St Albans West Virginia is a small town about 8 miles south of Charleston and is in many ways connected by a continuous line of roadside homes, strip malls and other local business’s which did not appear to separate the two towns in any discernable way and which made our eventual arrival there an accident. Thinking we were still in
Charleston, our intention was to search for a cheap motel on its outskirts, but with each mile driven beyond ’s invisible city limits, we became uneasy as the settlements became noticeably more ramshackle in appearance. Charleston
On our approach the atmosphere of St Alban’s began to assert its own distinctive and grubby fingerprint with a long string of ominous billboards advertising Quick Credit Debt Relief, Narcotics Anonymous, Religious Fire and Brimstone, Military Recruitment and the dangers of Crystal Meth.
Arriving at sundown in long shadow I had the strangest feeling we were entering a forgotten place, isolated and carved out of the thick forest which surrounded it and in many ways, the forest was indeed in the process of reclaiming it, as dripping vines threaded across the power lines above the road and were slowly beginning to suffocate any structure that had been left unattended for more than a few months. With the wide green and slow moving murk of the Amazon-like Kanawha River on one side and the ever closing forest on the other, it seemed like St Albans didn’t have a chance and the road which passed between both was the only thing which kept an open pathway, holding nature at bay.
Our arrival in St Albans came after a days driving south from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania on interstate 79 which at the West Virgina Stateline seemed to slice it’s way through this same dense landscape of thick forest on either side of the roadside. A forest which was dark, beautiful, oppressive and seemingly endless - layering away like a giant green steaming ocean to every horizon in every direction, rising up into the distant Appalachian mountains to the east and disappearing into a hazy almost tropical heat, obscured by low cloud and singing with a vast chorus of insects which never stopped. Apart from the beautiful empty asphalt ribbon of the road, the whole
West Virginia landscape appeared empty of any visible human footprint and I was stunned again by the unspoiled vastness and beauty of the beyond the city. It was only on our regular detours from the interstate that we came into contact with the existence of humans where narrow meandering roads wound through peeks and valleys which were littered with homesteads, farms, mills and sometimes coal mines which were all connected by the rail road; the main lifeline for these remote business’s and it’s mournful call could be heard like some huge prehistoric animal deep in the seemingly impenetrable forest. America
Part (II) of these notes will be posted shortly.
Related posts from this road trip can be found here:
5 Postcards from Pittsburgh
Niagara Falls, NY
New York City (ASA Postcards)
Preparations for the journey