For the record, it is exactly 60.8 miles from Backbone Mountain to Mount Davis.
It took me ninety minutes to get from Backbone Mountain
to Mount Davis. I only stopped once, in Oakland, Maryland to get a large
chocolate milkshake at McDonald’s. After that, it was smooth driving across
Garrett County, Maryland.
Garrett County is a departure from the more rugged terrain of West Virginia. I stayed on northbound RT-219 for almost all of the journey. RT-219 lies in the middle of a valley in what I would call Maryland’s Piedmont region. There were high elevations on both sides of the valley but the road undulated gently as I went northward, always northward. I made excellent time. Local schools were letting out and I passed by kids walking idly home. The weather remained brilliant.
Ever since I had entered West Virginia, I had not listened to my car radio, preferring instead to absorb the road and the surrounding countryside, with its myriad beauties, in comfortable silence.
I sipped my chocolate shake as I passed through rural communities like Red House, Gortner, Thayerville, McHenry, and Accident. The only hint of urban development in Garrett County was Oakland, the county seat. There, traffic was slow. Once I left Oakland, I never slowed down again.
I passed by Deep Creek Lake State Park, a beautiful
lake surrounded by the usual touristy dwellings and franchises.
After 41 miles, I reached US-68 and went east five miles to Exit 19. It was there I made a mistake. Instead of going to Exit 21 and RT-219 North, I got off at Exit 19, thinking I would be going north on RT-669. Instead what I found was US-40. Still, I wasn’t in too much trouble. US-40 East parallels US-68. Very quickly I encountered RT-219 North and promptly made my way to downtown Salisbury, Pennsylvania.
It was there I broke out my Holmes guide book and
used his alternate route for the summit of Mount Davis.
Holmes’ alternate route uses RT-669 to reach the summit of Mount Davis from the south. The alternate route does shave a few miles and a few minutes of driving time but it contains a little surprise that I failed to note properly and will be discussed later on in this report.
RT-669 took me through Amish country. Twice I saw
horse-drawn carriages riding on the shoulders of the roads. A couple of
times I had to do a blacktop minuet to avoid running over the horse dookey
scattered on the road.
(My local carwash had a lot of fun cleaning up my car when I came home on April 24).
One note: at the junction of RT-669 and County Road 2002, RT-669 curves left while you go straight to take county road 2002 to get to the Mount Davis summit. At the junction there isn’t a sign marking the beginning of County Road 2002. You just see the curve and instinctively assume it’s County Road 2002. I had a momentary flutter but soon realized I was on the right road. Highpointers! Beware!
County Road 2002 is a narrow two-lane road but it
gets you to Christner Road in good shape. The further west I went from
Salisbury, Pennsylvania, the more isolated the countryside became. Soon,
I was entering the Forbes State Forest.
It was at the turn off to Christner Road that I encountered my rude surprise. Christner Road is a brown-dirt road that leads to the summit of Davis. It is studded with potholes and ruts like Spruce Knob in West Virginia. This time I would do the brown-dirt minuet and add Pennsylvania’s brown-dirt to the red-clay and horse dookey coating the under carriage of my beleaguered automobile had already received.
The ascent up Davis was briefer than the ascent up Spruce Knob. The road did not have as many potholes as Spruce Knob but there were enough. When I reached the turnoff for the summit, I saw that the road becomes paved. Apparently the primary route to Mount Davis from Meyersdale is paved all the way. Armed with this information, I cursed myself about my brilliance at picking routes as I coasted easily to the Mount Davis summit parking lot.
It was 3:53PM when I parked my car atop Mount Davis. I had done it. I had done the hat trick but I still had a very long drive back to New Market, Virginia, and I was not ready to shake hands with myself yet. There was still so much left to do.
Again, once more (drum roll). I was all alone on the summit.
Again, like Spruce Knob, there was a strong wind however, unlike Spruce Knob, the summit of Mount Davis is more thickly forested with trees. The trees act as a natural wind barrier. Only when you ascend the observation tower are you exposed to the full force of the winds.
The summit of Mount Davis is a rather lonely spot. You see the boulder where the USGS survey marker is located and you see the exhibit markers east of the summit area. The summit region felt like a picnic area and a lover’s lane instead of a nature preserve.
The latter observation was confirmed when I saw graffiti on the boulder marking the true summit. It said “Ellen loves Jonathan Troyer.”
Well, Ellen, I wish you hadn’t done that. I think there had to be a better way for you to declare your love for Jonathan Troyer without defacing the natural beauty of your state’s highest elevation. Shame on you, girl!
