Ever since I lived in Switzerland for six glorious weeks as a guest of the Michalski Foundation, I have wanted to visit Helvetia, West Virginia. Hailed as one of the most Swiss towns in America, it bears a striking resemblance to my once-home at the foot of the Jura Mountains.
I learned of Helvetia by watching the utterly cinematic short documentary about Helvetia and its people, called “Called Home” by village native, Clara Lehman and her husband and collaborator, Johnathan. So when our route took us through West Virginia, I thought we should stop.
While the town of Helvetia, according to Wikipedia, only had 59 residents, it has an impressive history and a huge annual Swiss Festival. They have two community meeting halls, a public library, and a phenomenal restaurant called Hutte. But, most importantly, for our purposes, they had a tourist bureau website.
I sent an email, saying that we were a couple of these crazy vanlife people and could we stop in town, was there a place to hook in power, and maybe shower.
With most tourist bureau websites if you say you want to hook up to some power for free and stay in town, you might as well throw a post-it note into the sea. With Helvetia, I received an email back with a day… from Clara Lehman… and her father, Dan. They would love it if we stayed in their little town and of course we could plug in at their meeting hall. In fact, they would unlock the bathrooms for us so we could have running water and flush toilets. Clara even offered her apartment shower to us.
If you’ve kept up with the blog, you know that we left town late—very late. Originally we had planned to stop in southeast Ohio and then continue on to Helvetia. Instead, we decided to truck on through to Helvetia on our first day, which had us coming into town at nine or ten at night (VW standard time). Dan sent us a couple of emails warning of the faulty GPS tracking and the windiness of the roads.
We might be late, we wrote in our reply. No need to host us if it’s too much trouble. With all the vehicle trouble we’ve had, it would be a miracle if we made it there at all.
The roads into Helvetia are indeed twisty. And dark. And crawling with wildlife. We slowed to a crawl and made the final twenty-odd miles in about 45 minutes. When we cruised into town, a car was waiting for us with an enthusiastic man decked out in a Swiss hat and t-shirt. Dan.
Dan is proud of the little Swiss village and hooked us up at the community hall. We slept hard that night.
The next morning we awoke to the sights and sounds of Helvetia. And it was glorious. Absolutely picturesque and quaint. They have a post office/store/mask museum (the masks are part of Fasnacht). They have a log cabin library and a little white church that plays chimes periodically.
All the while, that aforementioned clutch cable kept giving me trouble (including once when—long story: I was trying to catch up to Miracle at the town clinic after we had gotten separated and then I got stuck in gear in the middle of the town’s only intersection and had to roll under the bus in traffic to tighten the cable once again). I determined I needed some spacers—just a couple washers to give the Bowden tube the needed sag. Washers are harder to come by than I thought. I talked with Clara who told me her friend, Dave, had all manner of washers and such out at his house and he would like us to stop by in the morning for coffee. It was a short hike and the weather was supposed to be lovely.
The next morning the weather was indeed lovely and Clara, Johnathan, their children, Miracle, Jolene and I traversed the woods to the far side of Helvetia, where Dave lives on magical piece of land. (Once you watch Called Home—and you really should—you’ll recognize Dave as the man who makes his own wine.) Dave prepared a full breakfast for us—waffles and fruit harvested from his property, coffee. Clara packed hardboiled eggs and peanut butter cookies. And there we sat feasting like kings with the full view of the mountains.
A few hours and a stack of washer shims later, we were back on the road, barreling down two lane mountain roads that are barely suitable for four wheel drives, let alone Adie. We were on our way to our next stop—Deep Creek Wine Cellars…