West Virginia and the Blue Ridge Parkway

(and a little Tennessee and North Carolina)

After my rain-soaked trip to West Virginia in September, I vowed to make it back there when the weather was more suited for riding. I figured the end of October would be a good time, as the fall colors should be at or near peak that time of year that far south. I was also looking for a good ride to take with my buddy Dave, who I had met at Americade. He lives in upstate NY, so West Virginia looked like a good mutual meeting place for a late-season ride. Over the course of a few weeks we traded e-mails, making route plans and getting things setup. We planned to meet up in Harrisonburg, VA Thursday night, explore WV Friday and Saturday, and head home on Sunday.

Everything was going great until the day before we were supposed to leave. It had been unseasonably warm and dry for 2 weeks leading up to departure, but the forecast started to look wetter and wetter. Sure enough, it was pouring rain by Wednesday, with at least 2 days expected. Dave and I agreed that it would not be much fun in the rain, so our plans together got cancelled. Fortunately I was able to move my days off work from Thursday and Friday to Monday and Tuesday. I'll let it rain itself out until Saturday morning, then head down after my son's soccer game and come home Tuesday evening.

Saturday, October 27th

Saturday morning arrived, rain still pouring down. Since the soccer game was cancelled, I was on the road by 9:30am in a moderate rainfall and some fairly strong crosswinds. Before I even got out of New Jersey I was contemplating turning around and giving up, as the thought of riding for days in the rain was just killing my enthusiasm. Crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge wasn't too bad - I kept chanting "please don't blow me around on the bridge" into my helmet over and over during the crossing. Tall bridges in the wind and rain are among my least favorite things to encounter while riding.

My EZPass didn't work at the toll plaza, so I had to spend an eternity dealing with gloves, raingear and a tankbag to fish out the $3 toll. By the time I got around North East, MD the sky ahead was almost black, and the wind and rain were picking up significantly. I decided to wait out the weather a bit at a local gas station/convenience store, where I made quite a nice puddle just standing by the ATM. The weather calmed down a bit, so I hit the road. At the next toll plaza (before the Havre de Grace bridge), I pulled over and put the EZPass between my teeth. My tankbag was covered so I had no place to put it, and I knew if I tried to hold it with my hands I'd drop it on I-95. Don't know if the EZPass read it or not, but I went through the plaza. The HDB bridge was a windy crossing ("please don't blow me around on the bridge"), and then a short ride to the Baltimore beltway.

Once I got around Baltimore and onto I-70 the rain had stopped, and the sun was starting to come out. The forecast indicated this would be the last of the rain for the next few days, and I was hoping it was correct. I-70 and 340 were uneventful. Stopped for gas at the same station as last month. The 2 bridges over the Potomac in Harper's Ferry were very windy, but at least it wasn't raining anymore. I had recently picked up a pair of BMW SummerRain gloves, and wore them for the first time this trip. They were better than my non-rain gloves last trip, but after 2 hours in full-on rain my hands were still wet. Once the rain stopped I switched to my new pair of Gerbing G3 heated gloves (also recently purchased), and fumbled for a while trying to get everything connected at the sleeves. It didn't help that the sleeves of my Tourmaster Coaster II jacket are very thick, so working gauntlets over them is tricky. The heated jacket liner was just perfect today.

Stopped at what must be the world's smallest McDonald's a little ways before getting to Front Royal, VA. While gearing up after eating, a little boy around 5 or 6 came up to me, wearing a spiderman costume. I thought it was extra cute because my son had worn the same costume 2 years ago. He said hi and ran away a few times, and then I got back on the road.

Coming through Front Royal, I noticed a big cloud of smoke developing about 1/4 mile down the road ahead of me. At first I thought it might be a fire, but it grew larger and larger quickly, until it engulfed both sides of the road and blocked all visibility. My next guess was maybe a steam train crossing the road. I slowed quite a bit, and in a few seconds the source of the smoke cloud revealed itself. An old pickup truck emerged from the fog, coming my way, pumping out more smoke than I thought physcally possible. Nice.

