Thursday, December 27, 2012

12’s Eleven Best

As the year 2012 comes to a close, I (like many other people) enjoy reflecting back on my fondest memories from this year. Last year I wrote an essay entitled “11's Twelve Best” ( about my top activities of that year, so this year I’ve written “12's Eleven Best.” These are not in any particular order, except for the first one, which wins the prize as my top experience of the year. [Yes, I’m very grateful that I have had the resources to enjoy these experiences.]

1.) The “Via Ferrata” at Nelson Rocks in Pendleton County, West Virginia was the most incredible thing I did this year. With metal rungs and a safety cable, anyone can become a rock climber. It feels so good to have taken this challenge, and to have conquered it. You can read the story and see more pictures at

The views were tremendous, and the weather that day was fantastic—unlike the first time I wanted to try the Via Ferrata. However, despite the poor weather for my first attempt, I still had a great time in Pendleton County during that earlier trip. I visited Seneca Rocks, Seneca Caverns, and the new Stratosphere wild cave nearby. You can read about that adventure at I’d also like to mention that I enjoyed exploring Elkins, where I stayed the night before my Via Ferrata trip. I would encourage everyone to check out this beautiful area of West Virginia, and consider challenging yourself on the Via Ferrata.

2.) The Key West/Orange Bowl trip we made in January barely lost out to the Via Ferrata for the top pick. The bowl victory was fantastic,

exploring South Beach on Segways was fun, but driving all the way to the end of the road at Key West was something I’ve wanted to do since grade school.
We had a great time at Key West watching the sun go down and exploring lots of the tourist spots. I especially enjoyed bicycling around the island and our trip on a glass bottom boat to a coral reef. I hope to someday return to this enchanting string of islands.

3.) I had a great long weekend in Fayette County planned around July 4th. What I hadn’t planned for was the lingering after effects of the derecho that caused major power outages in the area. Luckily, I was still able to do nearly everything I had planned. It began with a whitewater rafting trip down the lower New River, which finishes with a great view as the rafts go underneath the New River Gorge Bridge. Then, we went back to the lake at the outfitters, and participated in the blob competition. This involved a huge but not fully inflated “pillow” floating below a tower. Anna’s lightweight nieces would jump into the pillow, scurry to the end, then I would jump on it and “eject” them high into the air.

We didn’t win, but we had a great time. The next day, we walked across the “catwalk” below the New River Gorge Bridge. It was fantastic to look down on the river after having looked up at the bridge the day before. In addition to the BridgeWalk, we also hiked to “Long Point,” an outcropping of rocks with a great view of the New River Gorge Bridge.
The last two days were spent kayaking on Summersville Lake (known for its clear waters and rocky cliffs) and on the New, Gauley, and Kanawha Rivers near Gauley Bridge (including around the famous bus turned into a house on the rock in the middle of the river, as pictured here). Read more of the details at

4.) My daughter graduated from WVU in May on a Saturday, and she had a full-time job on Monday. To celebrate her achievements, we took her (and her boyfriend) for a long weekend trip to New York City. Everyone had a great time in the Big Apple, which included seeing Cirque du Soliel at the iconic Radio City Music Hall.

You can read all about it at

5.) WVU is an important part of my life. We enjoyed a number of events on campus this year. I wrote about the “stripe the stadium” football game at Anna, Halley, and I did a roadtrip to see WVU play at the Redskins Stadium (which was a bit like a bowl trip).

I will also long remember the WVU-Texas volleyball game (the very first Big XII event on campus) which included the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band performing inside the Coliseum. In addition to athletic events, I also enjoyed hearing another lecture from Prof. Bowman, while I was sitting between my daughter and West Virginia Secretary of State (and former Mountaineer) Natalie Tennant during a Mountain honorary dinner. Plus, I went to my first show in the new planetarium.

