29/50: Massachusetts

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Cape Cod. Martha’s Vineyard. Nantucket. Names I have always heard from books, TV shows and movies but I had no idea where they were. Massachusetts wouldn’t have been my first guess, but now I have discovered that Massachusetts isn’t just a fun (and difficult) state name to say (well Boston and other parts are pretty great too).

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I stayed in Cape Cod for a few days and explored the mainland and took two day trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard via ferry. Cape Cod is lovely- long stretches of beach, soft wonderful sand, lighthouses and beautiful landscapes. And it was also the place where my week long lobster and seafood feast began. Provincetown is at the tip and was the first landing place of the pilgrims. Lots of history and great stretches of national beach to explore.

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My trip to Martha’s Vineyard was interspersed with downpours, but it was still a great day. Fun fact: Martha’s Vineyard has no vineyard (okay, so it’s more of a disappointing fact, but surprising nonetheless). It was also where Jaws was filmed. They have a neighbourhood of gingerbread style houses. It started as the Methodist camp back in the day and they would all tent it and then they built houses and there’s still a meeting place in the middle of it all. It gives a taste of community and times of being together. I was amazed at the amount of gingerbread houses that were there. I was expecting a couple but there were dozens. Lots of interesting stories about the history of the island and those who have visited and lived there. I ended up getting caught in a downpour and returned back to my room that evening soaking wet. There was a split second before I left my home back in April when I thought “I should bring a rainjacket” and then I thought “nah, I’m going on a trip, obviously it won’t rain.” Sound logic.

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The next day I went to Nantucket. At one point in its history, this was the whaling capital. I went to the whaling museum- so many stories and artifacts from that time in history. It made me want to start reading Moby Dick again but then I remembered my previous attempts and decided I would delay any future attempts.

I enjoy riding bike, so I decided the best way to see the island would be to rent a bike. The island on my giant map of the US is really small, so it’s definitely feasible to bike most of the island. (Sound logic again). The guy at the bike shop recommended a few different beaches I could choose between to visit. I thought “why make a choice when I can bike to them all?” The logic continues. (Insert the lesson that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should…)

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Nantucket is beautiful. The beaches are lovely. The bike paths are well laid out and lush with beautiful plants. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. The old whaling houses are interesting to look at. The lobster in the restaurants is tasty. The lighthouses held history and were fun to look at. There were lakes in the middle of the island with snapping turtles.

However, Nantucket isn’t perfect. Some of the beaches have a lot of erosion and garbage strewn in the sand. There are a lot of hills that the bike paths go through. In town, you have to ride on bumpy cobblestone streets. Some of the beaches were fogged in and it was cold.

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As a result of my ambitious bike route that I mapped out in the morning, I ended up riding about 40 kms around the island. In flip flops. The last hour I couldn’t even sit on my bike because my butt hurt so much. My flip flops are thin and I could feel my feet digging into the pedals by the end of the day. Did I mention my butt was really sore? Despite all of these factors, my day was wonderful. I look at it and laugh at all my mishaps of the day and they fit into all the good of the day and it makes it an even better day on so many different levels. My conversation with myself as I biked around the island all day went something like this:

“I love biking. Biking is the best thing ever. I love the breeze as I ride, I love the freedom as I fly down these hills.”

5 seconds later

“I hate biking. Why in the world did I decide to rent a bike today? Why did I rent it for the whole day when I could have just gone out for an hour? My butt is starting to hurt. And this hill will never end.”

5 seconds later

“This bike path is just so beautiful. Oooh, look at those pretty flowers over there. And the rolling hills are so wonderful to look at. And it’s such a nice day today, I should take my sweatshirt off and enjoy the sun.”

5 seconds later

“My butt hurts. The air is getting colder. I should put my sweatshirt back on. Ugh, why did I decide biking was a good idea?”

5 seconds later

“I love biking. This is wonderful. I should do this more often.”

5 seconds later

“I can’t sit on this bike anymore. Maybe I can bike while standing up? Why did I decide to go to multiple beaches? I think I might be stranded here because there’s no way I can make it back up those hills.”

5 seconds later

“This is the best! I can use the different speeds on my bike and conquer this island! Maybe I should bike to a fifth beach?”

5 seconds later

“I can’t pedal anymore. I hate biking. I’m going to get stranded out here forever. My butt hurts.”

5 seconds later

“That was the best day ever! I should rent bikes everywhere!”

