2nd Annual West Virginia Trip with Dave

Thursday, October 23rd

 Dave and I tried to put together a trip to West Virginia last year, but the weather didn’t cooperate on the only days he could go.  I ended up going anyway on a different set of days and had a good time, but I still wanted to get down there with him.  We only had one weekend in October it could work this year, so we hoped the weather would cooperate it.  Which it did, at least until the end.

I left the house at 8:15am with only 31 degrees showing on the thermometer.  Had the heat turned up high on the heated liner and gloves, probably could  have used the balaclava.  I had put together an iPod playlist for this trip packed with music from my high school days – Blue Oyster Cult, the Good Rats, Joe Jackson, Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc.  I took the back roads to Woodstown and gassed up for the highway ride down to Maryland.

I had rigged a quick release mount for my EZPass and had that mounted on the RAM arm I also use for the camera.  This would be my first trip with the Ducati topcase on the back of the bike so I figured I would leave the tankbag at home for once.

Easy ride over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and down I-95, got a bit of traffic on the I-695 beltway around Baltimore.  Passed one guy holding up a silver sun shade over his driver-side window at 75mph.  Interesting.

Stopped for gas in Frederick, MD and the pump overflowed gas all over my tank.  Hopped back on I-68 until just after the Sideling Hill, then took an exit for the old National Road, US40. Nice sweeping turns, no traffic to speak of. Stopped at a nice overlook for a leg stretch (and a quick trip into the bushes).  The bike was feeling a little odd in the turns, didn’t know if it was my 11,000 mile front tire or my new topcase. 

I was the first to arrive at our meeting spot at the Quizno’s in Cumberland, MD (Dave was coming down from upstate NY) around 12:20. Spent a couple minutes waxing the chain and then I redistributed most of the heavy items out of the topcase and into the side bags.

Dave arrived in short order, and we enjoyed a Quizno's lunch while hashing out a route down to Harrisonburg. I've always wanted to see Blackwater Falls State Park in Davis, VA, so we made that a waypoint. We gassed up and headed onto I-68 to 36, and took that to 135. Lots of slow truck traffic on both those roads, not a great way to start off our ride.

We were stuck behind a line of traffic for a while that included 2 big rigs and a few cars. Dave (in the lead) pulled out to pass the whole bunch, and I tried to stick with him. After a few seconds it was clear the pass wasn't going to happen, and Dave slid back over in front of the lead semi. I was looking to tuck in behind semi #2, but he had locked his brakes because of all the braking being done in front to allow Dave back in. So there I was, hung out to dry on the double yellow for a few seconds, and in the oncoming lane comes a car that makes a dash for the shoulder because of where I was. As I pass him I notice he's a trooper. Great, I'm thinking to myself, this is going to get really unpleasant. I kept watching my mirror (after having finally pulled back into my lane), but the trooper never turned around! I stopped watching for him sometime on Saturday I think.

At one point we passed a paper factory billowing out huge amounts of smoke, pretty much obliterating the sky. I also noticed that there were vents in the sidewalks that were smoking as well - it looked like the whole town was leaking.

The road never really got better until we turned south on 219 - ah, much nicer. Dave in the lead, this would be the first chance I had to see how we'd mesh riding the twisties together. Looking like we'd do just fine, his pace was my pace.

Dave missed the turnoff for Blackwater Falls State Park so I pulled over and waited for him to u-turn. Once he came back I took the lead onto the park road, and promptly missed the entrance to the falls trail. We did a nice loop of the park road, which includes a pretty decent hairpin. Saw the sign the 2nd time around and we pulled in to go check it out.

To get to the falls overlook you have to hike down 200+ steps, which was a good leg stretch after sitting on the bike for hours. There were only a few other people at the falls, including one guy with a tripod set up at the base and a couple DSLR's.

Dave took this photo of me

Steps leading down to the falls viewing area

Blackwater Falls

Me and Dave

(from Dave)

After we left Blackwater I took the lead down 32 to 33 and over to Seneca Rocks. Dave had never heard of them, so I figured he's be impressed. Sure enough, his reaction was close to mine the first time I saw them. We got some pics from the parking lot, then take took off on the small road that leads to another viewing area. I followed a minute later, and came around one corner and noticed Dave was waiting for me. Then I noticed his bike was laying on it's side off the road. The road he was taking turned into a dirt trail, and he was in the process of turning the bike around when he got his front wheel stuck in the weeds and the bike toppled over. I ran over to help right the bike, only realizing later that I missed a great photo op - damn!

Dave at Seneca Rocks

(from Dave)

Just after dropping the bike - he's in a much better mood than I would have been

We hit 33 after leaving Seneca Rocks, and it was spectacular as always. I led up to the New Germany overlook, and Dave took over from there. We stopped a couple times for pictures, and I shot some video of Dave in the twistier bits.

Really good fall color, temperatures were nice and moderate, a really nice day to ride. Saw very few other bikes on the road. We rolled into Harrisonburg at 6:35, right on schedule to avoid night riding. In town we passed a bank that had a Gold Wing in the lobby - curious.

While we were checking in the guy next to us at the counter commented “you guys must be inside”. Not sure if I heard that right, so we asked what he said, he repeated it, then added “unless you guys are riding motorcycles”  We said we were, and get “you’re tougher than I thought”.  Funny.