Payed my $10 entrance fee and ascended onto Skyline Drive for the second time in as many months. Since this was a Saturday afternoon there was much more traffic than during the week, but still not too bad, and with lots of no-traffic sections. Even with the slow cars, and the low speed limit, I really love Skyline Drive on the bike. It didn't hurt that the fall colors were just short of spectacular. I had brought along a Nikon D40 with a new lens, the 18-200VR to take pics. Unfortunately I didn't pack the polarizer filter, which would have made the fall colors pop out even more.

An artsy shot

While I was taking pics at one of the many overlooks, an unlikely group of 4 bikes went by - a BMW K1200GT in the lead, followed by a H-D FLSTN, then a Buell Ullyses, and bringing up the rear was a metric cruiser of some sort. Everyone with luggage, all in gear. I zipped out of the turnout and followed them for a little while, but they turned off at a campground. I caught up with them a bit later on at another overlook. They were a group of friends from Florida who had taken the AutoTrain up to DC with their bikes to ride back to Florida. One of their group was a photographer with a website at studio441.com, so we chatted photography a bit.

That FLSTN (Softail Deluxe) is one pretty Harley.

Along with more traffic this trip on Skyline, there were more LEO's - I counted 3, all heading north. No one seemed to mind a pace of about 10 over. Didn't see any wildlife this time, but the K12GT rider said he had a deer jump out not 20 yards ahead of him.

Skyline Drive from the bike-mounted Fuji

Approaching the junction for VA33

Exited Skyline at 33, rode that into Harrisonburg and checked in at the same hotel as last time. Mileage for the trip so far was within 1 mile of the last time (no reason it shouldn't be, I suppose...). After getting all the gear off the bike I set off on foot to get some dinner. Stopped at the Barnes & Noble and picked up a VA map and a copy of Bike magazine, and walked up the hill to the Texas Roadhouse. I was easily 50% older than anyone else there (and I'm not that old) - the crowd consisted mainly of college students from nearby JMU. Got a seat at the bar, had a good salad and a bottle of ice-cold Yuengling. Walked back to the hotel and watched the Rockies get spanked by the Red Sox.

Sunday, October 28th - A trip down memory lane

I had set the alarm for 6:45, figuring I'll get an early start around 7am or so. Got up, looked outside - aw crap, it's still pitch-dark! Back to bed. Hit the road about 8:30am with the sun just coming up over the mountains in the East. My first item on the agenda was riding WV39, this time in the dry. Scooted down I-81, which was actually very pretty this early in the morning. It was pretty cold outside, maybe low 50's.

About 10 minutes into the ride I must have shifted my body just the wrong way, because the iPod Shuffle in my jacket pocket that I was listening suddenly ramped up to full volume. I couldn't pull over fast enough. Rip off the glove, dive into the jacket pocket to yank out the iPod. OK, maybe I shouldn't have kept my cell phone in the same pocket - gives the iPod buttons something to push against. Of course it would be nice if you could 'lock' the external buttons somehow.

Even I-81 is pretty this time of year

Got off the interstate to start the day's ride in earnest at VA710. It looked like a quick way to connect to 39, but it turned into quite a remote little backroad (are you reading this, SWRiverstone?). The further west I rode the less amenities the road sported. First I lost the double-yellow, then I lost the pavement. Lots of little blind corners, but still a fun little detour.

VA710 (I think)

Getting smaller....

Eventually I connected to 39. I backtracked East on 39 so as not to miss any part of it this time. After about 5 miles I turned back West and started the ride proper. The section of 39 that runs through Gosen Gap is just spectacular, riding right by the river. I first found this road by accident some 15 years ago on the way back home from Kentucky, and it struck me then as one of the best roads I've ever been on. I was happy to find that my memory was pretty faithful, the road didn't disappoint.

Heading into Goshen Gap

Coming into the Gap

The fall color was pretty spectacular

Overlook on 39 in Goshen Gap

One thing I was really interested in doing was seeing if I could find the spot where I took this picture 15 years ago.:

It took me 3 passes of the Gap to find the right spot:

I know it's corny, but that really put a smile on my face reconnecting with that stretch of road and that particular spot. That first big motorcycle trip many years ago is one of my fondest memories, and it felt terrific reliving a portion of it again.