Mostly, I stood around listening to the wind play aeolian tunes through the metal gratings of the observation tower. The mournful, metallic tones reminded me of the long day’s journey into night I had to make. I was reluctant to leave. I wanted to chill out and be existential for a moment.
I took my obligatory snapshots of the summit area: me holding the Pennsylvania and U.S. flags; the USGS survey marker; the graffiti itself; the exhibit plaques; the Mount Davis sign.
I climbed up the observation tower, feeling the bite of the wind. Atop the tower, I beheld the sun setting ever so slowly. I had about three hours of daylight left and I wanted to be close to or on US-81 when sunset came.
I saw Salisbury, Pennsylvania off to the east from the tower. There was a radio tower on the mountains north of the summit. Looking west though, I saw something which transfixed me: a hawk, either brown or black, was hovering over the trees atop Mount Davis, waiting, searching for prey. I had seen another hawk doing the same thing a couple days before while cruising the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Forest.
Again, as before, I stood there, hypnotized by the dark, ominous beauty of this bird of prey, suspended by the winds moaning through the mountains.
I couldn’t leave, not just yet. I had to watch this predator--and I did. It hovered and hovered, drifting steadily westward with the sun until it dropped from sight down the mountainside--without ever finding prey. I knew it was time to go. I climbed down the tower, took one final tour of the summit area, and walked back to my car. It was 4:23PM.
I was a long time driving back. I retraced my steps back to Maryland, back to RT-219, this time south instead of north. Once again I cruised over the gentle undulations of Garrett County. I got gas in Oakland, fuel for the car whereas last time
I got fuel for myself.
Deja vu ended at the town of Red House. It was there I got on old US-50 and traveled eastward, always eastward; not west with the sun but east toward the night, racing against the slithering, encroaching, enveloping, sultry shadows of the West Virginian dusk. I went through quiet towns with names like Gormania, Mt. Storm, Junction, Romney, Shanks, Capon Bridge, and Gore. The names of the towns changed but it was always America.
I climbed and coasted, serpentined and traversed the hills, mountains, and valleys of West Virginia’s eastern counties. Once in awhile I saw isolated homes tucked so deeply into mountain hollows that the residents probably had to rent sunshine by the hour. I tried to play the radio but got only static: the cross currents of Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia radio stations all vying for the ears, hearts, and minds of the region.
Romney was a benchmark for me. It was the only sizable urban area I encountered on US-50. After Romney, it was a race for the Winchester bypass, US-81 and the final stretch back to the hotel.
US-81 was amassed (as always) with tractor-trailers hogging both lanes of the highway. I kept to the slow lane (although I was doing 65MPH) and counted off the miles. My hotel was in New Market but there was still one more stop to make. At Exit 273 of US-81 in Mount Jackson, Virginia there is a pizzeria and restaurant called Valentino’s Pizza and Pasta. Thursday night is always pasta night for me and tonight was no exception. I got off the highway and went there for a delicious meal: spaghetti, meatballs, bread, and salad.
Then, back in the car and back on the road, this time old US-11, the old Valley Turnpike used by Stonewall Jackson, Phil Sheridan, Jubal Early, John Mosby, and countless thousands of soldiers who marched, fought, pillaged, and burned their way up and down throughout this gentle, peaceful Valley.
The nine miles between Mount Jackson and New Market were spent in darkness. Nothing gets as dark as a Virginian night in the country. There were no lights, no signs of life. There were other cars but I was alone in the physical sense although not in the spiritual sense.
All along the old highway I felt ghosts calling to me. I did not see these phantoms but I could hear their cries. The next day I would return to this road and I would confront these warlike ghosts in their milieu. Tonight, however, I could only sense them, hear them, and relate to them.
The radio was playing The Doors Riders On The Storm and I was singing along. And why not? After all it was Jim Morrison who gave me the courage to become a writer. Perfect, simply perfect.
The lights of New Market beckoned to me. Downtown. The final right turn to the hotel. The hotel parking lot. Darkness. Silence.
It was 9:07PM. Three high points bagged: ten for Matthew Heavener DiBiase overall and 402 miles of mountain road for my efforts. I gave thanks to God and to my battered old car. I was tired but it was a good kind of tired. I had made it--by the grace of Almighty God.
There was one final act of lunacy left to perform, “MATTHEW DIBIASE GETS A HAT TRICK! MATTHEW DIBIASE GETS A HAT TRICK! MATTHEW DIBIASE GETS A HAT TRICK!”
See you at the high points!