Lot’s to Love About Lost River

We appear to have won the battle of the carpenter bees and are now settling into full spring at the cabin. Which, while carpenter bee-free, is not at all bug free. In fact, it is very, very buggy. But that’s what you get when you plunk a cabin in the middle of five acres of woodland.

So how did we get here? And, specifically, how did we end up in the Lost River Valley in the wilds of West Virginia.

Wardensville Garden Market

I first read about the Lost River Valley in this 2017 article in the Washingtonian about this gay DC power couple who were revitalizing a town in rural West Virginia and attracting other DC transplants to move out there. Everything started off well but then things got a bit contentious with the locals and the battle was on. Pretty juicy stuff.

I’m sure I was on deadline or had other things to do, but I thought the whole thing was fabulous. I went down a rabbit hole reading everything I could find about this LGBTQ friendly outdoorsy outpost in (of all places) West Virginia that I had never even heard of. Apparently, it had gotten a fair amount of press coverage, including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Charleston Gazette and West Virginia Living

I finally dragged myself out of my rabbit hole and filed the information away with the idea that maybe we’d visit this quirky little place someday and show our support for the guys by buying an artisan candle something at the Lost River Trading Post.

Lost River Trading Post

Then we took a couple of spring trips to North Carolina, renting cabins, enjoying the beautiful mountain views, trying out different hiking trails, and just embracing the idea of a much slower vacation pace. As we sat on the deck of one cabin near Asheville, we began to talk about maybe, someday, in the very distant future, buying a mountain cabin of our own. Then the pandemic hit, and well, someday become why not now?

Still tucked away in far corner of my mind was the memory of this rural town in West Virginia where a lot of DC people went for vacation. It was close (only 2 hours away) and after finally doing a little research, we found out that it had all the things we loved about North Carolina – lots of hiking, beautiful (and plentiful) state parks and national forests, lakes and streams for fishing or other water sports, plus, at least a couple of cute little country towns with restaurants, shopping and farmers markets catering to tourists and vacationers.

Wordplay Bookstore in Wardensville

We were right. The Lost River Valley has been all those things for us (although, we haven’t done much shopping or going to restaurants yet). But it’s actually been so much more. For one thing: the people have been so very nice. Everyone is curious and quick to find commonalities, and from what we can see, are really welcoming and tolerant of us interlopers.

And there are actually a LOT of us interlopers. Like I said before, I think we all had the same idea at about or around the same time. One of the other homes in our small “subdivision,” sold in February to a young DC couple who commutes out here weekly. One of our runner-up houses sold in December to a couple from Maryland who have become Instagram friends. Speaking of Instagram, I used to follow a photographer from our neighborhood in Alexandria. I noticed about six months ago that he changed his Instagram handle to @greatappalachian. Turns out he bought a farmhouse in Wardensville and is currently renovating it.

It goes without saying that it is breathtakingly beautiful here. Whenever we’re driving somewhere, I am just blown away by how beautiful the mountains and sky are. Right now, with all the trees full of leaves, the mountains and hills look like they’re covered in little broccoli florets. When I go with XFE to his favorite fishing spot, I’m in awe of the sheer rock cliffs and hypnotized by the sound of the river. And the hiking has been just gorgeous. Challenging, but gorgeous.

Eagle Rock on the South Branch Potomac River

Even the two-drive from our house in Old Town to our cabin is beautiful and peaceful. Once you turn off US 66, you really start to decompress and it feels like you are in an entirely different, much less rushed world.

Then there’s our little five acres. I’ve loved watching the landscape and views change from late fall to full on winter to early spring. My favorite (so far) is watching the fog roll in and engulf the whole cabin, making all the woods extra mysterious and spooky. It feels like we’re wrapped in a cotton ball.

Or, maybe my favorite is seeing all the stars at night so bright and so clear from our little mountaintop? That’s pretty magical as well.

Oh, and the other morning, I woke up early and sat out on the screened in porch for just a bit, and the silence and the stillness (no birds chirping yet at that hour) and the heavy, humid green smell of the grass and trees right before the sun came up was pretty amazing.