Eventually I had to say goodbye to that bit of road and continue West. I had been wearing the BMW SummerRain gloves again, thinking they would cut the wind and keep me warm. They were not. Out came the heated gloves, set to about medium. All of 39 was fabulous - especially the super-twisties I had run last month in the rain. I wasn't tearing up the road, but I was certainly enjoying the curves more in the dry.

Coming out of Goshen Gap

Saw my first biker of the day coming the other way - a GS loaded to the gills. A short while later I came up this section of hill that was just bursting in color, and had great views for miles. Pulled over and took quite a few shots there.

Yeah, that's a nice stretch of road

Looking back at the Multi

I wasn't the only bike out there today

Sometime during the ride I noticed that I seemed to be getting a bit more vibration through the bars than normal. Not a whole lot, but just enough to make me notice. I also noticed that if I let off the gas and coasted, I would get a little headshake. Not braking, just coasting. I wonder if the new tires I had put on just before the trip were to blame - or at least the balance job on the front wheel. Otherwise the bike was handling wonderfully - there's nothing like new tires to put a smile on your face in the curves.

Got gas and a quick lunch (meatball sub) at a Subway in Marlinton. Some fun curves on 39 heading up out of town (that 'curving up out of town' was repeated later in Raineville). I had originally planned on doing Babcock State Park, seeing the Hancock Grist Mill there like I did on my '94 trip, and then heading to the New River Gorge Bridge in Beckley. After that I had a choice of heading down to Bristol, VA or Wytheville, VA for the night. I had booked rooms in both towns since I didn't know how the day was going to play out - I could cancel either one by 6pm with no penalty. Looking at the map and the clock, I didn't think I could really do both Babcock and the NRG Bridge. I decided to continue on the 'memory lane' tour and skip the bridge this time.

Stopped for a bathroom break and chatted with a guy on a H-D Heritage Softail. He said it was getting to be "full-face season" soon.

One end of a huge coal-mining operation

Best sign I saw all day

I continued on 39 until 20, then took 20 to 60 to 41 and into Babcock State Park. 60 had the only real gravel of the trip so far, and not much at that. Way less than last month's 33/250/39 crossings. When I got to the Grist Mill I unplugged my electrics and took out the VA map to see where I was going to go next. Within about 5 minutes I was shivering uncontrollably. Temps were in the mid-40's. Plugged back in for the rest of the map-reading session.

Did a walk in and around the mill, took a bunch of pics, ate some M&M's that I had in my tank bag.

Took this picture in 1994

And this one in 2007

I wanted to get back to 20 going south, so I took a connector road between Danese and Meadow Bridge that turned out to be quite pleasant. Rolled through Hinton a bit later where they were having a 'Railroad Days' celebration that looked pretty cool. Unfortunately my desire to not be riding after dark precluded my spending any time checking it out.

That is something that I want to work on for future trips. My natural inclination when planning trips is to put way too many miles and places on the schedule, leaving little time for exploring or detours. I love being able to cover a lot of new roads through interesting areas, but it's also nice to stop and check things out. I think the term 'sport-touring' is a bit of an oxymoron for me. The more I get into the 'sport' end of it, riding the great curvy roads, the less inclined I am to stop and take pictures, or stop in general. I end up doing little quaility touring, mainly just skimming the surface of anyplace I ride through. Have to change that.

Stopped for gas just outside of Hinton at a small station. I gave the counter guy $10 thinking I would need around 3 gallons - turned out I only used about $8.50 worth of gas. No biggie, he can keep it. As I was gearing up the counter guy comes walking out to me telling me I overpaid and come inside for my change. Nice.

Exxon station near Hinton, WV

Bluestone Dam

Continued south past the Bluestone Dam, and past the town of Speedway. Imagined all the funny conversations when you get pulled over for speeding - "What do you think this is, a racetrack?" "Well, officer..."

An uneventful (but pretty) ride down 20 eventually led me to Bluefield. What a big, sprawling dump this was. Almost reminded me of the time I wandered into Peoria by accident. I decided to press on to Bristol, VA, so I called and cancelled the Wytheville hotel. At this point I had the option of taking the interstate, or trying out US19. No contest - skip the interstate. Driving West on US19, the setting sun was directly in front of me 90% of the ride - ouch. Not much of a great road, but still better than the slab.

Posted "Rough Roads" in West Virginia still in nicer shape than 90% of NJ/PA/DE roads.

