CHEAT THRILLS; A FEW WORDS OF PRAISE, MOST OF
THEM REAL, ABOUT A W.VA. RETREAT.
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON POST
Wednesday, December 2, 1998 ; Page D09
Four tip offs that this is not your ordinary B&B:
Checking in on a recent Friday night, you inform your
host that you're going to stretch your legs on a moonlight stroll
down the trail by the river. Fine, she says. "Just scuff your
feet every so often to let the deer and bears know you're out there."
The waitress at breakfast asks the guy next to you -- who has just
inhaled a large plate of eggs, biscuits, pancakes and sausage -- if
he'd like anything else. "Yeah," he says. "I'd like
another breakfast just like this one." She smiles, laughs, brings
There is no "nearest town" to check out at night. The television
is an oversize stone fireplace in the enormous main room which you
are welcome to stoke until you burn your eyebrows off.
For entertainment, you find yourself playing Scrabble, something you
have not done since 1982. Missing a critical letter, you try to make
your wife believe that "adoe" is actually a word. "Use
it in a sentence," she challenges. "I adoe you," you
The Cheat Mountain Club, a four-hour drive from the Beltway in the
West Virginia highlands, is a one-of-a-kind place lauded by Conde
Nast Traveler as one of the country's 50 Great All-American Getaways.
Be forewarned. This is for-real rustic, not Martha-Stewart rustic.
There is no Jacuzzi, no 24-hour massage service, no truffle on your
pillow. (There is a recently completed conference center half a mile
from the main lodge with exercise equipment and a TV, though climbing
electronic stairs and watching cable when there's a nice steep mountain
right in front of you sort of defeats the purpose of being here.)
If you want the first sheet of toilet paper folded into a point, you'll
have to do it yourself.
But if you're after a real mountain retreat with three substantial
meals included, clean air and plenty of opportunities to go fly fishing,
hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing or cross-country
skiing, this is the ticket. There's a full bar downstairs that works
on the honor system and next to it a jar of homemade cookies that
never runs out. At $110 per person per night ($80 on weekdays) with
meals included, it's a steal. And by the time you come back to Washington
you'll be trying to remember whether Ken Starr was the original drummer
for the Kinks or Brenda Starr's older brother.
The Cheat Mountain Club started life in 1887 as a lodge for wealthy
sportsmen on the best hunting and fishing ground in West Virginia.
When the threesome of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone
rolled through the area on a camping trip in 1918, this is where they
stayed. In 1988, the lodge reopened to the public. It sits on 183
acres along the Shaver's Fork River, which has wild and stocked trout,
in the middle of the 900,000-acre Monongahela National Forest.
The hand-hewn spruce timbers (some nearly 30 inches thick) are still
in the walls. The great room you walk into, furnished with hardrock
maple chairs and comfortable couches, is big enough to turn into a
yoga studio for 20, which is what happened when a women's group from
Charlottesville rented the whole place for a weekend not long ago.
You take meals in an adjoining dining room with candelabra fashioned
from deer antlers. Two resident dogs belonging to manager Sherry Yates
and her husband, Andy (who worked as a chef at the Greenbrier for
eight years before taking over the stove here), greet you with thumping
tails at the door. If you play with them, they'll tag along for at
least the first quarter-mile of your hike.
A 19th-century hunting lodge was basically a monastery for people
who like to shoot things. Your room was a place to sleep. Other than
that, you were outdoors or playing cards. And though the club has
been modernized, the setup is still the same: Upstairs are eight small
guest rooms done in knotty pine, each with one or two comfortable
beds, Italian cotton robes in the closet and a sink. (There is one
suite with its own bathroom, and a dormitory-style room upstairs that
There are shared bathrooms (one for men, one for women) at either
end of the hall. This is not as weird as you think and it's a long
way up from the outhouses club members once used. The bathrooms are
spotless, with loads of towels and hot water. The single ultra-modern
touch is a motion detector that turns on the light so you don't bark
your shins in the middle of the night. If you want to read, it's generally
more fun down in front of the fire. Other than that, you should be
outdoors. Just breathing the air at 3,400 feet works up an appetite.
