By Stephen Smoot
Road tripping from Seneca Rocks to Point Pleasant on the Ohio River usually takes approximately three hours and 45 minutes. Once a traveler hits Elkins, he or she need not ever leave the comfort, speed, and efficiency of a four-lane expressway. Corridor H takes one to Interstate 79, then Interstate 64, and finally U.S. Route 35 in Mason County to where the Kanawha River empties into the mighty Ohio.
Jedediah Smith and his team aim to make the trip much longer, much less efficient, and much more exciting.
Starting at 8 a.m. on Feb.3, 24 Hours of Appalachia, Run for the Hills challenges drivers to make the trip entirely on back roads over the course of 24 hours.
Smith, one of the event organizers, explained that about a year ago, “I set out to drive from Charleston to Seneca Rocks using all back roads and dirt roads.” Friends gave him a dare, saying, “You can’t do that in 24 hours.”
He started from Charleston at 5 a.m. and realized by the time he hit the New River Gorge “I knew I could do this.” Refueling took place around sunset in Parsons. When he pulled into Yokum’s that night, he realized, “I did that in 13 hours and 32 minutes” with an average speed of 30 miles per hour.
He even “stopped a bunch of times to take pictures and it all worked out,” then mused that “we ought to do something across the whole state.” Back Roads of Appalachia then hired Smith and together with partners, such as Gambler 500, they conceived the statewide event.
Originally, they planned for 50 participants. With more than 200 responding initially, however, they added 25 more to the main run. They also included a special route for side by sides that avoids national forest roads and even created an all Subaru set.
Festivities will begin on the morning of Feb. 3 with cars released every 60 seconds “so that people can go at their own pace.” According to Amber Nesselrodt, executive director of the Pendleton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the team, worked closely with Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County Emergency Services coordinator.
Safety precautions include an alternate route in case of inclement weather and the use of recovery vehicles in case drivers have problems.
Smith emphasized that “it’s not a race” although “I’m not saying that hasn’t been discussed.” A “Cannonball Run” style event would require much more planning to ensure the safety of participants and others.
Planners have bigger goals than simply planning a cool road trip. Smith said that one of the hopes is “to bring motor sports events and tourism through motor sports.” He has even worked with state legislators. Smith stated that “Delegate Howell and I met several times” and he also spoke with State Senator Mark Maynard.” Gary Howell (R Mineral) serves as chairman of the tourism committee and is a motor sports and classic car business owner and enthusiast.
Smith said that participants will come from across the United States, including social media influencers “with hundreds of thousands of followers.”
Additionally, the event will address one of the growing social needs in the state. Though the event requires no entry fee, they strongly encourage a donation to Children’s Home Society, an organization that works with troubled children and the foster care system.
Nesselrodt shared that “I first met Jedediah at the West Virginia Tourism Conference last year. He has a strong enthusiasm for outdoor adventure and love for Pendleton County.” Smith said of Nesselrodt and the county CVB that “we talked quite a bit.” He added that “it’s part of the reason why I picked Seneca Rocks” as a starting point.
The website lists Yokum’s Store as the starting point. Sam Yokum, owner and CVB board member, explained, “I’m all for anything that brings notoriety to Pendleton County.”
He also said that while northern and eastern West Virginia residents come to Pendleton County often, “with the southern part we could do a bit better. It’s another step to getting us on the map on the other side of the state.”