Wasn't sure if daylight savings time had arrived, as several banks I passed had times an hour earlier than expected. Turns out they were wrong (as was my GPS), a result of the adjusting of DST dates this year.

Trying to find the motel in Bristol I got stuck waiting for a left-turn arrow that wouldn't budge. The whole intersection (very busy, 3 lanes each way) had cycled twice, no arrow for me. Along comes a guy on a Gold Wing next to me, with a set of loud pipes and a shortie helmet. I told him about the arrow, and he said "if it doesn't change, we'll make a f*cking arrow". The metal on his wing made the difference, and we were granted legal permission to cross the intersection.

Pulled into the nicest Motel6 I'd ever seen at the same time a guy on a BMW R1200C pulls in. We chat for a bit about BMW cruisers, the weather, hard bags, etc. Dinner tonight is ordered-in pizza (very good), and a bottle of Mr. Pibb. Anytime I can get Pibb I do, as it's impossible to get in NJ/DE/PA. Another night watching the Red Sox dominate the Rockies.

My first-ever food shot

Not a bad day of sport-riding - not sure of that max speed though

Monday, October 29th - I accidently discover The Snake

Forgive me, but I made up my own blues song during the day:

Woke up in Bristol
to frost on my seat.
Got 400 miles
before I sleep.
Got lost and detoured
but found the Snake.
Plenty of hairpins
to keep you awake.
Got to the Parkway
and the high mountain air
where going is slow
'casue passing is rare

Seat-frost and the 1200C

The nicest Motel6 I've ever seen

I had looked at the maps the night before, and saw that I could jump on the Blue Ridge Parkway around Boone, NC. That would take me through TN and NC, neither of which I've ever seen on a bike. Saw that 421 went pretty much straight from Bristol to Boone, so figured that would be a nice quick run to the parkway (those of you who know 421 - insert laughter here).

On the road at 8:30 again, very, very cold this morning. First temp sign I saw was 37 degrees. Heated gear on max this morning. Took a while to find my way out of Bristol. Had another turn-arrow that wouldn't change for me, but much less traffic this time so I made my own.

421 started out very nice, sweeper city. Cool, I'll make nice time just bending my way to Boone. Ha! Soon enough the road starts getting tighter, and tighter, and tighter, and then you're doing 10mph hairpins. Definitely fabulous, but not a way to make time. Pavement was perfect, no gravel, almost no traffic.

Wow! Emerged on the other side of the (first) mountain feeling great - the road was a completely unexpected surprise. Then I descended into Shady Valley a little bit and saw the giant sign.

Oh, I've seen that sign before. Oh - 421! That 421! Not such a secret road after all. Looking ahead I see this sign (again):

Another mountain to cross - cool!

This section of 421 didn't disappoint - equally as fabulous as the first crossing. Eventually the fun was over and 421 straightened out for the run to Boone. Got detoured around an accident onto some very tiny roads, no problem for me but a big problem for the trucks and RVer's ahead of me.

The truck did a great job on the tight turns - the RV not so much

Another new state for motorcycling

Had to cross the street and turn back to get this one

Finally found my way to my real destination for the day, the Blue Ridge Parkway. I've done the Parkway before, but only in a car. I didn't have a good idea about what milepost I was entering at, but I knew I wanted to get to the top of it on today's ride. Got on at just past Boone at nearly 11am. Turned out to be around Milepost 282, leaving me about 6 hours to cover 280 miles. So I just needed to average around 45mph for the day to get to Waynesboro before dark. Reset the GPS's trip meter, cranked up the heated gear and settled in to put an hour's ride in at 55 to get the average up to allow for more stops later in the day. Worked out well.

No, I am not going to follow this guy for long

Ah, empty roads

I wish there was a safe turnout on this section, the view to the left was incredible

The Parkway was fabulous - very little traffic, curves just flowing from one to the next, nothing too crazy, just lean left, lean right, lean left. It really puts you into a groove of just gliding along, banking from side to side. I found it very relaxing, and had a smile on my face pretty much the whole day. At one point I had the iPod going, and the Allman Brothers' "Jessica" came on - a perfect song for this road. I bet it synchs up in some wierd way, like "Dark Side of the Moon" and The Wizard of Oz.

