Why Life Appalachia?

New River Gorge Bridge West VirginiaWho cares about living in Southern West Virginia?

There are many reasons to leave West Virginia. A lot of folks believe there are few to stay, and even fewer to move here. When I moved to the New River Gorge Region from North Carolina over 13 years ago I heard often from locals around the state that I had “moved the wrong way.” With so many high school and college graduates moving to my home state to pursue work I seemed like an anomaly. Or just plain crazy. Touched.

But… Southern West Virginia is my home, now. By choice. And I love her.

West Virginia, well, I love her like I would a soul mate. We have found each other, and each day we encourage the best of each other… learning from the challenging and difficult moments and cherishing the countless moments of boundless happiness together.

I’m a North Cackalacky boy by birth and blood, but the New River Gorge is my home by choice. She has my heart.

I recently framed the situation to a friend in this context: North Carolina is where my roots are. I love that state like a family member and the connection is one of blood. It’s eternal. But West Virginia, well, I love her like I would a soul mate. We have found each other, can’t seem to shake each other and each day we encourage the best of each other. Together we learn from the challenging and difficult moments our connection brings and cherish the countless moments of boundless happiness made possible by our union.

I moved here pretty much by chance, only intending to spend a year working as a video boater and raft guide here. But, as I traveled around our amazing country I never seemed to stumble across a place which carried the same quality of climbing, boating, mountain biking, hunting… the outdoor lifestyle… that I found here in the New River Gorge.

All of those amenities without a Starbucks in sight? Score. Honestly, I don’t believe there was one in the state when I moved here. Only recently has one come within a 20 minute drive of me – by highway.

Let me repeat that. There isn’t a Starbucks within a 20 minute highway drive of my home.

My town, Fayetteville, West Virginia (pop. 3000) used to have two stop lights. USED to. They took one down a few years ago.

There also isn’t a Trader Joe’s, Ikea, Mac Store or Whole Foods in the state. In. The. Entire. State.

My town, Fayetteville, West Virginia (pop. 3000) used to have two stop lights.

USED to. They took one down a few years ago.

That may sound rough, or even unbelievable to a few folks. But, it pales in comparison to our real battles. We’re a state stricken with generational poverty, a history of exploitation by out-of-state industry, a lack of cultural diversity, weak educational systems, a lack of technological infrastructure … you know, in the context of contemporary America we’re screwed. We’re basically third world. We yearn to post #firstworldproblem on Facebook.

But here’s the thing. I tell you this from the perspective of a 35 year old single male. A guy who had to decide to walk out of a broken 7 seven year relationship turned engagement. A guy who is recovering from an unexpected firing from a lucrative role as a Creative Director in a small marketing agency I helped found for no longer “being in line with the direction of the company”. Well, I certainly wasn’t, for starters it’s  an agency which left West Virginia to relocate in Salt Lake City, Utah.

I was a guy who had every reason to leave… with one foot out the door.

In that context I tell you that there’s a quality of life, an authentic experience, right here in the New River Gorge that I’ve found no where else. No where.

I believe this is due to our greatest asset. It is one that can not be built, or imitated. It is our landscape. Our Mountain State. Our home.

Right here in the middle of Appalachia, in the middle of West Virginia, is the New River Gorge National  River. She is ancient. She is amazing. We are her steward.

Trail running became a critical part of my lifestyle 2 years ago as I persevered through some of the most intense life transitions I could imagine. Here, in the New River Gorge, I can run out of my sub $100k home and can be on a trail system that networks through a 70k acre National Park in less than 5 minutes. I have friends who have the same access by running across their street.

But wait (in my best hair in a spraycan voice) ……. there’s more.

We have class V boating that runs EVERY DAY and world class climbing bordering our town… athat’s if we’re too lazy to drive over to the Gauley River for one of the many off season releases (local advantage.. when it rains.. it runs). We have miles of trails to ride and run. We have a mountain lake so clear you can scuba dive in it. You can hunt, fish, ATV. Grow your own food. Walk across our town in 15 minutes. I’m not kidding, look a my town, Fayetteville, WV on Google Earth with satellite view. The topography will tell the tale. Look at all that green.

What’s my point? Is this a sales pitch? No. Not really.