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You get the picture. Days, moments and lifetimes that are great aren’t picture perfect. We tend to only present the positive side of it, but along the way it’s often messy, painful and miserable. Of course, these things don’t last forever and everything else you experience along the way makes it worth it. And the messy parts are often what enriches it and makes it more meaningful. While the difficult moments suck (and I don’t want to diminish the pain or anguish of those), they are transformative in who we are and how we engage life if we are willing to face it. I remember my day biking on Nantucket with great joy because I really did enjoy it and I now laugh at the dramatic moments of misery I expressed to myself throughout the day. The sore butt was worth it just as entering into the messy and painful parts of life is worth it in the end as well as we persevere and push forward.

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Of course, I also had grace with myself by taking time to sit longer at some beaches and walking my bike back to the bike shop for the last leg of my trip because I couldn’t stand to sit on my bike any longer. The “agony” of my day was blended into the rest of it, contributing to my own growth and strength and rounding out the day in a great way. Life is a mix of many things, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant and yet I’m so thankful to be engaged in all the parts of life (although I likely won’t always feel that way in the thick of it…)

27 & 28/50: Connecticut & Rhode Island

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One of the things I love about this road trip is that when I see a sign for something interesting or random, I have the freedom to pull over and explore. There are often times where I’m led to what seems like a dead end. Other things I am pleasantly surprised. I have taken countless detours for beaches, trails, and waterfalls. And then there’s random things like the Pez visitor centre. As I was driving through Connecticut, I saw it listed as one of the attractions in Orange, CT off the freeway. I decided it fit into those random things one ought to do on roadtrips. They had the largest pez dispenser in the world, the largest pez dispenser collection. There were a lot of families there and then there was me playing pez bingo as I walked around (I even won a free Pez dispenser- whoop whoop).

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This trip has been filled with many grand sites. From stunning waterfalls to awe-inspiring canyons to oceans, mountains and forests. In the midst of the grandness of it all, it can be easy to miss the small joys as well. If you had the choice between the Grand Canyon and the Pez visitor centre, I’m guessing you might choose the Grand Canyon (unless you’re a diehard Pez collector of course). Yet the combination of both of these places have distinct memories in my trip and they play important parts. We often cast aside the “small” or ordinary things, missing their significance altogether. And yet each of these moments are woven into my tapestry of memories. Each plays a part in my journey and also in forming who I am. We often look to the big things or big decisions in life and yet it’s often the incremental decisions or moments that make the biggest difference over time.

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Connecticut also had some lovely lakes and a great boardwalk to walk alongside the ocean. If you had asked me previous to this trip, I don’t think I would have listed Connecticut as one of the states that touches the Atlantic Ocean. Then again, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot about many of the states I’ve visited that I had no clue about before. Each has a rich history and stories of its own to tell.

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Next stop was Newport, Rhode Island. Newport is well known for its mansions that were the height of the ‘Gilded Age’ in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. The term was used by Mark Twain in reference to the thin gold plating that could cover up scores of issues and problems underneath. I toured a couple of the mansions, enjoyed the cliff walk and the beach. As I went to the mansions, what was fascinating to me was all the stories they held. The audio tours were rife with stories, sharing tales of those who owned the house and those who served in the houses as well.

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At one mansion, it talked about how the lady of the house had a summer party budget, because these were important in their social society. In today’s currency, the equivalency of this budget would be 12 million dollars for summer parties- crazy! Reading the stories of the parties was interesting because they definitely went all out. I was struck by how easy it would be to get caught up in the social trappings of competition and status and trying to prove one’s worth through lavish parties and ornate furnishings and decorations. It’s easy to read about their histories and judge them and yet as humans, we still participate in similar trappings, just in other forms. The family histories of these places is always amazing because many of them contributed significantly to society. They left interesting legacies in their stories. My imagination continues to think of all the stories that remain untold. It is such a rich heritage to share our stories with one another, to hold stories for others and to share them. Our stories in themselves become a legacy to treasure and to inspire hope and life.

26/50: New York

Out of the two trips my mom and I planned to New York, both were disastrous yet wonderful. The first trip, I was getting over a lung infection and she had been recovering from bronchitis & a bad cough (I realize in retrospect this was likely her lung cancer back then already). We were a hacking pair that could only take a few steps before being completely winded. It was her first time in New York but because we had respiratory issues, we couldn’t walk around much and needed more rest. We had tickets for four musicals, went to a few famous chef restaurants that my mom really wanted to try out and then the rest of the time we hunkered down in our hotel room watching movies on the hotel TV. Our hotel was conveniently located right back a Shake Shack so we would usually grab burgers and shakes on the way back to the room as well. Although it was not the grand New York trip we had envisioned, we still had a lot of fun that weekend and I have some great memories from our time together.