My first overlook stop. Man it was getting cold.

Enlisted a stranger's aid for this pic

Met Keith at an overlook. He was on his way back to Roanoke from a weekend in the Deal's Gap area. We chatted for a bit, and decided to ride the parkway together for a while. I was fiddling with getting everything packed backed up quickly, getting the gloves connected again, etc, as he was already ready to ride. After what seemed like an eternity I was ready to go and we pulled out onto the Parkway with me in the lead. At which point I noticed I hadn't fastened the chin strap on my helmet! My first instinct was to immediately pull over and fix it, but that would mean doing the glove dance again. I weighed the likelihood of crashing in the next mile before a turnout, and decided to throw caution to the wind. At the next available turnout I pulled in and fixed everything. We pulled back out, this time with Keith in the lead.

As always, I rode the curves faster with someone else in the lead setting the pace. Nothing crazy mind you, but just a bit more than I would do normally. We were doing between 55 and 60 when we passed a LEO going the other way - he didn't care. We got off at Roanoke for gas, and Keith headed for home.

The best curves of the day were near the Peaks of Otter

As the day got later, I saw several deer on the side of the road, and this goat. I had to stop and get a picture.

The next time I do the Parkway I HAVE to split it up into several days. There was so much I wanted to stop at and see, but I had to keep going to beat the darkness. That was a recurring theme of this trip - too much distance in too little time.

Exited the Parkway at the very top, and jumped on the highway for the quick ride to Staunton where I had reservations at a Microtel for the first time. The hotel was not where my GPS said it was, so I had to resort to calling them for directions. The lady's first direction was "if you're using a GPS, we're not where it thinks we are". Got there a bit after dark, after making a gas stop and grabbing some snacks for dinner. Waxed my chain before unloading the bike (I had remembered to do this at the end of each day on this trip), and finished the day with 374 miles. The Microtel was very nice, but (not surprisingly given the name) had the tiniest rooms I'd ever been in.


Tuesday, October 30th

Had a nice breakfast in the hotel lobby, first time on this trip. Frost on the seat again, temps just above freezing. Not in a big rush to get going as it was just going to be a slab-ride to get home. I did want to make some bike-shop stops though.

Headed up I-81 to Winchester, it was really really cold going. My body was warm, but my hands were starting to get really cold. I was thinking that maybe 80 mph and 35 degrees might be too much for the heated gloves to overcome. They had done great earlier in the trip so this was a little disappointing. Not until I stopped an hour later with frozen hands did I realize I HADN'T TURNED THEM ON! Dumbass. With them properly set to max they kept me nice and toasty at all speeds and temps.

First stop was DucPond Motorsports in Winchester. Nice little shop, and a great place to warm up. The lone sales guy working there was glad to talk - coolest thing he showed me was a carbon fiber Ducati bicycle frame. Felt like it weighed less than the DucPond-labelled water bottle I was drinking.

Coming up on 340 in the right lane I was slowing down for a red light. Ahead of me, also stopping, was a plain white SUV. A car carrier in the left lane decided not to slow down, and blew through the light a good 2-3 seconds after it had turned red. The plain white SUV in front me takes off, blue/red lights flashing from inside. Had him pulled over within 1/4 mile.

Next stop was a KTM dealer in Frederick - I wanted to see a SuperDuke up close (and maybe an Adventure too). The shop was nothing special. They had a used Adventure 950 outside, and no other KTM street bikes inside.

I-70 to Baltimore beltway, and then a stop at Speed's Cycle in Maryland. They had been advertising a huge Ducati apparal blowout sale, and I wanted to see some Guzzi's as well. Turned out they had pretty much zero Ducati gear left. I did use this stop to change out of my thermal long-johns and ditch the heated liner. Temps were now in the upper 60's with the sun shining and no wind to speak of.

Crazy drivers on I-95 north, and plenty of MD cops as well. At the Havre de Grave bridge I stopped to pay the toll, but my EZPass had already paid it - even though it was completely buried inside my tankbag someplace.

Last stop of the day was at Mike's Famous HD just before the Delaware Memorial Bridge to ogle some chrome behemoths.

Pulled in the garage at 2:41 with 296 miles for the day.