We pedaled up to the old farmhouse along a quiet lane, passing a field of cattle on the left and a Morgan horse farm to the right. On the near side of the house was a hot tub; beyond, a spired church -- all against a backdrop of spectacular mountain scenery. West Virginia had never looked so good.
It was the first day of our week-long, inn-to-inn bicycle trip through the eastern part of the state, a 250-mile trip that would take us along rolling back roads, over mountains, through woodlands, by waterfalls and fish hatcheries.
After cycling about 35 miles north from Lewisburg, just west of the Monongahela National Forest, we had reached the Current, a bed-and-breakfast inn in Hillsboro. As all confirmed B&B travelers will tell you, B&Bs embellish a trip by giving a sense of place, and the Current was no exception: Its country feeling set the tone for our trip. Throughout the 1903 farmhouse are stenciled walls, examples of local artists' works and the owners' family treasures. The rambling kitchen, complete with a desk, two dog beds and a wood stove, made us feel very much at home -- a feeling that intensified the next morning when our hosts served us a breakfast that included homemade bread and fresh farm eggs.
West Virginia, with its country ways, may be a natural for B&Bs -- their number has doubled within the last year -- but the map makes it look a bit mountainous for bicycling, our style of travel since our youngest child entered college 10 years ago. We are slow riders. We stop to admire vistas. We talk with local residents, and we picnic frequently. We were hardly in shape for mountain cycling -- and mountains seemed to get in the way of every possible week-long routing in this state.
But two mountain bicycle touring companies made it all possible. They provided the fat-tired, 18-speed mountain bikes (also called offroad bikes, and not to be confused with motorized dirt or trail bikes) necessary to negotiate the mountainous terrain on our trip, which took us through the national and state forests that lie between Lewisburg, in the southeast corner of the state, and Aurora, 150 miles (by main roads) to the northeast.
We were met at Lewisburg Airport by Gil Willis of the Elk River Touring Center, which is near the Snowshoe ski area, a popular winter destination. Willis showed us to our bikes and oriented us to our route for the day, sections of the level, 75-mile-long Greenbrier River Trail, in a former railroad bed.
It was easy to adjust to the stable bikes, which, unlike our touring 10-speeds would have been, were steady on the graveled surface. The trail, adjacent to one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the East, has many bridges, two tunnels and views of the Allegheny Mountains. We saw an array of wildflowers -- orange flowering quince, yellow coldsfoot, violets, pink and white trillium and tall redbud bushes.
When we detoured from our route, the results were equally pleasing. One day, heading out of the town of Slatyfork, we pedaled up and down a dirt road that led to Cass, a small town that is now part of the Monongahela National Forest. What an experience to be the only people on Main Street, to wonder about the wooden sidewalks (just rebuilt in front of the white houses -- now rented to tourists -- that used to house employes of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co.). During the summer and on fall weekends, powerful and picturesque steam locomotives pull passenger cars (converted logging cars) up above 2,000 feet through highland wilderness for either a two- or four-hour round trip.
Never once while riding on a paved road, even on those with hairpin turns, did we hear a car or truck horn. Generally, traffic was sparse.
In Slatyfork, Shay's Country Store had L.D. Sharp's branding iron, a windup phone from 1899, a potbellied stove and a creaky wooden floor. From behind the elevated desk emerged goateed L.D. Sharp Jr., now of Ohio. He just happened to be visiting his daughter and son-in-law, who have taken over the store that their grandfather started at age 12.
From Slatyfork we rode to Bartow, where we left our bikes for pickup by the Elk River guides and connected with another touring company, Blackwater Bikes, for the second leg of our trip. Owner Laird Knight routed us along ski trails, pipeline and forest access roads and the spectacular ridge of Middle Mountain.
For hours, the only sound we heard was that of water -- trickling, gurgling or rushing. We sometimes walked up long trails that more experienced and conditioned cyclists ride. On an overly ambitious day, we hitched a couple of upward- bound rides with passing trucks.
Near Elkins, we discovered the hamlet of Sully, which seemed to appear magically at the top of a steep wooded road. We wished for a B&B right there, to savor the view of the huge sheep farm, barns, a couple of houses and countless layers or distant mountains fronted by meadows.
A large part of the appeal of our trip, of course, was the chance to sample the bed-and-breakfasts that dotted our route. Each had its own quiet charms.
In Slatyfork, herbed cream cheese omelets and homemade muffins were on the breakfast menu at the Willis Farm Lodge. Before Gil Willis established his cycle and ski touring center here, he lived bachelor-style at this former sheep farm. His wife Mary, a trained marine biologist turned innkeeper and chef, has changed all that. Now there are lots of plants, a comfortable living room with a big wood stove, four guest rooms plus a cozy guest cottage.
Along the Cheat River in Elkins, close to Davis & Elkins College, Roxye and Joe Marshall have redone an old hunting and fishing lodge that is near many good, reasonably priced restaurants. The sizable guest rooms at their Cheat River Lodge each have two double beds and a private bath. A wraparound deck serves as a common room, with gorgeous views of the river.
In Davis, Fred and Dorothy Busk have filled their Victorian B&B, the Twisted Thistle, with an extraordinary collection of antique quilts. The Busks also operate a gallery of area artisans' work on Main Street, in a spacious, two-story former lumber company store that has its original wainscoting and light fixtures, and even a spindled bookkeeper's balcony.
Although it is only 10 miles from Davis to Bill Reese's famous cooking at Mountain Village Inn in Aurora, we made a day of it by detouring into Blackwater Falls State Park, where the river plunges five stories. We lingered in nearby Thomas, a former coal-mining town with a distinct time-warp quality. It looks like a Hollywood movie set, complete with a brick opera-vaudeville house (scheduled to become a summer theater).
There were lots of things we didn't get to see on our trip: the cavern beyond the Blackwater Falls; the remote hamlet of Helvetia, where residents speak with an almost-lost Swiss dialect; author Pearl Buck's Birthplace in Hillsboro.
All the more reason to go back.
Bernice Chesler is the author of "Bed & Breakfast in New England" and "Bed & Breakfast in the Mid-Atlantic States" (The Globe Pequot Press).