The GPS unit on my phone politely told me that in 50 feet, my destination would be on my left. I was on an unpaved path buried in leaves, with nothing around but woodlands. Fifty feet to my left was a steep hillside, tumbling down toward miles of meadow rolling through the border of Virginia and West Virginia. My phone had lost network connection over an hour earlier, so I was pretty sure the GPS was as lost as myself.
I had been looking for the Allegheny Mountain Institute, where I was scheduled to meet with a person named Julia for a tour of the farm and a discussion about its important work toward community-based food security. I was already half an hour late, and disoriented beyond any comprehensible ability to figure out how to find this place. Additionally, my next checkpoint at the Woods Hole Hostel was another four hours southwest along what I decided would be equally difficult roads and relentless terrain. I really wanted to avoid driving the entire journey in the dark.
Clearly, the Allegheny Mountain Institute was not located on this road. According to the map on my GPS, it was further ahead, but the voice had said it was in the valley. Should I continue further along this road? I glanced ahead and it was more of the same single lane, unpaved, winding, covered in leaves, slow moving, and unpredictable. Scenes from horror films filled my mind, traps set to blow out car tires of lost travelers, kidneys harvested for sale on the dark web. I really like my kidneys. I decided to abort the mission, which meant driving in reverse for nearly two miles until I had enough space to navigate a 16-point turn. I scurried back down the mountain to find enough signal to call Julia and apologize for my rude no-show.
I approached what appeared to be something of civilization, but still no signal showed on my phone. I always travel with a map, so I tried to find my location with no luck. Virginia covered three pages of the atlas, and I realized how painfully unfamiliar I am with that part of the country. The road system was a confused spider web of small highways intersecting through and over mountains, and the world in front of my eyes did not align with the lines on the paper.
After nearly 15 minutes of driving, I arrived in a town. I will not reveal the name of the town to protect its privacy, but the place looked like a door-to-door confederate flag salesperson had recently passed through with much success. Most of the flags were new, not remnants of the Civil War, although some were hung on rustic-looking wooden poles. A farmer had one painted on his barn alongside the words “Heritage not Hate.” I had wanted to get a picture, but I was afraid of being shot. At least my car has Ohio plates instead of the California plates now buried in its trunk. Ohio is foreign enough, but I knew that nobody there wanted a California Liberal taking pictures of their lifestyle.
Maybe I’m looking at this from the perspective of a Northerner, but isn’t slavery part of the heritage of the Confederacy? The Civil War started because the Confederacy wanted freedom to live according to their own rules, and that included the right to own other humans as slaves. That by itself is bad enough, but they had also rationalized owning one particular type of person as a slave. Systemic social and racial inequality was an intrinsic part of the Confederacy. Is that a heritage worth continuing to protect? I wanted to get out of that town ASAP.
I finally found some cell service and called Julia. Julia described how to find a place called the something-something cider where her friend Lola worked and Lola could give me directions to find the Institute. No thank you, I’m not going on a quest to find Lola who is across the street from a red building called the slippery noodles. I’m going to lock my car doors and continue rolling miles between myself and here, and hopefully arrive at the Woods Hole Hostel without being abducted by aliens, kidnapped by human traffickers, or encountering a Klan ritual.