There are a number of trails that start at the club. On our first
day, Jane and I took a three-hour hike along one up to a beaver dam
in the national forest. It had been in the 20s the night before and
the frost line started just a couple of hundred feet up the hills.
Mountain laurel leaves hung still green but limp from the cold and
our breath turned to steam. We walked up a Forest Service Road and
then cut down toward a stream.
Beavers are the chain saws of the natural world, and this particular
clan must have been related to the Weyerhausers because they had felled
several acres of very big timber to erect a three-foot dam across
the waterway. Nearby, chunks of rusted metal and old machine parts
were doing their best to return to the soil. Logging camps sprang
up all over this country in the early 1900s. Sometimes whole towns
grew up around them. Then the men moved on and the town shut down.
When we got back to the lodge, we had a big lunch, a nap and then
built a fire the size of a small Hyundai in the fireplace while we
"What do you wanna do tonight?" Jane asked at last.
"Scrabble?" I suggested.
"I would adoe to," she said.
WAYS & MEANS
GETTING THERE: The Cheat Mountain Club is about a four-hour drive
from the Beltway. Take I-66 west to I-81 south to Harrisonburg and
Route 33 west. Follow it past Franklin to Judy Gap, where you get
on Route 28 south. At Thornwood, take U.S. 250/92 west and continue
about 15 miles to the CMC sign on the left.
BEING THERE: CMC doubles are $160 during the week, $220 on weekends,
and include three meals. A 10 percent gratuity is added to your bill,
as is 6 percent sales tax. Find them at 304-456-4627 or on the Web
The club has mountain bikes, a canoe, cross country boots and skis,
fly rods and waders that are free for guests to use on the premises.
Fishing guides are available at $150 per day. Just a mile from Cheat
Mountain Club are the remains of Fort Milroy, where Union forces fought
off an attack in 1861 by forces under Robert E. Lee.You can still
see the breast works where artillery were placed, a small cemetery
and trenches. Continue up the mountain for a good vista of the area.
East on 250, the Gaudineer Scenic Area (304-636-1800) boasts an area
of virgin red spruce that was left uncut due to a surveyor's error.
Some of the trees are more than 300 years old.
Route 150, the Highland Scenic Highway (304-653-4826), is a 23-mile-long
parkway with outstanding vistas and overlooks. The road runs from
the Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center on Route 39/55 to the summit
of Elk Mountain on U.S. 219. More than 60 percent of the road is above
4,000 feet, making it the highest major roadway in West Virginia and
one of the highest in the East. Snowshoe Mountain Resort (304-572-1000)
is just up the road from Cheat Mountain Club. It has 14 slopes and
two large mountain inns. And there are a number of craft and antique
shops around Pocahontas County.
INFORMATION: Call 1-800-336-7009 for a brochure and map.
Antietam National Battlefield Park (301-432-5124) hosts its 10th annual
Memorial Ilumination this Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight. The low-key
and astonishingly moving event involves a slow, parking-lights-only
drive through the northern section of the battlefield park -- which
has been covered by 23,110 luminarias -- each placed and lit by more
than 500 volunteers throughout the day, each in memory of the 23,110
casualties of the Civil War's bloodiest day.
"The first time I ever saw it was the first year I worked here,"
one park ranger told us, her voice low. "We started out on the
drive, and I was looking at all the candles, and suddenly it hit me
what these candles meant. Each candle was a life. And I just started
Antietam is in Sharpsburg, Md., about 90 minutes northwest of the
Beltway. Take I-270 to I-70 to Exit 49, Alt-40 west. In Boonsboro,
turn left at the traffic light onto Route 34 west; it's about six
Getaway tips? Good trips? Send them to email@example.com.
For a year of Escapes articles, see The Post's web site at www.washingtonpost.com.
Cutline: The Cheat Mountain Club, not far from Durbin, W.Va., offers
its guests bikes and cross-country skis.
Articles appear as they were originally printed in The Washington
Post and may not include subsequent corrections.