So maybe that’s my favorite thing about being out here? I don’t know. I honestly cannot pick one. 

But I do know my least favorite thing: carpenter bees. And all the other bugs. 

A Few Lessons From Living in the Country

There are a few things no one tells you about living in the country

  1. If you live at the top of a mountain—even a small one—it will be very, very windy a lot of the time.
  2. Get used to the sounds of gunfire. Even if it’s not hunting season. At first I thought there must be a shooting range nearby, but no. People just like to shoot out here as a form of entertainment.
  3. Also, get used to random animal noises, in general. Geese, cows, dogs, roosters, hawks overhead. We are constantly looking at each other and going, “What was that? Was that a donkey?”
  4. The sparkling water selection at the local Walmart is small. Tiny, really. There is no Perrier, no San Pellegrino, no La Croix. XFE found Poland Springs one time, but never again. Also, the cheese selection is less than stellar, which is such a surprise because there are cattle, goats and sheep EVERYWHERE.  
  5. No one uses electronic payment methods. It’s check or cash. No Venmo, no PayPal, no Zelle, no Cash app. We recently coordinated payment collection to regrade/resurface the gravel road in our “subdivision”. Every neighbor brought over a check for their portion.
  6. Contractors work on their own schedule and it is not quick. This is actually universally true, but especially so in the country, where distractions such as various hunting seasons can come into play. For example, as the road contractor was finishing up the neighborhood road, we asked him to add our driveway to his work schedule. He gave us a quote and said he’d start the next day. That was two weeks ago. He did drop off a culvert last Wednesday, but no idea when actual work will start.

But the biggest lesson we’ve learned is that when you live in the woods, your house is constantly under attack.

We had a glimmer of this truth when we had the home inspection at the cabin in early October. We noticed a few small holes in the cedar wood siding. The inspector said they were woodpecker holes and probably caused by woodpeckers looking for carpenter bees. Nothing too alarming, we were told, and they’ll probably stop once humans are living in the cabin full time again.  

By the time we closed and moved in on the 22nd, there were actually quite a few new woodpecker holes in the cedar siding.

Early woodpecker damage we tried to patch up.

And they did not stop once the humans came. We could hear them during the day and would run out of the house waving our arms and yelling at them. We patched holes again and again with wood putty. We googled “how to get rid of woodpeckers” and bought these hanging icicle dazzler type things that would beat against the house during particularly windy days.

Finally, as real winter set in, the woodpeckers stopped attacking our cabin.

Then spring came, and with it, a new but related menace. Carpenter bees. Dozens and dozens of these slow-moving bees were suddenly buzzing around our front porch and back deck, thwacking themselves into our large windows. Tons of them, steadily gaining in numbers as the days warmed up and the sun came out.

At first, I was charmed by them. I knew the pollinator ones we were seeing don’t have stingers (only the queen bee does). They’re chubby and cute and flying around all drunk on pollen and drowsy. They totally fit in with the #cottagecore, country cabin vibe I had in mind.

But they were certainly increasing in number and they were slightly annoying, buzzing aggressively around us every time we stepped out the door.

Let me tell you something about carpenter bees: they don’t have a hive. Instead, carpenter bees bore these perfectly round holes into your unpainted wood siding (preferably soft woods, like, cedar) and that becomes their home.

Sawdust from a bee hole under our deck railing

They then make tunnels and chambers throughout the wood and that’s where the queen bee comes in in the springtime and lays her eggs in each individual chamber. The male bees come in and leave pollen in each chamber and close them up with regurgitated wood so the eggs can hatch and the baby bees can eat the pollen before boring their own hole to get out.

These new bees then go flying around all summer, bringing pollen back to their birthing chamber/home so they can hibernate there—inside your siding–throughout the fall and winter and attracting woodpeckers who just love to find and eat them. Ergo, get rid of the carpenter bees and you get rid of the woodpeckers and save your cedar siding.

