"Man cannot himself escape from Nature. Neither can he ever subdue her or
attempt to exploit her endlessly without becoming himself a victim." - Louis Bromfield, Pleasant Valley, 1945
As I continued to travel north, I found a Hostelling International location in Ohio that seemed interesting. Again, I knew very little about the site's history pre-arrival, but I ended with a memorable three-day learning experience through a house tour, walking trails, exhibits, and great stories from the hostel manager.
Nestled in Pleasant Valley, Malabar Farm is the dream come true of Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Louis Bromfield. Born nearby in 1896, he returned to the area and purchased several older farms to create Malabar Farm, and was one of the pioneers of sustainable agriculture, combining grass farming, woodlands and wildlife. He had studied agriculture at Cornell, journalism at Columbia, served in the army, and lived in France with his family, but his love of the land brought him home.
Using an existing farmhouse as the base, he and architect Louis Lamoureux built the "Big House", a 32-room mansion that was furnished and decorated in a French style. Visitors included local farmers and Hollywood stars, as there are a dozen films based on his novels and short stories. He also held to a philosophy that if you visit and eat, then you work the farm, too. It's noted that locals occasionally bought produce at his farm stand from James Cagney, and in May 1945, Bogart and Bacall were married at Malabar Farm.
After his death in 1956, the property was preserved for nearly 20 years, then became an Ohio State Park in 1972. It was Bromfield's wish that the Farm "go on being used in the same fashion so long as it stands." The Big House, and all its interior accessories remain as they were, from the furniture to the magazines! The house tour is a real step back in time.
Many other tales surround Malabar Farm, from its connection to the film, The Shawshank Redemption to the sad, true story of Ceely Rose, the local Lizzie Borden.
On a lighter note, I also learned some farm facts, so here's a little quiz for you:
The first person with 4 correct answers gets a large ice cream from their nearby farm on me!
When I booked my 10 days in West Virginia, it was as much for the availability of a hostel bed enroute north, as curiosity about the area. All I knew was that the "New River Gorge" was nearby, and if there was a hostel, there had to be something of interest. As I drove over the bridge, I was shaking my head and asking myself, "How could I not know this exists?".
For centuries, the area was inaccessible, but the railroad opened this part of West Virginia in 1873, and with it came mining and 13 bustling towns, by 1905. The boom continued through the 1950's, though the once busy towns, mines, and homes in the gorge are now mostly hidden. The New River Gorge Bridge was put in place in 1977, reducing a 40-minute drive, down narrow mountain roads and across a truss bridge from the 1890's, to less than a minute. It's the world's third longest single-span arch bridge, and the third-highest in the country.
The New River Gorge National River was designated in 1978 to protect 53 miles of one of the oldest rivers in the world. The Park encompasses over 70,000 acres for white water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, but is renowned among rock climbers. It's also just one of three National Recreation areas in this Southern Appalachian region.
The main town near the Gorge Bridge is Fayetteville (population 2,900), named for the Marquis de Lafayette. Besides outdoor activities, I really enjoyed "going to town", and had extensive conversations with very friendly locals. All the way around, this West Virginia stop was a great surprise!
Thanks to two camping compadres in Florida, my one stop in North Carolina was Stone Mountain State Park. Long before becoming a park, Stone Mountain was settled by families of English, German, Irish, French, and Scots-Irish descent who built the log homes, farms, churches, and schools that formed the community. The restored Hutchinson homestead and the historic Garden Creek Baptist Church are featured on the park grounds.
This 14,000+ acre landmark is great for camping, hiking, climbing and trout fishing, though be weather-prepared, as I had three days out of 7 that were heavy rain and thunderstorms. However, adding to the enjoyment of the trip is the fact that there is no phone or WiFi service here. You are truly able to be off the grid!
While I did quite a bit of peaceful hiking, and some sheer sitting quietly at the mountaintop, I missed cycling. That said, the terrain here is not rolling hills! The one day I ventured out on two wheels, it was a ride of 23 mph down and 8 mph up. God help me.
I am sorry to say that the North Carolinians can't compete with the southern hospitality of Georgia or South Carolina. Yet, on my last morning, I had a change of plans due to a breakfast invitation I just couldn't refuse. Many thanks to Rebecca (Park staff extraordinaire) for the farm tour and fresh egg breakfast as I was rolling out of town.
People continue to pleasantly surprise me with their generosity.
Worth noting: The Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes through Stone Mountain State Park -- it's a nearly 700-mile trail from Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains to Jockey's Ridge in the Outer Banks. There's so much to see and do!
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover