On the Road #2: The Long Road Home
Spoiler alert: the long road is usually just Pennsylvania.
Originally, we weren’t supposed to stay at the fancy resort in West Virginia.
However, less than twenty-four hours after arriving at my partner’s family home, her mom insisted she saw that Cleveland (our original destination) was under an ice storm warning on the news and that we should consider a more southerly route home when we left later that week.
In a panic and not wanting to cause any unnecessary waves, I confirmed that our La Quinta reservation would still be free to cancel (thankfully it was). Then I started looking at a map to figure out where in the world we could stop that would meet the following conditions: 1) was about 500 miles or 6.5ish hours away from our starting point; 2) wouldn’t be the site of a potential murder or hate crime; 3) wasn’t too close to the recent environmental disaster in East Palestine, OH; and 4) was cheap.
I looked at a map and noticed a city that I had never heard of before: Wheeling, West Virginia. A quick search of “wheeling wv lgbtq” produced links to Ohio Valley Pride and the factoid that Wheeling was the third West Virginia city to ban conversion therapy. All green flags, and a little more digging revealed that while this city is by no means a pride paradise, it seems like there have been at least decent attempts to improve protections and inclusion for queer people in the area, and that these attempts have been largely recent.
I went ahead and looked up some possibilities in my handy dandy Booking.com app. Lo and behold, I found (and then booked) us a room at a resort in the mountains that was only $5 more than our initial reservation, keeping our overall lodging costs still slightly below my budget for the trip.
Our new destination? Oglebay.
But first, leaving my partner’s family home was hard. In the later part of our trip, we went to two Evansville bookstores: Bluestocking Social and Your Brother’s Bookstore.
I loved Bluestocking Social, and overall it was my favorite bookstore we visited over our whole trip. I loved the alternative vibe of the sparse, but well-curated basement bookstore/art supply store. They had so many good, queer books and had a great selection of new releases alongside bestsellers and classics. I also loved the bookstore pug, a total ham who ran over to check us out when we went in the store.
Your Brother’s Bookstore was more of a challenge for me. Their middle grade/young adult selection was fairly barren, filled with old classics and old Newberry Medal winners, but only a handful of recent reads. The store’s strengths were an eclectic mix of new fiction, classic literature and science fiction. Overall, the store had a cool vibe and ample community space. I could tell it was a haven for the local high school students, some of whom were hanging out in the store while we browsed. The store is still very new, so I’m excited to see how it may develop over time the next time we make the trip.
I hope to explore the city, and Indiana at large, more the next time we visit. It’s bittersweet to start to grow the roots of a home somewhere new, somewhere so far away from my true home and heart. I miss her family and Leo, the family dog. I miss the quiet peace of their cul-de-sac and the coziness of my claimed spot in their living room. I know I’ll be back, and next time, it will feel like a return to a version of home. I also have hope her family will visit the East Coast in June, and can’t wait to make memories here with them as we continue to blend our lives and futures.
Back to the West Virginia resort.
Oglebay is a two-thousand acre municipal park and complex in the Appalachian foothills just northeast of downtown Wheeling, West Virginia. This is literally the only park of its kind in the country, open to the public with miles of walking trails. There’s a zoo, lake, hiking trails, a ski lift, a wedding venue, a mansion and glass museum, cabins, outdoor activities and a sprawling resort lodge. In a normal winter, Oglebay would be crawling with skiers and people flocking to the mountains for winter family fun.
This year, though? No snow in February, so far. The temperature when we got there was still pushing 70 degrees. Coupled with the fact that we were staying on a Thursday night, I’m grateful that we got such a good deal and were able to have this experience together.
Our drive to Oglebay was emotional, largely because of the cities we passed through on our way to Oglebay: Louisville, Cincinnati, and Columbus.
Louisville is a city I have always wanted to visit. While we weren’t able to stop on this trip, I am glad to have at least passed through and enjoyed the view of a city that is obviously multi-faceted, historical, and complex. My partner had been there a few times for events, but also hasn’t explored the city much beyond that. A highlight driving by was a view of the KFC Yum! Center. I hope to be back to explore the city’s famous zoo, its bookstores, other cultural sites, and of course, Climb NuLu, a rock-climbing gym I’ve followed on Instagram for the past year. It’s a city I hope to get to know more in the near future.
Cincy has a special place in my heart. Not just because of its famous hippo family, but because it was the city where Olivia and I first met in person. I was able to see the bridge we walked across into Covington, KY and caught a glimpse of the riverside places we ate and walked around after visiting the zoo. I can’t wait to go back there too, to spend more time exploring its bookstores, its art museums, and return to the zoo. I also really want to visit Newport’s aquarium on the Kentucky side and spend some time at Kentucky’s renowned bourbon distillers. It feels good to have so much to look forward to in places, to want to go back to them and enjoy the little sites and experiences bit by bit. I hope we have plenty of time to do it all, eventually.
Driving through Columbus mostly felt poignant because it made it all too real that this was it: we were doubling back on the initial stop in our journey.
We were really headed home.
Luckily, I got to drown (read: eat so much good fried chicken, gravy, and biscuit) my sorrows at Bob Evans.
I freaking love Bob Evans.
I don’t think I’ve met another person as excited about Bob Evans and their biscuits as me. However, we don’t have Bob Evans in my corner of New Jersey and it’s impractical to drive an hour and a half for it despite my ardent love for their quick, efficient service and dense, buttery biscuits so it has always been a treat reserved for road trips. My love for Bob Evans began as a child. The farm store/kitchen was always our stop when we drove down to Virginia to catch the auto-train that would take us to Florida for our yearly trips to Disney World. I haven’t had them in years, and it was so sweet (and buttery and flaky) to return. My honey fried chicken, served over an open biscuit with butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, buttered broccoli (and MORE biscuits) was a feast. Even better than my memories. Now, I think Olivia would appreciate if I didn’t scream at every Bob Evans we passed for the entirety of our trip, but hey, no one is perfect.
Back on the road, I read Olivia the Wikipedia articles for Wheeling and Oglebay towards the end of our journey. We learned a lot about the Wheeling Suspension Bridge, like the fact that they closed it because trucks refused to respect its weight limit and kept getting into accidents and that its design was an inspiration for the later Brooklyn Bridge. Going back and walking over the bridge, which remains open to pedestrian traffic, is on my bucket list.
When we pulled in, we had about an hour until sunset. The park was gorgeous, with walkers enjoying the trails and stunning views of the surrounding Appalachian foothills.
We grabbed our luggage and headed into the entrance of the lodge-style lobby. It felt warm and cozy, with a lot of wood and a gift shop and coffee shop to the right of check-in. We got a pair of keys as well as a paper map, which the hotel clerk used to trace the path to our room. Olivia and I looked at each other and knew we were in for a journey unlike any other hotel we had stayed in so far.
To get to our room, we had to go up an elevator, down a hallway, cut through a lounge, down a stone paved corridor leading to the pool and game room, past the resort’s two restaurants, down another hallway into the wing where our room was and down two more hallways before we finally arrived at our room. I later displayed the “do not disturb” hanger, which was handmade and included a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on the reverse side, just the make sure we were at the right room.
Olivia crashed. I got her ice and a bottle of water (which was thankfully just across the hallway) and then ventured out our room’s exterior door to explore outside and retrieve the rest of what we needed from the car (mainly snacks and books).
My trip brought me to a large outdoor patio with a perfect view of the sunset over the distant hills. I stopped to enjoy it in my t-shirt and flip-flops (again, in late February…in West Virginia) and felt grateful and stunned by the vibrant pinks, yellows and oranges in the distance and the way the changing light highlighted the small fluffy clouds. The world felt wide open in front of me, and I felt so much peace and gratitude for the beauty of the world around me.
What an adventure this trip had been. How stunning the smallest of moments could be.
The bonus of staying in a resort was the fact that everything we needed was a short walk away, and all of it was a little more elevated than the hotels we’d stayed in on the trip thus far. We enjoyed large, filling sandwiches at the resort’s pub-like grill and then made sure to enjoy the resort’s hot tub. The hot tub was located in the resort’s indoor pool complex, which included a kiddie pool, deeper pool, sauna, tables and chairs, hot tub, (closed) snack bar and a ping pong table. The hot tub was delightfully hot. The ambience of palm trees and large exposed wood beams made the whole experience that much more fun and relaxing.
The room itself was cozy and comfortable, albeit short on outlets. Our surprise change in plans turned out to be a highlight of the trip. The whole time we were there felt surreal as we wandered through hallways. At one point we saw another guest white-knuckling the front-desk provided paper map as he also navigated the hospitality labyrinth.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I hope we will be back. If not back to the resort, at least to the park and the adjacent city. I’m pleased and excited that a last-minute change of plan opened up my world a little bit, bringing me off the beaten path and showing me a whole new little corner of the country I honestly never considered before.
Our last stop was also a change from our original plans. We initially hoped to spend the day in Philadelphia before heading to our last stop in southern New Jersey, which would be close enough to easily scoot across the state to the Seaside Heights Polar Bear Plunge the following morning.
Maybe it was poor planning on my part or the lucky strike on our warm weather beginning to run out or us running out of emotional steam on the last leg of our trip. We live close enough to Philly to do it as a day trip or a future weekend trip. Going would have been a quick in-and-out, more physically exhausting than emotionally rewarding. Instead, I suggested we stop at Hershey’s Chocolate World, a short trip off I-76 after passing through Harrisburg.
Olivia has never been to Hershey, but the pastoral tourist-attraction town is a chocolate fountain of nostalgia from my youth. I had to take Olivia onto the Chocolate World Factory tour ride that is free and always includes free chocolate at the end. This time, we got to sample strawberry chocolate kisses and it worked: we later bought a bag in the gift shop. Overall, Olivia far more enjoyed my excitement of the ride than the ride itself, but it was still a fun treat to take Olivia on an adventure so dear to my heart. We also walked around the new entrance to the park and then headed on our way.
The rest of our trip felt like a gradual winding down. We drove to our hotel in Mount Laurel, New Jersey where we ate tacos and truffle parm fries in the lobby restaurant. We read and showered and got ready to head home the next day. We drove to Seaside, where we met up with my mom and family friends on the boardwalk who all watched me jump into the ocean with thousands of fellow ocean-lover adrenaline-junkies. We ate a good late lunch at the local Irish pub, and then we were home. We lugged the bags inside. We crashed into our own bed for the first time in more than a week.
Overall, I am filled with so much love and gratitude following this experience. We drove over 2,000 miles and while a road trip can be an emotionally trying experience for couples and families, I had a great time. There were compromises and changes in plans. There were opportunities to rise early and choices to instead sleep in and value our sanity. But we made it, together.
A road trip is about more than the journey and the destination. Above all, it’s about with whom you share the ride and all of the inevitable memories.
Until the next trip, I’m excited to get back into my routine, and share more reading and writing updates soon. Make sure you subscribe to keep up. If you’re already subscribed, please forward this newsletter to anyone you think might enjoy it!
Have you been on a memorable road trip? Tell me about it in the comments!