The bees had to go.

More googling led my resident bee slayer/partner for life, XFE to a bunch of different nontoxic remedies, including citrus oil and bee traps that look like little bird houses. But most online advice said it’s best to use these efforts BEFORE the bees have fully constructed their tunnels, and well, we just couldn’t be sure where the bees were in their construction process (maybe they’re like the area contractors out here and take a really long time?) and we couldn’t risk another season of woodpeckers.

Since we were starting a bit late in the season, we knew we had to go full max: strong insecticide spray applied directly into the tunnels. Then, an allover application to the entire house. Finally, after 24-48 hours, when all the bees have abandoned the chambers, plug all the holes.

So for several days last week (actually evenings. They recommend doing this at dusk when the bees are less active), XFE suited up and slayed bees. It was bonkers. First of all, the sheer number of holes we found all over the house was shocking. I figured there were maybe 8-10 holes, but there were at least a couple of dozen, maybe even close to 30.

And each hole seemed to have at least 3-4 bees in them. There was one front porch pillar in particular that was vibrating with bees after XFE sprayed the cyfluthrin into the tiny space where the wooden pillar met the vinyl underside of the porch ceiling.

It was a bee massacre. The bees would come staggering out of the holes and fall to the ground where XFE and I would stomp on them to put them out of their misery. The crazy thing is we still have bees coming back—although a LOT fewer of them– looking for their home, even days after we did the individual treatment, the allover treatment and plugged the holes with wood putty.  

We are still getting the birdhouse/bee traps as a maintenance maneuver and we’ve contracted a handyman to replace some of the wood siding that’s been damaged by the woodpeckers. Hopefully. Eventually. When he gets around to it.

Part 2: Holy crap. We bought a cabin.

covid cabin

Picking up where I left off: By September, we were getting pretty frustrated with the whole “let’s buy a vacation cabin” experience.

When we began looking in June, we had visions of spending late summer all settled in the country. After all, our rowhouse in Old Town was literally the first house we looked at when we were looking at houses. We looked at like, three other properties (just to be sure) and put in an offer right away. We know exactly what we want in a property and are pretty decisive when we see it.

So when September rolled around and we still couldn’t find our dream cabin, we did what any nervous buyers would do in our situation. We increased our budget. Which brought us to our little chocolate box in the woods. A three-bedroom, single story cabin set on five wooded acres at the top of a mountain with views, decks and a screened in porch.

Side and back view

I’ll admit: for me, it was not love at first sight. Even though it most definitely did check all of our wishlist boxes, it just did not have very good curb appeal. But as XFE points out, we don’t have many people driving by. Our “subdivision” has four other residents spanning six homes (two AirBnBs owned by one of the long-term residents).

It also seemed like too much space for a vacation house (it’s 1900 sq ft versus our 1200 sq ft rowhouse), but it turns out, it’s perfect, especially since we’re both working from home. XFE has his own office and I work out of the guest room/office. And the internet is shockingly good out here, thanks to a $31 million federal grant to build out high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure in the entire county in 2010.

The cats love it too. There’s a screened porch for them, plus huge windows throughout that are also close to the ground. Pinot, our older cat with an old back/hip injury really appreciates the lack of stairs.

Cabin cats

We put our offer in on September 2 and after a delay in the appraisal process, we finally closed on October 9, with a move-in date of October 22.

We had hoped to find a cabin that was furnished, but the furniture at the chocolate box did not convey. And, because of the pandemic, we did not want to go into any stores at all.

The solution? We literally bought an entire household online and had it delivered to our city rowhouse. That included furniture for the living room, the dining room, the kitchen (including a 300-pound table), two offices, two mattress sets and all the bedding. Rugs. Artwork. Dishes. Pots and pans. A new grill. New cleaning supplies. New vacuums. New cat stuff (litter boxes, cat towers, scratching posts, food, toys, grooming supplies). Everything was purchased online.

