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July 1, 2021 No Comments »
In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from writer Sherry Spitsnaugle. I met Sherry S at a Denver event and found out that she was a travel writer! So not only does she have a cool name, but she also has a way with words! All opinions, experiences, and photos here are hers. – Sherry O.
Mud splatters my face and the high decibel level makes me cover my ears as I bounce up and down in the back seat of a four-passenger ATV. My knuckles turn white from clinging to the “chicken bar” as the driver picks up speed down the dusty, rutted, narrow path. Branches and twigs scrape our rig – and my arm (my bad).
I love every teeth-rattling, bone-jarring jolt.
This is my first time offroading; I hadn’t expected it to be such a blast. My friend in the backseat with me is also a first-timer. He jokes at the outset, “If I start screaming, just slap me.” But, mostly we chuckle. And hang on for dear life.
We’re exploring the Hatfield and McCoy Trails of southern West Virginia, following the ATV about ten feet in front of us, driven by guide Cam Ellis, whose family runs Mountain Top Adventures.
Cam looks exactly like I would imagine an offroading guide to look like – with unruly hair, wearing steel-toed boots and a huge grin. Married to his high school sweetheart, who is also part of the family business, he’s outgoing, personable, and right at home in the woods and on an ATV. He grew up on these trails and knows them — exactly how the saying goes–like the back of his hand.
The story of the Hatfields and McCoys dates back to the 1800s, when two Appalachian families engaged in backwoods warfare. The origin of the feud is obscure, but the story is that it began when one family stole a pig from the other family. Hostilities got out of hand as the two families brawled, attacked, kidnapped, and eventually killed.
Courtroom trials took place and there was even a love affair between a Hatfield and a McCoy which was broken up. Eventually, the story prompted a television show on the History Channel, a mini series, and in these parts, you’ll see the Real McCoy burger listed on the menu, and a Devil Anse beer named after William Anderson Hatfield. There’s even a Hatfield & Mccoy Moonshine LLC Distillery.
The Hatfield McCoy Trail system consists of some 600 miles of trails, one of the most extensive offroad trail systems in the country. Much of the historic feuding took place where several of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails are now located. The trail system is open 365 days a year and offers something for every ATV skill level.
In true ‘Leave No Trace’ style, the backwoods are respected and beloved here. I don’t see a speck of litter during the entire day that we are on the trail.
Here in West Virginia, ATV’s are as common as folks wearing camouflage. You can even drive an ATV through McDonalds and on the highway in ATV-friendly towns.
We meet other ATVs on the rutted path – some are single drivers, some couples, and lots of rigs with adults and kids. Cam explains that since the company added the side-by-sides, the family adventure business has soared. Side-by-sides generally have two seats, one for the driver and one for the passenger, but there are also side-by-sides that can hold four passengers, like the one we’re in.
“Before, it used to be a bunch of guys coming to take the ATV’s out on the trails, which is great, too, but now we’re seeing families who are looking for a safe adventure,” Cam says.
“It’s kind of like Disneyland, but in the middle of nature and without the lines.”
Cam explains that when you meet other riders on the trail, the driver in the first vehicle holds up the correct number of fingers to show how many vehicles are yet to come. The last person holds up a fist to show they are the last vehicle. This is similar to snowmobile etiquette. The first time we encounter another group, the driver holds up two fingers in a V-shape. I make a rookie mistake and flash the peace sign back.
The closest we come to danger is when my friend and I both bend over to grab our water bottles on the floor at the same time and bump into each others’ helmets. We laugh that we could have suffered a concussion, from clumsiness, not the trail. Oh, and a bug flies into my mouth.
There are sweet moments, too, when a butterfly lands on my hand for a couple of seconds as the sun filters in through the foliage.
After a couple of hours, we leave the trail and drive down the highway to explore the Hatfield Cemetery. It’s nice to get out of the ATV and walk up the trail to the graveyard, with weathered markers scattered on a hill.
I wander alone among the old tombstones, and I see one that matches my birthday and try to imagine the life that person had in the 1800s.
Now that I’ve been to this area, I vow to study the story and learn more about this fascinating historic feud when I get home. It’s the stuff of legend.
We leave the cemetery and drive through town past the high school and through a residential area in our ATVs, which is a kick. We head for the local ATV hangout, Keith’s Bar & Grille. Mud-covered ATV’s are parked in front which I take as a good sign.
John Denver’s hit, “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” blasts in the bar, and many of the clientele –like me – are covered in muck and grime after a day on the trail. I order the Hillbilly Philly (a delicious Philly cheese steak sandwich) and a 16 oz. Blue Moon.
After a couple of cold ones, we call it a day. A very good and muddy day.
It’s really best to hire a guide for an ATV trip, especially if you’re a newbie like me.
The twisty trails all look alike after a while. Mountaintop Adventures has cabins, great for families, couples or small groups. It’s a ‘one stop shop’! They even sunset and wild horse tours in addition to their Hatfield McCoy tours.
While you’re in West Virginia, visit Adventures on the Gorge for first-class rafting, hiking, exploring, and yes, even excellent dining options. ATOG offers cabins in the middle of nature, a staff that goes above and beyond, and some of the best white water in the country.
Meet the Author: Sherry Spitsnaugle, guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure— around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.
Sherry Spitsnaugle participated in a post-trip with several other journalists as part of the Society of American Travel Writers freelance council conference in West Virginia in May. Mountaintop Adventures hosted their ATV adventure.
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I’m Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it’s not just about travel, it’s also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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