West Virginia has earned the distinction of being my favorite state for riding a motorcycle. Per square mile, it offers some of the most pristine forests and wonderfully curved roads that you can experience in the United States. It’s not a very populated state, and that may be part of the appeal given that on any given timeline, people usually screw up everything eventually.
Charleston, West Virginia was the second of three Charlestons I would visit on my trip, the first being in South Carolina and the second in Illinois. The one in South Carolina is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited and the one in Illinois is one of the smallest, although it is home to a beautiful university and the Will Rogers Theatre (which is unfortunately closed in hopes of renovation). But Charleston, West Virginia is the smallest big city in all of the fifty states.
Also the state capital, Charleston is the largest city in West Virginia, but of the largest cities in all fifty states, it is the smallest. It’s got a lot of charm, and was built at the confluence of the Elk River and the Kanawha River. On my trip in 2021, I heard that it was also the musical capital of West Virginia, so while I was there, I was sure to set out to find some good music, and Charleston did not disappoint.
Arriving in the late afternoon, I rode by a few of the places on Google Maps, and even stopped in a few of them to get the vibe and talk to some locals. After all was said and done, I spent my evening at the Empty Glass, and eclectic venue that offered some really memorable acts. Troutmouth was an Appalachian throat singer, which was a first for me, and the first person I met after arriving was JD Pinkus, a former Butthole Surfer who show consisted of projection screens and an electric banjo. The show ended with a performance from the Blair Street Bastards, which I can only describe as “hillbilly punk death metal”.
There aren’t many couchsurfing hosts in West Virginia, and I wasn’t at a point when I wanted to drop any money for only a few hours of sleep. So I’d asked a few locals about places to hang my hammock, and when I left the Empty Class around two in the morning, I rode south into the winding state forest until I found an outcropping. I hung my hammock, wiggled into my sleeping bag, had a sublime night’s sleep before waking with the sun through the trees, and the rode back to town or a nice, hot breakfast before continuing west.
I will most certainly be back.