The first few miles out of Panther weren’t too bad. The coal trucks were much smaller and the road wasn’t too busy. But again, there was no shoulder and lots of guard rails. We passed another coal mine and the traffic and coal trucks got much worse after that, and even worse once we got out on 52. We had been dreading that road for a while because there are many, many bad curves on it. But we were determined to find as many short cuts through the curves and as much off road riding as we could to avoid the blind corners. Thankfully though, 52 did have about 3 feet of shoulder, which felt like a mile buffer compared to what we’ve been riding on!
It wasn’t too long before we found our first quiet parallel road in Laeger. We met the mayor- mainly because he overheard me yelling up to Richard that I needed to find a bathroom- and he offered me his. “Old 52” was blessedly quiet and untraveled, and it paralleled 52 on the opposite side of the river for many miles. It was a beautiful ride where we could enjoy some fall colors, actually ride side by side and talk to each other, and let Bella have a little fun chasing squirrels instead of marching alongside us.
The only problem- we were on the wrong side of the tracks so to speak. The road was cut out of the mountain and there were a few settlements here and there, but they were skeptical of strangers and had no yards or grass of any type anywhere nearby. But down the mountain on the other side of the river and train tracks was busy 52 and room for one row of nice houses and yards in the narrow valley. But since we chose the quiet rode and we didn’t see wings sprouting
from our horses anywhere, we were stuck on the side with no grass. Our two requirements for camping are grass and water so we can take care of our horses. Our comfort is second to their care.
We finally saw a glimmer of hope when we noticed a trail going up a ravine with a little grass alongside it. At the same time, we flagged down two boys on a 4 wheeler and they confirmed our gut hope- up that trail was an old homestead site with a little grass and a creek. Perfect- we’ll take it! There was barely enough grass for the night and morning, and certainly not a perfectly flat place to camp, but we would make it work. It was a little unnerving, though, watching our horses graze all around a 10 foot drop into the exposed basement!
Since we had been told by many people not to drink the water out of the creeks due to pollution from the mines and poor sewer handling in the area, we decided to ask one of the houses at the end of our ravine if we could fill up our water bottles at their faucet. Richard had quite the interesting time of it, considering as how he had dogs psyched on him in the process. Thankfully, the house he chose yelled at his neighbor for loosing his dogs and gruffly gave Richard some water and sent him away. We didn’t waste any time packing up in the morning, as we were looking forward to riding and hopefully finding a friendlier area.
We made our way to Welch, where we did indeed find friendlier faces. First, we took a risk and rode on alternate 52 through town- past the sign that said it was blocked. It’s no risk in a car, but to ride 5 miles to not get through is nearly a whole day wasted for us. But we were able to get by the blockades on horseback- the sidewalks were open!
Again we found ourselves passing through a town with no possible camping site anywhere nearby. The valley was narrow – mountain, train track, river, one small business, road, and mountain- that’s all that fit in the valley. It was getting late, the sun was going down, and we were getting worried. Just then, I spotted a small plot of grass next to the tracks and we rode down to the nearest house to ask about it. It was “no man’s land” – the houses had washed away in a flood long ago and we were welcome to camp there. Thank GOD!
Diane and her family helped us almost the entire time we were unpacking and we managed to get it done just before complete dark. The guys even helped Richard rig up a really really long highline since the only telephone pole and large tree were far apart. Diane even got a pony ride on Satchmo- her first time ever on a horse! There was enough grass, it was raining for the next two days, and Diane was so kind that we were able to stop and give the horses a much needed rest for the next couple days. We didn’t get the best sleep in the world camping right next to an extremely busy train track- at an intersection where they blew the horn- but at least the horses could rest after many days of long miles between available camping spots in the Appalachians.