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We didn’t make it to New York on our second trip. My mom was flying to Montreal to meet me (I was living in Quebec at the time) and then we were going to fly to NYC together. We had just found out that there was the possibility she might have cancer so we weren’t sure if she should risk traveling but being the adventurous spirit that she was, she wouldn’t take no for an answer and insisted that we still go. On the way to Montreal, she almost died on the plane from a blood clot in her lung. So, she was taken to emergency right off the plane and had to stay there for three days and wasn’t allowed to fly for a week. While she was in the hospital I would bring her tasty Montreal food and we would play Yahtzee together on her hospital bed (we used magazines to cover up the annoying noise that Yahtzee tends to make…). Then she spent a few days with me at my place and I flew back to BC with her. Also not the New York trip we had planned and it also included some scary and sad moments as we anticipated what the future might look like once we got her full diagnosis, but through it all I still have fond memories of laughter and making the best of a situation that wasn’t the most positive.

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So, when I went to New York, I thought of my mom often. As I walked around Central Park I thought about the fact that she never got to see the park even though we were there for a few days. I ate burgers at Shake Shack both days that she would have loved, in honour of her (portobella mushroom burger for the win). And I saw some fantastic musicals that transported me into other worlds, left me crying and laughing and feeling inspired and hopeful about life.

If you know me, you know that I love musicals. My love for musicals is perhaps a bit over the top and obsessive but I see them every chance I get. When I was younger, whatever musical was in town, my mom would buy eight tickets (because that’s how many seats her vehicle had), she would fill up her suburban and we would all head to Vancouver to be dazzled and wowed by the different shows (and the odd time disappointed but with funny stories of a show that wasn’t so great that we all tediously endured together). I’m so thankful she introduced me to musicals at such a young age and fostered my love for them.

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Although my whole family enjoyed musicals, I especially shared a love for them with my oldest brother, Leon. He was amazingly gifted musically and he performed in a couple different musicals in high school and it was such a joy to watch him perform and come alive doing something he was so good at and that he loved. One of my days in New York was the anniversary of the day Leon died. So I thought it likewise fitting to remember him by going to see musicals I know he also would have loved.

Each musical I saw was spectacular in its own way and spoke deeply to me and to different aspects of grief in unexpected ways. I love how stories can do this, especially stories that come at you in the form of singing, dancing and acting. Remembering my mom and Leon while there made it even more special.

New York- Part II

 

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About two weeks after my initial visit to New York in NYC, I spent some time in upstate New York (at least I think that’s what they call it) in the Finger Lakes area. It was a wonderful day and it ended up being a formidable waterfall tour. While driving I passed some waterfalls on the side of the road and then I went to Glen Watkins State Park which is a river running through a gorge and has countless waterfalls, some of which you can even walk behind! It was lovely. They had stone steps and bridges throughout the park so you could walk along the entire length of the gorge. I ended up getting soaked as I walked behind a couple of the falls but it was humid and it was worth it to take in the experience of being so close to something that is so majestic. The entire day felt filled with wonder and the continual gift of being able to see one of my favourite things.

 

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I even wore shoes for the walk through Glen Watkins. It’s amazing how different an experience can be when you’re somewhat prepared for it. Of course, I didn’t bring water or food and hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but I guess you can’t be prepared for everything at the same time. What I loved about the park was I was struck with awe at each new point. I would lower my expectations but as soon as I turned a corner, I saw something different and wonderful in its own way. A good reminder to keep moving forward and although the 100 steps in front of you seem daunting, it is worth it in the end. All in all, the 800 stairs in this park were well worth it and the whole day was absolutely wonderful.

 

 

24 & 25/50: Delaware & New Jersey

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There are some states that I spend more time in than others. There are also some states where I take way more pictures than other states. The two might have a correlation but some days I really don’t feel like taking pictures. The couple days I spent in Delaware and New Jersey I didn’t much feel like taking photos, but there were really cool clouds and I have a great sun roof that afforded me the opportunity to take some upward shots (while pulled over of course).

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Making a plan to travel through all 50 states is no small task. It took hours of planning, mapping, re-planning, re-mapping, looking up interesting stops, coordinating dates with people I wanted to visit and figuring out how long each day would take and what was feasible driving time. Some days that are only three hours of driving turn into eight hours, because I like to pull over and follow signs on the road leading me to interesting places (or on the rare occasions totally uninteresting places that do not live up to the interest that was originally invoked in their name). Two things I forgot to factor into my road trip planning were time changes and toll charges. Entering Delaware began my deluge of having to pay tolls in different areas. When driving across a few states with toll roads, it’s baffling how much you end up paying in toll fees.

