels is going to do much.
Vanessa: I don’t think a pressure washer would do much.
Jacqueline, brilliant as ever, hands us large garbage bags that we proceed to wear—with pride—over our filth-covered clothes as we walk through the gift shop and back out to her car.
Jacqueline (with a straight face): Don’t get my car dirty, k?
We are so screwed.
If You Go
Seven trails make up the Hatfield-McCoy Trails system, totaling 630 miles through five southern West Virginia counties. The trails wind through the mountains and a number of ATV-friendly small towns, and vary from easy to extremely difficult routes, all of which are clearly marked. You must have a valid user permit before riding (WV resident $26.50, nonresident $50) which is good until Dec. 31 of the year it was purchased. While 99 percent of riders bring their own transportation, there are four companies that rent ATVs and UTVs, and you can also get guided tours. The trails are open to UTVs, ATVs and motorcycles.
Other attractions in the areas including motorcycling and kayaking. Motorcyclists should make sure to pick up a new map showcasing 1,000 miles of on-road motorcycle routes through southern West Virginia provided by www.trailsheaven.com. The site also provides information on kayak and off-road equipment rental, lodging, activities, restaurants and more.