The past week was the coldest week I’ve ever spent in the van.
I was deep in the mountains of West Virginia, at a dispersed campsite outside of Davis. On the drive in, the van had climbed higher and higher through the hills and I watched as the leaves changed from green to the first signs of fall, but at the campsite, the change of season was already at its peak. Our campsite for the weekend was at a stunning 3600 feet of elevation.
It was chilly on Friday when I arrived, and I hunkered down under a few blankets with my Kindle while my husband went on a run. A few minutes after he left, the tapping on the roof told me it had begun to rain – freezing rain. Though we were deep into the Heart of the Highlands Trail, I barely ventured outside.
Saturday morning we awoke to a commotion outside the van, unusually noisy for being 3.5 miles down a dirt road outside of a small mountain town. When I drew back the window covering, I saw a massive box truck parked on our campsite and two men unloading tables and… catering equipment?
As it turns out, I was parked directly in the middle of a bi-annual hiking event hosted by the local ski mountain. Hikers venture from Canaan Mountain to Blackwater Falls State Park and back again, and I was right at the turnaround. The hosts were busy getting food and tables ready for the hikers, who showed up around noon. It was a sunny morning, but cool, winter giving a harsh edge to the breeze. Still, the hikers were in good spirits and we ventured out to meet them – after all, this was my campsite.
Diamond romped with some of the dogs on the hike, effortlessly making friends. The hikers and hosts were welcoming, inviting us to grab a plate and pull up a chair. We chatted about the weather, hiking, van life, the usual easy topics for people who love the outdoors. When the hikers left on their return loop, we even managed to get the leftover hot dogs and hamburgers for ourselves. Thanks to their kindness, we managed to stretch our dwindling food supply from Saturday through Wednesday morning when the fridge and pantry officially ran dry.
After the hikers left the weather took a turn again the freezing rain returned. It pounded down through to Monday afternoon and the winds shook most of the leaves down from the trees. It was a desolately beautiful scene.
By Tuesday I’d had more than enough and was ready to seek lower elevations and warmer weather. But alas we were stuck by the post office, waiting for packages to be delivered before we could move on. We slept under layers of blankets and sleeping bags, Diamond in her vest and insulated blanket. Our breath was visible in the morning air and just sitting around required several layers of clothes and socks.
At one point the locals threatened snow, but only freezing rain materialized. It was marshy ground, soggy from days of rain and shallow lichen roots. Still, it was a beautiful campsite, and by the time I left on Wednesday the sun was shining brightly.
A few hours east on the highway raised the temperature over 10 degrees and the trees went from empty to green again. Here in Virginia fall is just starting again, the sun still warm, and the nights well above freezing.
I spent two weeks exploring West Virginia and I can confidently it was one of the most stunning states I’ve visited. Despite freezing temperatures, a stink bug invasion, and staying in a few trailer parkers, I’d do it all again.