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Saturday, September 11, 1999 -- Morgantown to Helvetia
One Day Tour to Helvetia
Story and photos by Don Parks

[Pics from Sat. Night] [1999 10K Run] [1998 10K Run]

Road to Helvetia
The road to Helvetia as I remembered it from 1998
Having been to the first Helvetia 10K Mountain Run in 1998, I was hoping to be able to return again in 1999. I didn't get to run in the race that year since I had been at work taking pictures and collecting results for a story. However, the morning's work had been a joy. It seems that in just my short visit I had found something endearing about this tiny Swiss hamlet.

Helvetia lies in an isolated valley in southwest Randolph County. They often reference Buckhannon when describing its location, but it really isn't close to anywhere. This remote mountain setting was what reminded early Swiss immigrants of home. In 1869 they settled into this new community and called it Helvetia.

Having done a little persuading, I secured my position as WVOutside reporter for the Helvetia 10K Mountain Run once again in 1999, and I was prepared to make the most of it. I had heard of the festivities that are held during the two day Helvetia Fair and was eager to see more than just the run.

Room Full
We heard there was a party in Helvetia
I learned that some local friends had planned to spend the weekend in Helvetia. In addition, I had Saturday free and the weather forecast called for a beautiful day of sunshine and cool temperatures. All this brought on the idea to bicycle from Morgantown to Helvetia where I'd spend Saturday night taking in the fair and then covering the race on Sunday. I mentioned the idea to my friend Chas, and being the touring enthusiast that he is, he didn't need much convincing to join in on what would be a 90+ mile ride.

With a little coaxing (and gas money), Mary agreed to drive our van down to the fair for us. She took off with all our overnight gear and cameras on Friday evening. We now had no choice but to ride out for a rendezvous in Helvetia on Saturday. We were unsure what would be waiting for us when we arrived, but we were prepared for primitive camping and a relaxing evening in the country.

We were up bright and early on Saturday, fixed a big pancake breakfast and went over our plans one last time. Our route would begin with a long climb out of Morgantown on the Kingwood Pike to the Preston County line. From there it was on to Reedsville and a right turn onto Rt. 92 South heading toward Elkins and Rt. 33. I knew this route well, across Rt. 50 and on through Belington, these hills were not too imposing. That would take care of the first 60 or 65 miles to get us to Rt. 33, but what remained was not familiar ground. A series of country roads would continue our journey south through towns like Coalton, Mabie, Blue Rock and Star for the final 30 or so miles to Helvetia.

What amenities would be waiting?
Heading out of our house in downtown Morgantown just before 9:00am, everything was perfect. Chas and I felt great, the weather couldn't have been better and we had a whole day to just play on our bicycles. The first challenge up the 7 mile climb on Kingwood Pike seemed almost a joy, but it was great to finally see the sign announcing our entrance to Preston County. Our first downhill blasts and a few short uphills had us rolling into Reedsville and charging onto Rt. 92.

Another 15 miles and we reached the intersection with Rt. 50 and our first stop to refuel. The usual energy drink along with some Little Debbie snacks and a Yoo-hoo and we were feeling ready to conquer anything the road could put in our path. About all we were missing at this point was a little sunscreen.

It was now after noon and we were south of 50 on our way toward Belington and Rt. 33. By my crude calculations I had us arriving at the 33 intersection around 2pm. It was a good guess, but arriving at the Sheetz in Belington at a quarter past one, with a good 60+ miles on our legs, an extended lunch break was in order.

They told us everyone has fun at the Helvetia Fair
We relaxed on a small hill just behind the store as it was time to indulge in some pepperoni rolls or a sub, a can of Pringles, a few more Little Debbie treats and the obligatory energy drink of choice. Celebrating our achievement to this point, we each added to our lunch a 22-ounce bottle of the one drink better than Yoo-hoo.