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In my planning and as I have been traveling, one of the questions that has come up is what it means to be in a place. For me specifically the question is what does it mean to have been in a state. I have driven a few hours in every state I have passed through, enjoying the scenery along the way. I have usually had some sort of rest stop. I have eaten a meal in every state. I have taken a picture in every state. I’ve chatted with people in every state (especially during the ten days I had by myself…). Is it necessary to do something spectacular or see the main attraction to have been in a state or is it just enough to have been there and created your own experience?

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If someone came to visit me in BC and I picked them up at the airport and brought them to my house and they never set foot out of my house or did any activities (which would never happen by the way), would they still have been in BC? My answer would be yes but it would have been a different experience.

Traditionally my nature has been to tackle everything when I go somewhere. When I was 13, our first international family trip took us to Ireland for a few weeks. My mom researched everything there was to see and do in Ireland and we did it all. She rented a giant van (which is a horrible idea in a country with narrow, windy roads) and wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything in case we never had the chance to go back. So perhaps this is where this mentality began. And yet as I grow older, I realize just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. Just because there is a great experience to be had does not necessitate that I do it. Sometimes moderation and saying no is a good thing and makes the other experiences even better.

I have not seen what every state has to offer, but I am being present wherever I am and taking in the experience that my itinerary in each state offers me. I’m thankful for the rhythm of busier days and more relaxed days. And if I return to any of these places, I know there will be other things to see and do and that will be a new experience. My experiences in each state and being present where I am is good and worthwhile and I’m thankful for each moment of being in a place as I go along.

23/50: Maryland

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I enjoy meeting new people and I especially value keeping in touch with people. Ten years ago my mom and I met Sammy on a Mediterranean cruise we were all on. She was traveling with friends and we all ended up at the same table every night for dinner. Every evening at dinner was filled with lots of laughter and getting to know one another. Over the years we have sporadically kept in touch and since she lives in Maryland, it was so neat to be able to see her again and meet some of her family.

Much of my trip has been filled with spectacular sights, beautiful nature, big cities, but one of my favourite aspects is the people that I have been able to visit and reconnect with along the way. I am so thankful we weren’t created to live in isolation but we were created to relate to one another and build relationships with those around us. I am continually filled with gratitude at the rich tapestry of people who have been woven into my life, whether for a short time, frequently or periodically through the years. Different seasons of life shift relationships and I am thankful for each one.

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It’s a curious thing to travel by yourself for long periods of time. I really enjoy time spent by myself but I also enjoy people. After leaving Maryland, I had ten straight days by myself. One of the layers of grief I have had to walk through is my feelings of being alone. Having no parents, no spouse and no children, sometimes it feels like I am adrift without anything anchoring or rooting me. My mom was the person who always followed me every moment and tracked with me every step of the way. I would share all the details of the day and pictures with her. It is hard to face the loss of a relationship that was so deeply woven into my life.

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So on some levels I have this level of feeling alone. And yet when I stop to reflect on it, I am blown away by the amazing friends and rich community that surrounds me. On this trip, I am thankful for those who send random messages to say hello and to see how I’m doing. I’m thankful for those who have followed me and encouraged me along the way and cared about where I was and if I made it to the next location safely.

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I look at other people’s webs of relationships and mine looks different but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful. I have people who love me, support me, affirm me, and cheer me on. I have people who have wept with me, laughed with me, walked with me through the darkest valleys and been okay to sit in the silence and loss with me. So although my “official” family tree may have shifted, I am aware that there have been amazing people grafted in, woven in and embedded in the fabric of who I am and who I am becoming. I am not alone. It’s funny though how easy it is to lose sight of this. And yet even this trip has served as a reminder of it. I have someone I can visit in Maryland (amongst many other states!). I have people who have been significant parts of my life and I want to continue remembering and celebrating those people. I am far from being alone even when there’s no one around.

22/50: Virginia

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Virginia, the state that is east of West Virginia. Okay, so it turns out there’s a lot of states I know virtually nothing about. I know some people who live in those states and whatever they tell me about those places but otherwise they are just names I have heard from history, even though I don’t always remember the details. I have heard about the Blue Mountains, but I had no idea they were in Virginia. I made a little detour to drive through the Blue Mountain Parkway and it was well worth the detour.

