Where every bar has been replaced by a church

We’re in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia on the trail of the lonesome pine. At some point I’m hoping we’ll find somewhere to stay but it doesn’t look imminent. A few miles back in Ohio things were surprisingly buccolic although Hocking isn’t the best name and every other store was selling ‘ammo’. ‘Owing to the price of ammo,’ said a sign outside a store, ‘don’t expect a warning shot’.

In the middle of the Hocking Hills we stopped at a ramshackle cluster of barns with a hand-written ‘Antiques’ sign, almost bought an original Polaroid camera in a box and an Amish chair, and met ladies in slacks and hornrims basking on the sunny porch. They told us there was a sculpture park we had to see ‘with a metal deer.’ ‘A deer, a turkey’ said the other one after a pause. ‘Uh-huh a turkey and a hawk 50 ft high. You put binoculars on that hawk it’s real life like’. At which point the screen door banged open and they were summoned back in by an impatient octogenarian (‘We gotta play some cards’).

Further down the rolling, empty road, there were signs pointing into the forests to trails and cabins (Cherry Creek, Hiding Place Cabin, and the rather alarming, Bear Run Inn). This is hunting, shooting, fishing get-away-from-it-all land. We probably should have found ourselves a cabin, caught some fish for dinner or whatever you do. Instead, having crossed into West Virginia, as it got dark, I had the inspired idea to turn off the Interstate at Beckley and head to Shady Spring because I liked the name. Instinct is really bad on a road trip. This was a really dark place, full of damp wood cabins with trucks and tractors in bits around them. There were probably dogs straining on chains but the only things I could pick out of the gloom on the twisting road were mounds of mud-spattered snow and churches, left, right, everywhere, with Lost? Jesus is the Way signs and dozens of vehicles parked outside. No bars! Every beacon of light turned out to have a Presbyterian spire attached.

Eventually I work out how to use the GPS thing on the new phone and we get to something that looks big, Hinton where we circle the dark streets and settle for the one bar, Pops, eating refried fries cemented by something like cheese. Sweet Home Alabama is on the jukebox, and the other three occupants are playing pool out back. We consider the two accommodation options that stand like barracks in the gloom on the other side of the river. One is shut down. I look the other one up on the Hinton Forum. ‘Anyone have any thoughts regarding the Sandman?’ asks one person politely. ‘Nope’ is the response. Scrolling further down there’s a fairly thorough description:

An hour down the road we see a brightly lit paradise devoted entirely to travellers who do not like to take chances and full of Applebees, Wendy’s, Hardee’s (for the best biscuits in town) Bob Evans, Days Inns and whatnots and check in to some $60 motel, euphoric with relief and gratitude.

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