This morning we began our trail ride at Beard, West Virginia. There is little to identify the place now, only a few houses, a chapel now converted to a residence and a kiosk-sign posting a few pictures of what was in the early part of the 20th century a bustling, lumber-mill town. Dozens of company houses and a long, white mill building. There couldn’t be twenty people living in the area now that once was home to hundreds, and the more remarkable thing is that this whole rail-line – all eighty miles of it – was once dotted with industrious little towns like this, some of them much bigger than Beard, even in its glory days. The old photo shows the railroad depot, three stories high. The depot agent and his family lived on the third floor (That made for a short commute, I guess.) and there are stockyards adjacent to the tracks.
After reading this fascinating bit of the history of Beard, we hop onto our bikes and take the trail upstream, our ultimate destination for the day, the town of Marlinton, only eighteen miles away. The trail is nicely-groomed, finely-crushed gravel and the ride is easy. Even though the day will be almost all uphill (we’re following the Greenbrier River upstream) the trail is the abandoned railroad bed and, thus, there are no steep grades. It’s about ten-thirty and cooler than we planned for. We’re still in morning mist and we push the pedals with some intention of getting the blood moving and staying warm.
We are never very far from the Greenbrier River and in the long turns the vistas upstream are as captivating as great paintings, suggesting secrets and mysteries beyond themselves. Summer homes and camps are plentiful here in the first few miles of our journey. Some of them are new constructions where stacks of lumber wait to be added to new decks and stairways. There are also more than a few house trailers, dating from earlier decades before the institution of the bike trail and when a summer river-camp meant something other than it does now.
Every once in a while we spot a structure that looks like it might have been there from the early railroad days – a real log cabin and a house or two that just has that old railway company look about it.
We are experiencing the luxury of vacationing out of due time. School has just started and the crowds who will visit Pocahontas County for the autumn foliage are yet weeks away. We ride for several miles without seeing another soul going either way on the trail. Although the river is crystal clear, we see no one fishing, no canoeists or kayakers. We have the place to ourselves.
Within an hour the sun has burned the fog away and we are riding in and out of bright morning and forest shade. We cross old bridges over tiny creeks that are feeding into the river and finally come to the town of Seebert where we have planned to break for lunch. We leave the trail here and ride along the roads and streets of the little settlement without meeting a car going either way. We ride onto the state-highway bridge across the Greenbrier River and stop, unmolested, in the middle and marvel at the schools of fish swimming below and the scores of geese in formation, high in the sky, winging down the river at the beginning of their migration.
At Jack Horner’s Corner store we stop for a delicious pork barbecue, then head back to the trail for the last ten miles of our journey.