Road trips: Always an adventure worth taking
By Chapin Jewell
As I begin writing this article in the morning hours on Wednesday, my family and I are within 30 minutes or so of embarking on a few day getaway to Virginia Beach. I’ve got the laptop with me on the couch to start things out, but the article will get finished most likely while we’re enroute. That’s how it works sometimes.
In any event, we’re off on a road trip, and while I’m by no means a fan of week-long or longer vacations that some people take, mostly because I just stress over all the obligations I have “back home,” a few-day getaway is perfect, in fact, in the wake of all this COVID-19 madness, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Who doesn’t love a good road trip? My journey to Virginia Beach I guess you would say is more of a vacation than some of the sports-related road trips I’ll talk about in this article. But the gist of what I’ll be doing is really the same as if I were on the way to a road game somewhere.
There will be food, always food. There will be sightseeing. There will be exploration. I’m a guy that does research before I head somewhere. I don’t want to know about chain restaurants, I want to know where the locals eat, I want to know about those hidden gems. If someone famous was born there, I want to visit their homeplace. I try to embed with the locals as much as I can.
I joke that in some ways, I fancy myself a poor man’s Anthony Bourdain. I like to visit a place and report on my findings. Of course Bourdain was jet-setting to far off, exotic lands, whereas I’m more likely to be reporting from some hill or holler in West Virginia. Although ironically, in one of his last and best shows, Bourdain did indeed visit West Virginia.
Bourdain of course was also usually sampling exotic delicacies, while I typically find myself reporting on concession stand chili dogs, that town’s version of a pepperoni roll, or if I’m lucky, a different way in which a restaurant incorporated ramps into their menu.
While my sports’ reporting via some radio work but more particularly in print with the News-Tribune has certainly amped up the frequency of my visits to random hills and hollers, the reality is that my affinity for road trips dates back many years, really to my childhood.
Particularly in the fall, Friday night and sometimes Saturday most certainly always involved a football game, be it home or away. Unlike people who rarely take to the road, for us, there was virtually no excuse for missing a game.
If it meant traveling to Morgantown, Baltimore, Hagerstown, Martinsburg, Shenandoah Junction, Bunker Hill, you name it, we were there. While I’ve never stopped traveling with my dad to away games as a fan, I’ve also made countless road trips with friends, and often times with my wife, who has been beside my side for the last 26 years.
While the vast majority of these trips as a fan were simply just a function of being loyal to my favorite teams, I have also been willing to travel just to see big games, regardless of who is involved.
In 1995, fresh out of high school, my now wife and I made the near three-hour trek to Wheeling one random Friday night to watch 16-seed Musselman knock off Bluefield at Wheeling Island Stadium to win the class AA state championship. There were countless trips to the Eastern Panhandle to watch Martinsburg play the likes of Parkersburg and Capital in Saturday afternoon playoff action as well.
Again, even while not necessarily a fan per se of either team, I haven’t passed up the opportunity to see the big games. Add to the list Martinsburg at Sherando in Stephens City, Virginia, one of the coolest places to watch a high school football game. Sherando has an Indian drum beat that plays over the loud speaker beginning in the afternoon while the kids are still in school, and it doesn’t let up until it’s time for the Warrior to ride out on horseback and plant a spear at midfield, just before kickoff, in true Florida State fashion.
There was also the time in 2001 my buddy and I made the trek to Germantown, Maryland, to see what was at the time dubbed the “Game of the Century” in Maryland High School football between host Seneca Valley and Urbana. The Screamin’ Eagles of Seneca Valley had won more state championships than any other Maryland team and Urbana, still a relatively new school, had racked up three straight state titles of their own.
This state-semifinal matchup more than lived up to the billing, with Urbana winning a triple overtime thriller 29-23 in front of 10,000 people. With 1:51 remaining in regulation, Urbana’s sophomore kicker hit a 50-yard field goal to give the Hawks a 9-6 lead. On the last play in regulation, Seneca Valley’s Bolivian kicker who spoke little English and was playing in only his third football game, kicked a 32-yarder as time expired to force overtime. Urbana would ultimately prevail.
I have been extremely fortunate in my time as a reporter for the News-Tribune to travel all around the state following Keyser and Frankfort as they took to the road. As far as trips with some distance are concerned, for example, Keyser football has taken me to Bluefield twice, Nicholas County, and while not that far away, Bridgeport as well. Frankfort football has taken me to the Northern Panhandle to Weir.
In other sports, Frankfort baseball has taken me to Charleston for the state tournament; Frankfort’ girls’ basketball has also taken me to the state tournament in Charleston and both Frankfort and Keyser have taken me to Charleston for the state track meet. Those trips under the shadow of the Golden Dome at the State Capital are always great trips and I have everything well mapped out by now.
There have also been a ton of trips to the Fairmont area for a variety of sports.
Whether as a fan or reporter, the basic plan is always the same. Do the research, find a value-friendly place to stay, then start digging for the place or places to eat, you know, where the locals go. Arrive early to the town, in time to do some exploring. Arrive early to the stadium, talk to a few locals. It’s always so rewarding to talk to those around the state that share the same passions as I do.
For my first trip to Bluefield two years ago, my teenage son tagged along. We had a bunch of extra time as we had originally planned for a Friday game that ended up being played on Saturday. We travelled all around the Bluefield area, visiting spots like historic Bramwell, the coal town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other place in America. We tracked down the honky tonk that was one of last spots Hank Williams was seen alive, and many other historical spots of interest. Mitchell Stadium alone is worth the visit, one of the most venerable high school sports locations in the state.
Nicholas County was an interesting and memorable trip as well. I went down early enough that I could take the 45-minute trek further down the road to Tamarack for a storytelling workshop with Homer Hickam of “October Sky/Rocket Boys” fame. It was a great thrill to have such an intimate interaction with a Mountain State legend. Not to mention the fact that the beautiful Summersville Lake was nearby, and Nicholas County had an amazing slow-roasted Pork Barbecue Sandwich with a Pineapple on top I can still taste to this day, yummy.
For the trip to Weir, the whole family was able to come. We stayed in a hotel in nearby Steubenville, Ohio, and actually were able to make a trip to Steubenville’s stadium early on game night before heading to Weir. If you don’t know, Steubenville is one of the most historic, well-supported football programs in all of Ohio and even the country.
So you see, road trips for me are always about way more than just a game. I love the games, don’t get me wrong, but what has always driven my passion for high school sports is the community involvement aspect of it. The people, the places, and yes, the food.
Looking ahead, I’m already looking forward to Keyser’s trip to Point Pleasant this season. Point Pleasant, in Mason County, all the way across the state, is the site of the horrific Silver Bridge collapse in 1967 that killed 46 people. In popular folklore and culture, Point Pleasant is also the home of “Mothman.”
I’ve got great memories of road trips of the past and look forward to many more in the future.