This is not a pitch. It’s a story. Many stories. Here’s how the idea started. Remember how I mentioned getting fired? Leaving an engagement? Those aren’t things you’re supposed to do or that are supposed to happen. And I’m definitely not supposed to post them on the internet for the world to see. Well, here’s thing… it’s through following those types of preconceived rules that allowed heart break and career meltdowns to occur. Pursuing expectations over gut. Compromising intuition and self respect. Doing the “right” thing.

When it all came crashing down. When the rug was ripped violently from beneath me. That rug which I painstakingly made myself and carefully placed on the slick hard floor. To which I attached a rope with a hand written dare that read… “Pull. Pull HARD!”

When the dare had been answered repeatedly. When I thought the bottom couldn’t drop any further, but it did. When I came as close to bankruptcy as a person can floating 2 mortgages for 9 months. When I broke my clavicle into a million pieces trying to escape on a mountain bike. When couldn’t exercise outdoors for 4 months post surgery. When every fundamental values in my life – love, relationships, trust, friendship – had been beaten to death, drug through the mud and I was on my knees on the kitchen floor….

THAT is when a battered, shell of a person made my decision to live intentionally. To build a home for my heart. To place roots where I could grow, make and build the life I need, and want. To chose to be surrounded by many who make the same choice everyday, against all odds, and build a community.

THAT is when a battered, shell of a person made my decision to live intentionally. To build a home for my heart. To place roots where I could grow, make and build the life I need, and want. To chose to be surrounded by many who make the same choice everyday, against all odds, and build a community. Some of us where born here. Some of us moved here. We work in the mines and on the rivers. We build guitars and wait tables. We sell bikes and design websites. We teach school and grow food. Some go to church, some to nature and some both.

And each of us has made the decision to live a Life Appalachia.

These are our stories….

10 Comments

  1. by Harmony on April 10, 2014  12:34 pm Reply

    You summed up why I moved to Highland County, Virginia perfectly! This is my heart and soul home. After 64 moves through 11 states that included major metropolitan cities I found this place 7 years ago. I tried to move away but my heart cried to go "home". I came home in May 2013. Daily I intentionally create a life that suits me and answers the calling of my soul. In just moments I will walk out my door with my dog and walk up the mountain or maybe go for a run. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. by Beth on April 10, 2014  1:41 pm Reply

    That was beautifully said.

  3. by ed ayersman on April 10, 2014  5:13 pm Reply

    Nice story, thanks for loving our mountains and rivers and may they always protect you as they do us.

  4. by Kara on April 10, 2014  7:53 pm Reply

    I'm a NC to WV transplant too...Just got told last week I "moved the wrong way"! Thanks for a great read!

  5. by Terri on April 10, 2014  10:37 pm Reply

    Born and raised here. I love my home town. I love this. Thank you.

  6. by Sherry Frye on April 11, 2014  4:39 am Reply

    Very well said!! It's definitely "Almost Heaven"

  7. by learys2000Janie on April 11, 2014  1:34 pm Reply

    [Georgia] "is where my roots are. I love that state like a family member and the connection is one of blood. It’s eternal. But West Virginia, well, I love her like I would a soul mate. " I will be quoting you for years to come with this statement! (did you get the feeling that your neighbors thought you were in witness protection or something because you moved here? We did!)

  8. by Patsy Haynes Nance on September 30, 2014  5:16 pm Reply

    I was born and raised in Oak Hill and moved to southern Ohio at 16, but have to get my "Fet" County Fix several times a year. I love the feeling I get when I cross the bridge "going up" even at my advanced age of 68. I have always loved her like a soul mate, but no longer dream of moving back. If we move, it will be to NC where our children now live. It is perhaps enough to visit and hang out with family...have lunch at the Cathedral Cafe, drive through old neighborhoods, take a hike at Hawk's Nest or, as we did last summer, explore the long extinct community of Nuttalburg and gaze at the path leading to Seldom Seen - now that was an adventure.

    • by haynesmansfield on October 6, 2014  12:12 pm Reply

      Patsy, thanks for sharing your memories and history. It's true, the New River Gorge stays with us no matter how far we travel. I notice you're a Haynes... any relatives in the Concord region of NC? My name is a reference to my maternal grandmother's lineage that hail from Cabarrus County.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. by Patsy Haynes Nance on October 7, 2014  5:32 pm Reply

    No, my paternal grandfather was originally from Tennessee. I recently discovered that his father was married to a Native American Cherokee named Nawia, and that the Haynes' line before him were weavers from England.

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