Exploring Appalachia: Going Back

Last week’s post marked the relaunch of this once-travel-turned-reflective-inner-journey blog. This year, I plan to pick up on two main threads: 1.) Exploring Appalachia, which serves as the familial roots for my wife and me, and 2.) Completing my exploration of Ulysses by James Joyce. This post kicks off the exploration of Appalachia, as the title suggests.

Last year, my wife and I bought a modest vacation home in Fayetteville, West Virginia. But the story leading up to it is worth telling, even if briefly. Prior to Fayetteville, we had been saving for a vacation home and in 2019 met with a realtor in Barcelona, Spain. We had traveled to Barcelona a couple of times a year for five years in a row and we wanted to take advantage of low home prices in our favorite place on earth. We attempted to navigate the buying process there, but it didn’t work out because of the requirements for foreign buyers. Now 2 years into the Coronavirus pandemic, that failure was a blessing. We would have been paying for a house we largely couldn’t use.

Fast forward to Fayetteville. Within driving distance of our home Columbus, Ohio, we visited the New River Gorge area a few of times during the pandemic for the extensive outdoor sports: rock climbing, trail running, white water rafting to name a few. We fell in love with the charm of the town and the world-class sporting opportunities. This was prior to the national park designation in late 2020 and at that time, home prices were within our vacation home budget. Sitting on our savings that was making essentially no interest, we decided to make a splash.

The home buying process was arduous, we were well-qualified buyers but our local bank told us to “go find another lender” because they couldn’t handle their current business load. We had to wait on the regional appraiser to make the 100-mile trek to Fayetteville. The home inspection found a litany of problems that needed to be negotiated. We finally closed after four months of seemingly endless back and forth. Now we could begin renovating our humble house that was in dire need of attention, but that story is for another day.

As part of our purchase and temporary move to Fayetteville to renovate the house, my wife Melanie and I extensively discussed “going back” to Appalachia. We were both raised in Scioto County, Ohio, an economically depressed county with localized small towns along the Ohio River in the foothills of Appalachia. There were many things that felt like home, from the ultra-local news coverage on Huntington-based WSAZ to the difficulty in finding a reliable plumber. Melanie and I had worked so hard to move to a major metropolitan area away from the Appalachian attitudes of our upbringing, and now we’ve made a major investment in Southern West Virginia. What were we thinking?!?

Fast forward a year and we both agree that buying the Fayetteville house was perhaps our best decision as a couple. We love the area for the outdoor opportunities, but even more importantly, we have met so many amazing people with their own fascinating stories. Rather than being pulled back into some of the negativity that can mark small town life, we have been utterly uplifted by small business owners, fellow outdoorsy people, and exceptionally talented craftspeople who highlight the area. As younger people searching for greener grass, we once thought that Appalachia was backward and was best viewed from the rear view mirror. But here we are embracing it anew and happily exploring Appalachia.

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