Another wrinkle: the address for the cabin had never been registered with the post office and didn’t show up on most mapping services, such as Google Maps, so we couldn’t risk having things delivered out to the cabin. In fact, we didn’t even have a mailbox. We had to buy one (and a post) and install it ourselves at the end of the road (after we finally got the address registered)

So we had everything delivered to our rowhouse, we moved the furniture close together and piled boxes in every available space, all unopened, until move-in day. We had UPS, FedEx, Amazon Prime and sometimes DHL at our house every day from October 9 (ok, maybe a bit earlier) to October 21. It was insane. Anyone walking by our front windows thought we had turned into some kind of crazy hoarders.

Just a small sampling of the box fort that was our home.

It took the movers about an hour to load everything into the truck and drive it to the cabin. We also rented a small dumpster to dispose of all the boxes and packing materials, which we filled to the brim. In one day. Let’s just say, we do not play around when it comes to unpacking and getting settled in.

Again, just a glimpse of the boxes.

And now, six months later, we’re still out here. We got to experience late fall and watch the leaves changing right from the Adirondack chairs (purchased online) on our front porch. We had Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas tamales, and a million other meals. We’ve gotten tons of snow and even got snowed in (we literally could not drive down the ½ mile gravel road from our house to the main road). Right now, we’re watching the trees start to bud and the hill behind our house is turning green with moss and plants and teeny tiny flowers.

We’ve learned about septic tanks, well water quality, propane maintenance, cast iron gas stoves, what works for fire wood, and all sorts of pests, including woodpeckers, carpenter bees, and yes, country mice. We’ve seen a rafter of turkeys in our driveway, chipmunks darting in and out from under our deck, tons of deer, and even a couple of cows in our front yard one recent morning. And the squirrels here? They’re on steroids. HUGE. Plus they have these black squirrels out here. I’ve only seen one once, but yeah, he was definitely black as night.

We’ve done a ton of household projects and upgrades, and still have more planned.

We bought a wood-fired hot tub and an outdoor gas-fired pizza oven. XFE has become obsessed with trout fishing and I’ve become obsessed with cabin sweaters. We’ve gone on amazing hikes at Lost River State Park, Trout Pond Recreation Area, Short Mountain, Wolf Gap, Seneca Rocks, and Blackwater Falls. One of our most challenging hikes is that roundtrip one-mile trek to the mailbox, which is down-the-mountain on the first leg, but a grueling climb on the way back up.

Eventually, XFE will have to go back into the office and our cabin will likely become the weekend and holidays escape it was intended to be. We just feel lucky to have it and to have had all this time to love it and get to know it. It’s been weird. It’s been wonderful. And it has definitely been an adventure.

By the way: if you are looking for a cabin in West Virginia, I highly recommend our realtor, Kim Eggert at Lost River Living. I found her on Instagram at @lostriverliving and she was fantastic to work with.

Part 1: Holy crap. We bought a cabin.

Hello from the other side, my fellow vaxxed and inoculated pandemic people. We made it. I mean, we’ve still got a ways to go to make sure we reach herd immunity, but there seems to be a very dim light at the end of this long, crap tunnel of death and illness and isolation.

We got our second shot of Moderna about a week ago and while I feel a great deal of relief, I’m definitely not ready to venture out into the world again. My only concession to being inoculated is that I now feel ok going maskless when I go outside to greet our non-vaxxed UPS driver, Mike (he’s got some….theories).

Luckily, I’m in the perfect place to retreat from the world. Because we bought a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia and we’ve been living here full time since late October. (If you follow @thepoelog on Instagram, you already know this)

Our corona cabin on the day we closed in October

It. Is. Crazy. All of it. The fact that we bought a cabin. During a pandemic. In West Virginia. And we’ve been living here. For the past six months. All of it is nuts. Just nuts. I still can’t believe we did it.

Let’s back up a bit and I’ll explain.

Before the pandemic, we used to travel. Like, a lot. Big travel. Big, extravagant, long vacations to places very, very far away a couple-few times a year. We wanted to see as much of the world as we could and we wanted to do it while we were reasonably young and physically able. And I think we both still feel that way.

