State mottos usually leave me wanting to barf on a small child. Most elicit some kind of disgusted feeling, like a bad commercial that leaves you rolling your eyes, wondering, “Lord, what primitive mind thought that through?” They’re the tourism industry’s version of a guy trying to sell a really bad pun that only leaves you angrier for having heard it.
West Virginia, however, is the proverbial diamond in the rough with its motto of “Wild and Wonderful.” Is there any other way to describe the Mountaineer State? Yeah, they’re mostly known for mining. But this is a mecca of hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting. Virtually anything you’d want to do in the great outdoors can be done in West Virginia and then some.
Back in August, we stayed in and around Fayetteville, West Virginia as guests of Visit Southern West Virginia. Fayetteville is a historic town (it shows in the architecture) billed as the coolest small town in the States. With just under 3,000 residents in 5.5 square miles, it certainly is small. But cool? Turns out, it is.
Chorizo and More Chorizo
Downtown Fayetteville itself has everything you’d want to walk to. Cathedral Café, which as you might guess is housed in a refurbished cathedral, offers locals coffee and good eats through the day. Their breakfast burrito with spicy chorizo sausage is something I’d be thrilled to make a regular occurrence in my life.
Local favorite Pies & Pints sits just down the block, offering creative takes on pizza pies and damn fine craft beer from Fayetteville’s Bridge Brew Works. And if you want a meal that will leave you wondering how you can stretch out your stay another day (or week), Diogi’s, an El Salvadorian family joint, has some of the best Latin American cuisine I’ve ever tasted. Though I’m partial to them, since they offered me even more chorizo in their Pollo Loco dish with strips of chicken breast, queso dip and salsa verde.
There is a bed and breakfast option downtown, but we gladly accepted the hospitality of Opossum Creek Retreat just a few minutes drive away. Here you’ll get all the accoutrements of a rustic adventure without having to do your business in, say, an outhouse. The cabins nestle themselves deep in the woods, but you’ll find a hot tub on the back patio. So you’re not exactly roughing it, and that was more than okay with me.
It really is quite incredible what you can do in this nook for the country. While we opted for some whitewater rafting and zip lining, that’s hardly their main event. On October 19, BASE jumpers from around the globe will descend upon Fayetteville for Bridge Day to jump off the New River Gorge Bridge for the 34th year in a row. At 876-feet tall, it’s the tallest arch bridge in the western hemisphere.
Though we weren’t fortunate enough to be there in October, we were lucky to find ourselves on the shores of the New River during an unusually high water level for August. Our River Expeditions guides were simply giddy to get out onto the water, flowing five feet higher than what’s typical this time of year.
It’s interesting to note that there’s nothing “new” about the New River. In reality, the Ohio River tributary is the third-oldest river in the world, geologically-speaking. Early Atlantic explorers unfamiliar with the river named this one. I can only imagine how that conversation went.
“You guys see this before?”
“Nope, new to me.”
“Alright, mark it down and let’s get moving. This scurvy is killing me.”
Scurvy-free, the New River was as rambunctious as promised. We hit a variety of Class III and IV rapids throughout our three(ish) hour journey as our impressively knowledgable guide hollered with his southern color, “All aheadin’!” — the command to get your ass to paddling.
Next on the agenda was zip lining with ACE Adventures, who just so happens to hold the world record of most people to zip line across a line in one hour with 183 zip-liners, schooling the Germans with a previous record of 122 in 2010. Our guides actually took part in the world record win, but spoke of it with the nonchalance one does a little league baseball trophy.
The course was fun and fast with great views of the New River Gorge. But the grand finale is what made the trek worthwhile. Though you can be boring and hop off the platform facing forward, you’re encouraged to sit backwards and trust-fall off the platform. You’ll even have the opportunity to finagle yourself upside down, staring at the Heavens above like you’re witnessing the final white light.
After Fayetteville, I’ve come to the entirely scientific conclusion that it’s impossible not to love southern West Virginia. The people, the food, the adventure, the beer — what more does one want in life? From now on, I suspect I’ll live as Fayetteville’s The Wild Rumpus sings, “These mountains call to me.”