Monday, June 19th we are forecasted a 90% chance of precipitation with an estimated 0.89 inches of rain, with a high of 65 degrees and a low of 49 degrees. This is not unusual. This is Cheat Mountain.
Sometimes I forget that this is a crazy place, the novelty gets lost on me since we live here. Yesterday speaking on the phone, I got cut off when an apocalyptic storm cloud blew in from nowhere and blocked our satellite signal. I was suddenly reminded of how difficult it is to reach my friend in a remote area of Mexico, and another in Ecuador. I was also reminded that where I live isn’t so different. This is cemented when I pause from work now to look out of my window into the Tygart valley below, and the mountains beyond.
Thirty minutes from the Walmart in Elkins there is something inexplicable that happens. Driving up the mountain you are transported out of time and place to somewhere much wilder than you were expecting. You diverge from phone and power and sewer lines. You creep up winding gravel roads into a forest tunnel to emerge on our mountaintop; onto Cheat Mountain.
Our home is situated at 3,700 feet amid tracts of land belonging to the Monongahela National Forest; we can access hundreds of thousands of contiguous acres from our back yard. It is also situated in just about the coldest and wettest spot in the state.
Cheat Mountain is challenging. It is wet and humid to the point of almost never being dry. Our life stops on sunny days of low humidity so that we can lay out clothes, shoes, tents, herbs, and mushrooms to dry. Cheat Mountain is chafing, blistering, dirt and mud; its digging drainage ditches around your tent or waking up in a puddle. It is the feeling of wet ferns getting stuck in your sandals, or creek water filling your boots. It is the small sound of rain falling on your carefully constructed shelter, and the drip of water on your forehead waking you from sleep.
Cheat Mountain is rewarding. It is the feeling of warmth from a fire after hours of being chilled. It is watching steam roll off your body as you lay out in the sun to dry. It is muscles burning from use and bellies full of hot food. It is tears and sweat and laughter all in the same minute. You come here to practice the skills that you have been previously been taught in a controlled and relaxed environment. You come to test those against adversities that, whether they are real or simulated, are designed to push you to your limits.
We invite you here to help you grow, struggle, and learn so that you can leave here with skills that will translate to managing different situations throughout the rest of your life.
Your week on Cheat Mountain may, at the time, seem like the worst experience that you’ve ever had; however, you will always leave with the feeling that it was the best.