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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

Almost Heaven

It's all John Denver's fault that I'm here!

'Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.'

It's also Bill Bryson's fault that I'm here. Although I definitely am not interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail; I can appreciate the scenery without risking life and limb or being chased by bears.

From my starting point today in Caldwell, Ohio, I travel south on the I-77. That's the name of the Interstate Highway that I had joined yesterday and that I will follow for the entire day today. A four-lane highway, two lanes in each direction, snakes through dense tree-covered mountains. Today the forest has dressed itself in all its autumn finery; bright, bright reds, sunshiny yellows, pumpkin-coloured oranges, browns and this display is interspersed by tons of greenery. I'm not sure whether these are evergreens, and I suspect they are, or trees yet to show their magnificence in their own time.

Ominous low grey clouds sit above the tops of the trees, but despite a few spits from time to time, no rain falls. The larger towns are a distant memory as most of the exits from the freeway now point to smaller hamlets and towns, none of which interest me at all. I am too busy concentrating on driving on the wrong side of the road and trying to keep up with the traffic.

As I cross the Ohio River, I cannot help but think of Olivia Newton John. I look down and see that the banks are inaccessible here, so no chance for a photo today. Besides, this is not a good enough reason to exit from this surprisingly heavy traffic for a Thursday morning. The Banks of the Ohio forms the border between Ohio and West Virginia. I find myself humming Olivia's ballad before bursting into John Denver's most successful hit song, 'Take me Home, Country Roads' as I pass the 'Welcome to West Virginia' sign. I'm glad there's nobody here to listen to that!

As I move through West Virginia, the panorama that unfolds in front of me is one that I could never have imagined. The trees seem to be closer together, the reds brighter, the yellows more brilliant, oranges iridescent. There are no turnouts on this freeway and I cannot stop - not even for a minute as that would be illegal. I've already been through a toll booth without stopping to pay, so I might be in trouble when Budget gets a nasty letter and fine.

Suddenly, the sun attempts to bust holes through the clouds; shafts of heavenly light point to different parts of the forest. Like an old religious painting they provide an almost ethereal view of the landscape. With spotlight-like attention, the trees appear to glow, displayed in their Sunday-best finery before fading as the light disappears. A while later I round a curve only to glimpse an entire gully bathed in sunlight; a jumble of brilliant colour that is so breathtakingly beautiful that it is impossible to describe. It disappears when the road takes the next curve.

At Camp Creek, the traffic suddenly takes a turn for the worst. Ahead as far as I can see are trucks and cars almost at a standstill; moving at a snail's pace. Behind me is the same scene. I fear it is an accident, but when I finally get to the location of the problem some two hours later, I find it is roadworks; the merging of a lane, which has caused this glitch. I'm a bit snarky as this area is not the prettiest part of the landscape I have seen today, so there are no photos taken whilst I wait for the traffic to move.

I finish my day in Galax, Virginia. The delays mean I am now several hours behind a reasonably flexible schedule. Tomorrow, a glimpse here and there will not be enough as I plan to immerse myself in the promised landscape tomorrow - just for a short time. By the way, there's been no sign of the Shenandoah River today; I think the reference may be the result of poetic licence because 'Ohio River' just doesn't give the song the same oomph!

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