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On The Dotted Line

January 11, 2012
Wetzel Chronicle

I rode on the dotted line and survived.

I'm talking about the dotted line on the map-you know that dotted line that indicates there is kind-of-sort-of a road in that area. Perhaps it was a road at one time, maybe it still is. You just never know until you're on it.

It depends upon your mindset as to whether you think, sight unseen, the dotted line is navigable or not. I tend to be of the subset that thinks it's passable. C'mon, it's on the map! Right?

Article Photos

The photo of the 700-foot slip

I was raised to think that maps were just about the most valuable resource a person could have. No vehicle was properly equipped without one-or rather a collection of them. I remember my dad once purchasing a new atlas and excitedly pointing out to the completely disinterested cashier that it was "the most clear, concise map" he had ever seen! It was quite a find and prudent purchase, in his mind.

I spent many hours helping my dad roll up his many "topo" (topographical) maps. He often had them out to look up a point of interest in the area or show me something about a certain area's terrain.

He passed that love of maps to his children. I think we all (with maybe one exception) love a good map and would much rather hold the informative document in our hands than rely on a GPS navigational system to tell us where to go. I mean really, how can you just do what a little electronic device says without knowing the big picture?

Besides, without a map it's pretty impossible to make sure you don't return from a place on the same road you went. Why not see some new country, right? Trust me, it's the Westfall way. . . just ask my husband who shakes his head at this notion.

Well, he wasn't exactly shaking his head this weekend. . . at least not voluntarily. . . when we went on an adventure for the sake of journalism.

I wanted to see and photograph the "700-foot slip" that had been spoken of at the Wetzel County Oil and Gas Task Force meeting Friday morning. A story like that really needs a photograph to accompany it. When I inquired with the Department of Environmental Protection's inspector about how to get to the site, she looked me up and down and said, "Well, first you'll need to put on some hiking boots."

It was prudent advice and I followed it, along with making sure I was in a large four-wheel drive truck driven by my husband.

So we headed out on the adventure. I was armed with her general directions to the site and my DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer of West Virginia. Now if you've never checked out a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, I must say you have missed the Cadillac of maps. The books, which are as big as a regular road atlas of the United States but only for a single state, show just about every detail imaginable. They are both road maps and topographical maps that let viewers know just about everything they could need.

Daniel and I did fairly well getting to the site pictured on the front page. Yes, the road was very muddy and rutted, and we had to duck off the road for a truck convoy, but his truck prevailed. It was after the photo was taken that the real adventure began.

You remember how I said Daniel shakes his head at the notion of not going back the way you came? We contemplated if we should keep going out Lowman Ridge or return the way we knew. I said it was up to him-he was driving and it was his truck.

He paused, then surprised me by heading on down the dotted line. On this particular day he decided to think like a Westfall.

Let me tell you, the road got worse, which I didn't think was really possible. I was tense, scared, and bouncing around the cab of that truck as much as possible while being held by a seatbelt. In hindsight I said I should have taken a photo of the road to prove just what we survived, but I'm positive it would have been blurry anyway.

The only problem with Gazetteers is that they are more detailed than the actual roads. You see, in remote areas there are usually no street signs. You can't tell which road is which. And at the "Y" of dotted line and dotted line, you might only see one pathway, but which one is the one that still exists?

That was our problem; we just weren't sure if we were on the long dotted line that may have even ended in the middle of nowhere or on the dotted line that, before long, would become solid once again.

We came to a wide spot in the non-road and contemplated. The path ahead looked even worse. Daniel decided to turn around. I thought it was a good decision, yet cringed at the thought of having to go through all of that again. On the bright side, the return trip always seems shorter.

Somewhere between two dashes we passed two women on an all-terrain vehicle. They just smiled at us, laughing no doubt that we were attempting to drive a truck there. I hid the map and we smiled and gave the standard West Virginia acknowledgment wave.

To make a long story a bit shorter-we made it back to pavement, such as it is. We rode on the dotted line and survived.

When we returned home we checked out the muddy truck, I told Daniel the people of Wetzel County thanked him, and later he looked up our route on Google Earth.

Guess what? We were on the short dotted line and we would have made it to better road in about 300 yards. You know those women who were laughing at us? They were probably laughing at what we were about to encounter. Little did they know we knew what was ahead, we just didn't know that the solid line was behind us. If they had known that, they would undoubtedly laughed even harder.



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