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Smell the Coffee: Almost heaven down by the riverside

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As I write this, I'm coming down from one of the best weekends of my life.

My head's still down by the Greenbrier River. My heart is in Lewisburg, which I'm thinking might now be my favorite place.

In 2011, Budget Travel magazine designated Lewisburg as the "Coolest Small Town in America." Now I know why.

I traveled to the area (to nearby Ronceverte) for a girls' weekend in a small trailer that was advertised as being "down near the water."

Near the water, it was. But it was also near railroad tracks.

Very near.

Still, it had been ages since I'd had a grown-up weekend away, and can't remember a time when I needed a trip more than this. There was a bonus in that nearby Lewisburg was holding its first-ever Literary Festival that same weekend.

Because of the festival, many of my writer friends I normally see only once a year, at a conference, were in town. Among them one of the festival's featured authors, Lee Maynard, who invited me to join him for dinner at his place.

Earlier the same day, I'd heard that the festival's other two guest authors, Jerry West and Homer Hickam, were staying at The Greenbrier, so I made the assumption that Maynard was staying there too. I thought "dinner at his place" meant a fine steak from The Greenbrier.

I should've taken into consideration some of what I knew about Maynard -- that he's an avid outdoorsman who worked many years as a mountaineer and professional river runner, that he was national director of operations for Outward Bound and a member of the "Outlaw Writers."

That he was so amused when I said something about him being at The Greenbrier.

Because technically, he was.

Except his place was the Greenbrier River.

In a little rented camper. With a neat little fire pit.

Where he cooked our steaks.

On sticks.

When the meat was ready, he removed a big knife from his pocket and flicked it open. I checked the blade for traces of blood and fur. There were none.

Gentleman that he is, he provided a second, smaller knife for me.

They were the only utensils we had.

And it was, hands down, the best steak I've ever tasted.

I spent the next day at book signings and readings and strolling around town, checking out Lewisburg's wide variety of shops. The more I talked to shopkeepers and residents, the more enchanted I became with the place. The streets were filled with people. A clarinet player sat on a stoop, playing his horn. There were colorfully knitted trunk coverings on the trees and artwork everywhere I looked and people willing to stand in long lines to meet their favorite authors.

The town is flat-out charming.

Saturday night was supposed to end at the Del Sol Cantina with a concert by Pops Walker and Kipyn Martin, except when the two were done playing, we weren't done listening, so we moved their concert to the front porch of Don Steck and Tracy Rush's home.

For an evening I never wanted to end.

With my feet propped on a big, grinning dog, I was treated to some of the finest music I've ever experienced. These other folks are wildly talented, but Kipyn is something else. The most pure voice I've ever heard.

Maynard, although still a bit bristly from having his Crum Trilogy called the "50 Shades of Appalachian Grey," was waxing a bit poetic on how enjoyable he was finding it to be surrounded by musicians, so I asked if he might be considering writing lyrics for a change.

"Nah," he said, "I ain't gonna be one a' them pome-writin' girly-boys, like Chuck Kinder."

I think he was kidding, but he said if I ended up writing about the evening, he wanted that Kinder bit in, word for word.

I slept away much of the final day in a hammock, being intermittently awakened, and then lulled, by the sound of passing trains. The insects were plentiful but courteous enough to leave me alone while I slept.

I can't imagine how the weekend could've been any better. Good words, good music, good beverages with good friends, and the idiotic fun of spending a little time with an outlaw writer who was staying in a van down by the river.

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at karinfuller@gmail.com. Those wanting to hear Kipyn Martin's amazing voice should look her up on YouTube. I recommend her rendition of "Dream a Little Dream."


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