We pushed on to 33 just before 2:00pm and it wasn't long before we were on 33 East heading toward the Norton exit and our route that would continue taking us south. Soon after finding our way onto CR 53 with signs directing us toward Coalton and Pumpkintown, Chas convinced me that a quick nap under a shade tree would be a good post-lunch refresher. I didn't mind, it wasn't much after 2:00pm and we had plenty of time to finish the estimated 25 miles to Helvetia.

It was close to 3:00 when Chas decided it was time to get back in the saddle. I didn't feel any more rested than before, but a little stretching certainly hadn't hurt. Chas, however, still seemed to be missing that foregone Yoo-hoo opportunity back at lunch in Belington. We knew that there was going to be very little in the way of conveniences for the remainder of the ride.

Square Dance
We had no idea what we were headed into...
The roads now seemed all but abandoned, cars were seldom seen as we headed south through the remote hills of southwest Randolph County. Add to this the well maintained roadways, beautiful scenery, and ideal weather and you'd think we'd be having the time of our lives. What was now in our way, and continued to punish our tiring legs, was what seemed like one long climb after another. All the while I sensed that the worst climb would be the last, a switch back climb that crossed a blur of topo lines from the town of Star to the intersection of CR 46 and CR 44. The top would mark the point were it would be all downhill to the finish, but getting there seemed almost too far away.

As we made the turn onto Mill Creek Road (CR 46) and saw the first sign that pointed the way to Helvetia, everything seemed good for a moment. Soon the task at hand consumed us again and our only thoughts were back to surviving yet another climb. Finally we reached a climb that seemed to have the characteristics of what I had noted on the map as our final mountain ascent. Heading west up the southern face of a ridge along a continuous incline, I mentioned to Chas that I thought this might be the final climb. In hindsight it was just a cruel joke for Chas who now appeared to be suffering a bit in the late afternoon shadows.

But I could see what looked like a right-hand switch back up ahead, this had to be it. As I pushed on ahead I watched as the bend in the road simply bent back again as the road snaked up through several turns on a brutal slope. The few homes along the way were all that seemed to make up what was noted on the map as Blue Rock. We were still several miles from Star and the foot of yet another huge climb. I waited for Chas at the top knowing he wouldn't like the news he would be receiving when he joined me.

We wouldn't be the only tired folks in Helvetia
I think he knew the answer before he got there, but he asked anyway. "No, but there can't be many more" I responded knowing it was not providing any relief to his fading spirit. I must admit that the ensuing downhill to the town of Star was a white-knuckle blast that would give any road rider a grin from ear to ear. Those grins soon turned to grimaces as we crossed the Left Fork of the Buckhannon River. We had no choice, it was just one final push toward an unseen summit somewhere up ahead.

Saying very little, we went about our business and made our way up one pedal stoke at a time. With my watch now saying somewhere around 6:00pm, I realized our adventure had now consumed over nine hours. Not knowing the hospitalities that were awaiting us when we would finally reach our destination, we crept on toward what we hoped would be a waiting van and some needed nourishment and rest.

We conquered the final ascent, slowly, but we made it. It was now an easy roll into Helvetia and we only hoped that our van would be easily located once in town. Fortunately for us, Mary is a most dependable friend and the van couldn't have been easier to find if it had been blocking the middle of the road. We quickly put the bikes aside and relaxed in the evening shade with all the amenities that we had sent ahead.

Rogers' guests did plenty of entertaining
Having missed the parade, along with most of the days activities, we soon found that the evening celebration at Rogers' house and the big Square Dance were still in the makings. After a little needed rest, the two of us were treated to hot showers along with plenty of food and beverages all courtesy of Rogers and his house full of guests.

The rest of the evening was spent meeting new friends, learning to square dance, listening to all varieties of live music, telling stories and jokes around campfires, and gobbling up plentiful snacks and drinks. How is it that two weary travelers can wander into such a remote small town and be made to feel as though they're old friends just back for a visit? You could call it "Helvetia hospitality", but whatever it is, we sure hope it can always be found tucked away in a little valley in West Virginia.