6.) My other alma mater, the University of Charleston, is also an important part of my life. This year, we attended several UC events. You can read about the alumni gathering at the Governor’s Cup Regatta at During Festivall Weekend, I got to live in a dorm again, and had a great time ( The "Blues, Brews, and BBQ" event on the riverbank is shown below.

For Homecoming Weekend (which included my fourth Blue Man Group show), I discovered a hidden gem I had never explored in Charleston ( By the way, that was the second football game I attended that year, having ventured down for a Thursday night game early in the season. Finally, I made a sad trip to Charleston this past year, for the funeral of my favorite professor of all time (

7.) Another interest of mine is motorsports.

My biggest memory will be going to Columbus Motor Speedway and driving one of their Legends cars ($50 for twenty laps).

This year I thoroughly enjoyed spending a day with historic sports cars at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grandprix (which also included a few sessions of racing go-karts).

Continuing the vintage theme, I traveled to Terra Alta to see lots of motorcycles I knew from youth at the vintage motocross meet.

I also went to High Point raceway (just above the stateline from Morgantown) for a taste of the AMA Motocross weekend. Although there was no racing that day, I enjoyed stopping at Bristol Raceway as we were passing through the area. Finally, I got to see old-fashioned drag racing at the Waynesburg Airport on a Sunday afternoon.

8.) Kayaking is a lot of fun, and this year I got to explore some new areas.

I wrote four essays about some of these trips (,,, and, but there are a couple of others that I must mention as well. I paddled to the uppermost part of the Cheat Lake, where the first rapids from the river begin. I wanted to get to the bend with the island that can be viewed from high above at Coopers Rocks. It was fantastic to get the opposite vantage point of looking up towards Coopers Rocks. Whenever I see pictures taken from Coopers Rocks, I will always remember that day (pictured here).
Finally, I will long remember the day Anna and I set out from Point Marion and ventured up the Cheat River towards the Cheat Lake Dam. Unfortunately, a summer thunderstorm surprised us, requiring us to hunker down on the riverbank until it passed.

9.) I also enjoy biking and got to log a few miles this year. In particular, I finally went all the way uphill into Preston County to the end of the Deckers Creek Rail Trail, exploring the beautiful waterfalls along the way. It is a lot easier on the way back downhill to Morgantown! I also went north from Morgantown to Point Marion, PA, and then biked up the road to the Cheat Lake Dam. On another day, I went south from Morgantown to Pricketts Fort in Fairmont (as mentioned above in the essay). I also spent some time on the North Bend Rail Trail as well this year.

10.) Sometimes I like hiking, competitive walking, or running. I ran about a half-dozen 5Ks this year, plus a five miler at UC. I also walked some 5Ks and finished first in my age group (and eighth overall) in the Parkersburg Two-Miler (part of their big Half-Marathon). I also got to do some fun hiking this year. In addition to the hike to Long Point at New River Gorge mentioned above (and pictured below),

we also enjoyed hiking to Raven Rock at Coopers Rock State Forest, as well as thoroughly exploring Cathedral State Park (

11.) Finally, I’m using this item to lump together several small but fun trips I made over the year. My work required me to make several trips to the DC area this year, and I used Megabus for some of them ( I was also fortunate enough to be in DC when the space shuttle did its final flyover, providing a nice connection between my first federal job and my last one (I assume). On another DC trip, I was able to join an old friend to see a presentation by Colin Powell. Anna and I also enjoyed a trip over there to see the wedding of a high school/college friend of hers. We made several trips to Columbus, Ohio, and always enjoyed visiting with our friends at Shadowbox Live ( A Tennessee trip over the Veterans Day weekend was also a highlight ( We also made a few interesting trips into southwest Pennsylvania. I recently wrote about our trip to see two different houses designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (

We made our first trip to California—as in California, Pennsylvania—the home of California State University. It was a bigger school than we had thought. We went there because they had a really nice traveling exhibit featuring recreations of Leonard DaVinci inventions. Last but not least, we went to Pittsburgh a few times, most notably for a special trip with Anna’s niece.

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