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For part of the drive, it was pouring rain and once again there was fog at every turn, adding to the mystique and beauty of the place. I stopped at all the viewpoints, some of them led to walks through the forest to lovely waterfalls and abandoned, overgrown train tracks. At the overlooks, there were signs talking about the mountains in the distance and other landmarks that I couldn’t see. I imagined they were beautiful but also enjoyed the beauty that was before me as well, hiding even more beauty. Sometimes we just have to trust that there is indeed deep worth and beauty beyond what we can perceive and understand. The rain also made the forest quite lush and beautiful for the entire drive into Williamsburg.

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I was going to Williamsburg to visit a friend and when I looked it up, I realized that in America’s history, it’s a big deal, along with Jamestown. I’m hesitant to admit my ignorance of this part of history, but was pleasantly surprised at the chance to go exploring and wandering along the historic streets of Colonial Williamsburg and to go to the original site of Jamestown. Needless to say, I learned more history and enjoyed being taken into a different “world” as I walked down historic streets and read about different people who had left their old lives behind and started new ones elsewhere.

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I was in Williamsburg on Ascension Day and attended an ascension day service. I got to sit in George Washington’s pew which I thought was pretty neat. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s always so amazing to be to actually be in the same physical places where significant history has taken place, where people have lived and worshipped before me. I loved worshiping in a church that is different from my own and was deeply blessed by the service (even if there were a few times where I may have remained standing while everyone else sat down… the perks of being in the front row and not being able to see the people behind you- thanks George Washington).

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In Jamestown, there was a large thunderstorm approaching and although we were warned it was coming, we figured we could beat it. For the most part we avoided the rain and we hid in a museum to stop from getting wet. And the museum had a bunch of skeletons that had been dug up on the site, so that was a bonus. It is actually pretty amazing to read the stories of some of the people who came to Jamestown and also to read some of the history of Pocahontas (not the Disney version). It’s amazing what we can ascertain about those who have come before us and what their lives were like. There was a guy who kept talking to us and telling us information at the site and I was wondering why he kept following us around, and then I realized he volunteered there, so it made more sense. Thankful for time with friends, new explorations and learning more. I am continually humbled by the shared humanity we have with those who have lived before us and it is great to be surprised by new places and history that I didn’t even realize I would get to learn about.

 

 

21/50: West Virginia

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Although I’m not American, I find it amusing when I know virtually nothing about a state except its name. That being said, when I entered West Virginia, I knew two things about it: it’s a state and it is west of the state of Virginia. This information is helpful in locating the state but beyond that it’s quite useless (especially if you don’t know where Virginia is either).

For something I knew nothing about, and consequently expected nothing from, I was pleasantly surprised. It was lush, beautiful, full of trees and waterfalls and the entire drive left me smiling in delight at the beauty of what surrounded me. There was a gorge with a cool bridge that I stopped at and went for a long walk in the forest to get a view of the river. There were beautiful old brick churches. There were winding roads alongside the river.

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It was rainy but sometimes that adds to the beauty and mystery of a place by adding fog. Fog is one of those things that is significant for me because it symbolizes that there is beauty in the obscurity and in my moments where I lack understanding and clear vision. Fog beckons me to step forward in order to take another step. Fog for me symbolizes the all-encompassing presence of God- completely surrounding us, yet not tangible in a physical sense and yet it is all-consuming. I often feel like my life is lived in the fog, but I’ve learned to see where the beauty lies in it. It’s not what I expected and yet the fact that it is shrouded in mystery adds depth to its beauty and intrigue.

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Sometimes we go into situations overloaded with knowledge about it. We have seen photos and heard of other people’s experiences there and it shifts our expectations and our experiences because we hold them up to our pre-conceived notions of what something will be. In West Virginia, I was thankful to be surprised and delighted. I could enjoy it for what it was because I had no expectations of what it should or should not be. It also allowed me to be more present to it as well. I could fully take it in. I had absolutely no agenda for the day, so whenever I would see a waterfall of the road, I could pull over and take a stroll on a path that led me closer. I could explore along the river. When I finally arrived at my destination right on the eastern edge of the West Virginia border (next to Virginia of course), I had a feeling of deep content. After this I made the mistake of trying to fulfill my cravings for sushi… which was a mistake. Then again, most people would have probably guessed that West Virginia is not a prime place for sushi. I figured I would risk it and see if I could be pleasantly surprised in that as well. I guess you can’t be pleasantly surprised in all things.

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