I know now why they call Canaan Valley the Land of Milk and Honey.
The first and only time I have ever visited that area was nearly a year ago in mid-December (check out the video recap from that trip here).
Canaan Valley is a powder hound’s dream in the winter season. The nearby towns of Davis and Thomas are bustling with live music, great food, and free late night games of pool. It’s like someone picked up a happenin’ little ski town from Vermont (or out West even) and dropped it smack dab in the middle of West Virginia’s Allegheny Highlands.
That’s during the winter, though. I had never been to the valley during the summer.
I came into town late Sunday night, expecting the scant local population of Thomas to be closed up for the evening. It was after 9 o’clock, and I knew I was likely out of luck on finding any food (aside from whatever I could scrounge up at the local gas station).
But as I came down the main drag, I saw lights on, people roaming the streets, music blasting. The place was, quite literally, bumpin’. I grabbed my Deuter day pack and followed the music, landing at the Purple Fiddle where Dangermuffin was performing (highly recommend checking these guys out). Just a few minutes after I sat down, I immediately started to see familiar faces.
The town scenes of Davis and Thomas are a lot like what you might find out of a Cheers episode. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s pretty cool. Before long, I’d manage to track down my host for the week, the ever-wonderful local legend, Chip Chase. He’s the main guy over at White Grass Touring Center, and was the first person to introduce me to Canaan when I came into town last winter.
Unlike the Grinch, Chip has a heart that is two sizes too big for his slight frame. He’s an encyclopedia of knowledge on mushrooms, local lore, and everything in between. He’s a hard worker who can make digging a ditch seem like the most fun you’ve ever had. More importantly, Chip is a social butterfly and he knows everyone. Consequently, just 5 days after getting the Tour de Canaan (summer edition) from Chipper, I couldn’t go to the local Tip Top coffee shop without seeing someone I knew.
Most every morning, I would join Chip on his daily walk through the backside of his property and into the neighboring Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Mostly our talks were on the woods themselves, the chaga growing on birch trees, the blight of the hemlocks. But we also talked on the history of protected lands in the area and the current locals’ standing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. When we weren’t talking, we were just walking, taking in the early morning dew that saturated the sprawl of ferns and the brief shafts of sunlight struggling to break free from the rain clouds overhead.
We always returned from our walks with pocketfuls of mushrooms, both edible and non. Breakfast was usually a cup of coffee and a veggie-egg scramble (complete with our freshly picked Chanterelles and homemade buttermilk biscuits – thanks Morgan!).
The time sorta idled by. No one was ever in any particular hurry but there was always something going on. Group rides, community ultimate frisbee games, live music, bouldering sessions. For a couple of towns in the middle-of-nowhere-West-Virginia, the vibe here is g-r-o-o-v-y (and I don’t use that word often). The nearest hospital is close to an hour away. The nearest Wal-Mart, McDonalds, or any other corporate beast? About a 45-minute drive. Canaan Valley is the Land of Milk and Honey because it’s one of those diamonds-in-the-rough where artists and athletes reside, where culture and nature are the inspirational forces behind progress, behind business models and microbreweries and the Way of Life. The “locals” here come from every corner of the world to soak up the mountain vistas, the technical singletrack, the world class skiing, and some of the hardest whitewater on the East. It’s a melting pot of generations and cultures, passions and projects, and the best part about it? You can get lost and never see a single human soul, even on the busiest of weekends and regardless the season.
“What do you like about living here?” I asked Chipper the night we drove back to White Grass from the Purple Fiddle.
“The traffic,” he says without hesitation. “There is none. I can drive 10 miles to my house and never see another car.”
Of course, at that very moment, a car coming in the other direction rounded the bend, shutting down Chip’s claim. But just days later, I found myself driving back to the Go from Davis without ever dimming the brights and thought to myself, this valley must surely be a little slice of heaven.
Major thanks to the Chase family for taking me in and to Jessica Scowcroft and the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau for showing me the best of Davis. Lots of love to you wild and wonderful people!