Follow the River I have never looked at the Ohio, the Kanawha, or the New Rivers in the same way. Not once have I looked on these rivers and not thought of Mary Draper Ingles and her ordeal. Not once have I not wondered, what if that had been me? At what point would I have given up? I was so obsessed by the story that I told John he just had to read Thom's novel, which he did. I knew that he loved frontier history and the river, and that a story about a woman would not deter him one bit. And just like I had hoped, he fell in love with it too. So here we were together, trying to follow as best we could the route Mary Draper Ingles would have taken along the banks of two of the three rivers. We had already traveled the Ohio and the Kanawha and most of the New River in WV, but decided to start at the mouth of the Kanawha again anyway. There are several places where the roads do not follow the New River, but when they do it's easy to imagine the extraordinary strength and will it took these two women to survive. Remembering that it would have been freezing cold; that they sometimes were following the Indian trails, while at other times they were purposely staying off them; that they were climbing cliffs and walking along the rivers' edges, sometimes fighting the strong currents and rapids that run that time of year; that they were almost barefooted, each wrapped in a blanket that was sometimes wet, and then sleeping on the bare ground wrapped in those same blankets; that they were starving, and scared beyond belief of wild animals and Indians alike. In the place where the Greenbrier River breaks from the New River I think of how incredibly easy it would have been for Mary to have gotten mixed up at that point and then headed in the wrong direction. I think about how two dams on the New River in WV now keep the waters under flood control, as well as the one in Radford, VA where Mary eventually settled with William, but how back then there would have been no such daming up of the rushing waters that might have flooded the rivers' banks. Today it is so beautiful and peaceful along these rivers. John and I both were particularly enamored with Sandstone Falls which lie below Hinton, WV. We spent several hours there before we could bring ourselves to get moving along for the remainder of our trip. We spent the night right across the WV state line in Bluefield, VA before making the rest of our trek the following day, driving over Big Walker Mountain to Wytheville, VA and I81 to Drapers Meadows, Blacksburg, and then finally Radford, VA where Mary lived out the remainder of her long life and then died. From there we headed back into WV where we took several county backroads over the mountains through woods and meadows along gushing streams and railroad tracks before getting back onto Route 60 East heading back to Charleston and then home to Ravenswood, where as soon as I can, I plan to reread Follow the River.
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