The highlight of my life is biking the Greenbrier River Trail. With my husband and brother, my go-to guys. We were born in Greenbrier County and our trips prove, contrary to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again. My brother’s wife is a Greenbrier County lady so she fell right in line with the trek up the river, camping out. She’s a little more, actually quite a bit more, fastidious than me. We had pop-up tents, food, weapons. Truth be told, the only weapon was a small hatchet. Stopped at Walmart and my brother bought it on the way.
“What do we need hatchet for?” I asked.
“Spiders,” he said.
“How big are they?” That was just my big brother. You know how they are. He would rescue me from a burning building but tease me to death after.
We camped below Marlinton the first night, made it to Cass, and turned around. It was like a trip suspended in time between heaven and earth. You know, you feel like you’ve died and went to heaven but you hit the wall and realize, that be earth. On the return trip, we camped at mile marker 39 close to Denmar. I recommend it. Flat ground for your air mattress.
There is a huge porta potty, kept immaculately clean by the Boy Scouts or park staff. Its major luxury is a pump with a tall pipe. If you pump and pump and let the handle go, water shoots up that pipe and comes out over your head. Wa la! A shower. My super-dainty sister-in-law brought soap, a towel, change of clothes. I’m experienced, pack light, sweat happens. She proceeds to the porta potty with a pan for water and after her complete makeover offers me, very generously, to use her soap. Having just slid down the riverbank in the mud, I accepted.
The guys were breaking camp and loading bikes. I looked around at the great beauty of the Greenbrier. Just the mountains, God, and me. So, I thought to myself, I’m not going in that porta potty. I strip down to my dainties, pump, pump, pump, and let go of the handle. Shook off the water and replaced my muddy clothes.
My husband had loaded my bike, so we took off, rounded a curve, and ran headlong into one of West Virginia’s finest, sitting on top of a state cruiser with a rifle across his knees, wearing—I swear to God—aviator sunglasses, guarding work detail of inmates cleaning up the trail.
Much later I learned there is a state correctional facility close by. No pictures, please. I’m probably famous now. My brother loved the fact I was damp, still pretty muddy, and humiliated. “You’re the sweetheart of cellblock 19.” He laughed and laughed. I will probably go to hell for the incident. I would risk it if I could hear him laugh like that again. There have been occasions of self-induced embarrassment when I thought I could hear him laughing from above. The only reason I try to be good these days is my prayer there are bike trails in heaven. I already know the ones in Almost Heaven.
Jay Brackenrich will be signing her Civil War novel, “Greenbrier,” at A New Chapter bookstore Aug. 27. It is a semi-true account of the genesis of the Brackenrich family.
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