For the last couple of years, we had taken our spring vacations a bit closer to home, renting AirBnB cabins in North Carolina and focusing on relaxing and hiking. They were great way to unwind and spend time in nature. In fact, we liked them so much, we started talking and daydreaming about buying a vacation place of our own. Someday. Way down the line when we were tired of our international travel.

But when the pandemic hit last March, that was the end of travel for us. For everyone. We cancelled a beach vacation we had scheduled for July in Antigua, and for the first time in a while, we didn’t have anything on the books as far as international travel. 

We were working and living in our 1,200 square foot row house in the middle of our great walkable urban neighborhood and it was fine. Except. Everything we loved about living in that neighborhood was basically gone. We couldn’t walk to shops, restaurants, bars, salons, anywhere because everything was closed. And suddenly, with everyone, all our neighbors working from home as well, it began to feel very crowded.

By the time summer rolled around, we were spending lots of evenings outside on our patio, listening to our neighbors on either side of us, doing the same thing. And we started talking about the cabin dream…..

One of the ones that got away.

Let me just interject here to say: I know that we are incredibly privileged and lucky to even be considering such a thing. A lot of people suffered economically during the pandemic, including people close to me. I’m not insensitive or immune to that reality and my personal privilege. XFE and I were both able to continue to work from home during the pandemic and our financial situation allowed us to do this. Sure, I lost a couple of clients when the pandemic hit, including a big client, but I was able to keep going and find new work from existing clients and even previous clients. I also knew going into the pandemic that I had put aside enough over the years in my savings to cover living expenses for up to a year, even if I lost all of my freelance clients, which I did not.

I had originally (in the back of my mind) planned on maybe buying a vacation place in my home state of Texas. But if the pandemic showed us anything, it was that having to fly to a vacation home might not always be an option.

We thought about North Carolina, which we loved so, so much. But at best, it was a four-hour drive away. We decided we needed something closer, maybe about two hours away so we could take the cats with us as well. That would mean Virginia, Maryland or West Virginia. We knew we wanted something with some land, in the woods (low yard maintenance), near hiking and outdoor activities, that felt safe and private above all else. Oh, and good wifi. Of course.

Another one that got away

We really had our hearts set on the Lost River Valley region of West Virginia, right over the state line. There are a ton of hiking opportunities nearby, a state park and national forests; lakes, streams, rivers for fishing, and a couple of really cute towns (Wardensville and Lost River) that have been built up as tourist destinations by DC transplants. So we started by putting our focus there, but there wasn’t much available.

We began looking in June and it was so stressful. Apparently, a whole lot of DC people had the same brilliant idea as us and everything with land within a two-hour drive was getting snapped up as soon as it went on the market. It was competitive to say the least.

Plus, we just really did not want to go see houses in person. Even with all the precautions. We didn’t attend any open houses, only private showings. We wore masks and insisted the realtors do the same. We opened all the windows and doors and didn’t touch anything. We brought our own lunches and drinks so we didn’t have to stop anywhere and hand sanitized like crazy. I think, all told, we looked at nine houses in person and each time was so stressful.

We put in an offer on a place in Berkeley County, West Virginia—an adorable A-frame with a completely dangerous spiral staircase and no washer/dryer–but backed out after the inspection revealed some serious problems, including foundation. We also put in an offer on a log cabin in Mount Jackson that we weren’t totally in love with the day it came on the market but we got outbid.

So pretty yet so full of problems.

We had put in offers on two houses in our preferred area. We got outbid on one of them. The other house (again, with a totally unworkable spiral staircase we planned to replace) had an even more disastrous inspection than the Berkeley A-frame. In addition to a bunch of other issues, all the pipes in the house were made of polybutylene, a material that was banned in the 1990s and would have to be replaced. The seller didn’t want to budge on the price or any other concessions, so we walked away.   

I’ll leave it there for now and pick up the rest of the hunt in my next post. But, spoiler alert: we did eventually buy a cabin.