Air curling up from the hollows on either side of the mountain runway shoves against the sides of the plane so that it shudders and jumps as we descend. We bounce once, then a second time before making a solid connection with the tarmac - turboprops roaring, reversed full speed.
We wait while the gate agent makes small talk with the stewardess. "Them planes sure are big," she says, pointing at several military, cargo planes across the runway from us. This goes on for several minutes before she glances back at the passengers staring at her, anxious to get off the plane. "Oh! Sorry!"
We've landed in West Virginia.
The downtown market seems frozen in time. Every shop is still in business, every worker still employed. I order a fish sandwich and clam chowder at the seafood stand, determined to eat all of it even after my stomach aches.
We walk through rows of produce, mums, and pumpkins. We laugh at over-fed birds picking at crumbs, too fat to fly. It is simple and unassuming, but it is one of the golden places of the world.
We drive through our old neighborhood and find it has lost its luster. It was growing and healthy when we moved away, but development has stalled. Houses sit unfinished, some built but abandoned, scaffolding rusted in place. The concrete of the road erupts into the air and is interrupted by tall weeds and small trees. Unmaintained and poorly irrigated, just five years old and the earth is pulling it apart and back into itself.
Still, it is fall in the mountains.
The next day we visit with friends for lunch and dinner at favorite restaurants. Downtown is resilient, small businesses abound. Books and ice cream and pizza. The night air holds a chill we've missed - sweater weather, no wind.
We walk back to the hotel full.
We stop for biscuits in the morning, buttery fuel for a day hike. Winding roads take us to the New River Gorge and a forest I've missed.
Most of the trail is empty, we pass only occasional groups of hikers and rock climbers. We watch rafters navigating the river below and a train snaking along the valley track.
The leaves are burning through the shades of fall, deep greens to reds to oranges to browns to empty air. The moss remains constant - four season flooring.
Thousands of people are just a few miles away at a bridge festival. We've been here several times on festival day, but we've never been to the actual festival. The trees are better company.
After the hike we stop at a restaurant we've tried to visit on every trip to the Gorge. Their schedule is random and we've always missed business hours by an annoyingly small margin. Today, we arrive five minutes before opening. It doesn't disappoint. Salmon and creamed beef and sweet potatoes.
We finish our meal with coffee and chocolate tortes, then begin our drive back to the city. We make a stop on the way back at a gift shop in a log cabin where I buy a hand sewn monkey, then a final stop to look out over the Gorge and watch people ride a funicular.
Back in town, it's time to re-pack and prep for an early morning flight.
We walk around downtown before going to bed. It is cold, but neither of us mind.