Looking over the side of the road at the tops of trees, it was easy to imagine that I was on the very roof of the world. The absence of guardrails, and the toy-like appearance of farms and cows far below, only reinforced this impression. In reality, the elevations were only a fourth of so of the roads I’ve driven in the Alps, but the impression was no less vivid. West Virginia is still one of the most visually vertical places anywhere, and that implies that it also has some of the most interesting roads anywhere!
I know that my BMW 335i is a mechanical object, devoid of personal feelings. Yet I sensed that this extraordinary car shared my excitement at—finally—setting off on another road trip. What else would explain its over-eagerness? A slight push on the accelerator unleashed far more power than I intended, and the car urged forward at a faster pace through every corner. Such are companions in adventure.
You might well ask what I was doing, driving my pristine 2013 BMW 335i convertible up a steep hill through a cornfield… Well, it was all in a day’s work in my continuing pursuit of lost and forgotten history—and great driving roads.
I stood on the banks of the Hudson River, just across from New York City. But I wasn’t after cities—I was searching for Lavender, Sam, and Alice. Poor, lost Lavender would be the hardest to track down: she became the protagonist of America’s most enduring ghost story back in the 1940s. Sam was one of the country’s best racing drivers in the 1960s and 1970s. And Alice was a colorful and free-spirited counterculture icon in the 1960s, immortalized in Arlo Guthrie’s magnificent song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.”
West Virginia is justifiably famous for its mountains, rivers, and (among driving enthusiasts) its superb mountain roads. My goal in late April was to sample more of these roads—and to see what was left of the coal mining industry that used to predominate in the southern part of the state. In addition, I was pretty sure that I could find a good story or two among the forgotten towns and beautiful rural scenery. In the process, I went far underground twice (although the BMW stayed topside and out of trouble, for once!)
Wherein Yr Fthfl Srvnt recounts the second day of exploring the New Jersey Pine Barrens in his intrepid BMW 335i, on some of the worst roads imaginable. Fortunately, no BMWs—or Fthfl Srvnts—were harmed in the making of this story.
I’d heard all the sensational stories about the New Jersey Pine Barrens: how the company towns had all died out, how the residents were “feeble-minded, uneducated drunkards” (to quote a 1912 heredity study), and how the infamous winged “Jersey Devil” had terrorized the area for more than 200 years. It all sounded too good to be true! Keeping in mind the cautionary advice of the Soothsayer to Julius Caeser in 44 BC (“Beware the Ides of March”), I set off on March 15 to see these things for myself. I was not disappointed…
I couldn’t wait to start the second day of my search for Virginia’s “fortified houses” from the 1700s. As detailed in Part I of this report, early settlers often built stone houses designed to protect their families in case of Indian attacks, and a few of these places still exist. After a hearty breakfast at the Mimslyn Inn, I was eager to find more of them. Little did I know how very lucky I would be on this second day: a guided tour of the finest such property in the state, by a (probable) descendant of its original builder.
A few weeks ago, with Christmas rapidly approaching and much yet to be done, I decided to squeeze in a BMW road trip to Virginia. Practicality be danged! On December 20, I set off in search of forts, both natural and manmade. In particular, I was looking for any remaining “fortified houses,” built in the mid-1700s as protection against raids by hostile Native Americans. The result was 2 fun-filled days of driving, exploration, and photography—the perfect antidote to the “holiday blahs.”