My non-smoking room was very smoky, figured I'd deal with it for the night. Dave had eyed the Mexican restaurant next door to the hotel, but I had to break the bad news to him that I don't eat Mexican. I looked at the menu anyway, hoping to find some burger/sandwich/salad on there, but alas - it was too authentic Mexican. We walked up the hill to the Texas Roadhouse and had a good dinner.

Walking back to the morel, I saw that I once again left the ignition on the ‘please drain my battery position” again, just like last time here.

Back to the room at 8:30, just in time for the first pitch of game 2 (PHL @ TB). I called home, settled down to watch the game and type up notes.

Mileage for the day: 411

Friday, October 24th

Had a terrible night's sleep, mostly I suspect due to the stinky room. By the time I woke up my eyes were killing me, and I was very congested. Walked down to the front desk to switch rooms, the only room they could get me in that early was clear on the other side of the hotel next to a construction site. On the plus side, it didn't smell like an ashtray so I took it.

I wanted to leave the topbox off the bike today to see if that was what was making the handling different, as opposed to the worn front tire. It was nice to stay at the same hotel for a few days and be able to leave things in the room while dayriding.

Huge breakfast at the Waffle House (shades of the trip to Indy), and then we headed out for a full day of riding the curves. First up was going to be 250, but we had to take 42 to get down there. First half of 42 was pretty bad, lots of businesses and straight road. The second half opened up nicely, and was a good warmup to 250.

We passed a cop on the side of the road starting 250, whew.  250 from 42 to 220 is just spectacular.  I didn’t do this section last time I was here, I only did from 220 west.  Perfect pavement, no traffic, lots of elevation changes – some ups/downs inside a turn! Can't say enough good things about this section of road.

First stop was a historical marker.

Thanks, Dave!

We stopped again on 250 to get some action shots. This was one of the things I was really looking forward to experimenting with on this trip, and Dave was a willing partner. I found a nice hairpin and pulled over to set up, and gave Dave instructions to go ahead, turn around and come past me, turn around and pass me again, and wait ahead. I also told him not to get too crazy, I won't share any pictures if he crashes :-)

I was very happy with the way these turned out!

Back on the road, we passed the gas station on 220 where I ran into fjrski last year.  250 west of 220 has crappy  pavement, lots of loose gravel.  Dave seems immune to it, but it totally zaps my groove. There was gravel in the turns, gravel in strips down the middle of the lane, gravel pretty much random anywhere you look. Passed group of wings taking up the whole overlook so we zipped by it instead of stopping.

Took 28 north to Circleville for very expensive gas ($3.37 where $2.49 is the norm), and a quick snack (oreos and lifewater for me). “Junior” rang us up after I waited for 5 minutes for “senior” to acknowledge me.  Thankfully a local clued us in to “junior”.  He also gave us a suggestion to take 55 back to VA later.

Our next destination for the day, and the one I was most looking forward to, was Smoke Hole Road. Our traverse of it almost started out badly as Dave hit a huge patch of gravel turning onto it and fishtailed for a bit.

The east part was neat, ver narrow, good scenery.  No center line, barely wide enough for 2 cars. Vertical thrusting rocks interesting.  We got sidetracked down a gravel road for 4 miles, thinking it would lead somewhere.  I had never ridden on gravel for any length of time, but didn't find it too bad. We were about to give up when we saw a sign announcing fresh pavement! Euraka! Brief run of pavement at the end had us thinking we had found the holy grail – for 100 yards until it dead-ended. The campground host filled us in - we needed to backtrack 4 miles, and make a right at the store to be on Smoke Hole Road again. The return trip was easier, the most interesting part was the fairly steep dirt hill.


On the start of Smoke Hole Road

Narrow but fun

Blind corners

Where did the pavement go?

I really like how this one turned out

On the newly-laid blacktop near the campground

Where we should have turned the first time. Dave's happier than he looks here.

Interesting place to live

Western end of Smoke Hole Road is fan-freaking-tastic!  Racetrack-smooth pavement, no traffic, fall color incredible, just amazing.  I was really getting my groove on for a while, when Dave stopped I pulled up next to him and yelled “can we do it again, can we do it again, can we do it again?” like a little kid getting off the tilt-a-whirl. Back we went, and back we went again.  Did some picture loops, that was fun.  Can’t say enough good things about Smoke Hole Road, just amazing. It will be on my itinerary for any trip through WV again.

Oh, yeah.

Twisties galore

After that high point was Jordan Run Road - pretty, but nothing special.  I was in the lead for this one, hoping for a repeat of Smoke Hole. Oh well. We made a wrong turn at the end trying to get to Mt Storm.  Fixed, and then a nice run up Mt Storm to the wind farm.  Stopped for gas and snacks again (Hostess cupcakes and Pibb for me), starting to get really cold outside. We wanted to make it down to 39/warm springs, but it didn’t look like we would have enough time for that and still be back in Harrisonburg before dark.. 

At the wind farm

Back down Mt Storm, 28 to Circleville again, and to 250 intersection. I suggested we make a run to the Green Bank telescope (8 miles), but that was going to put us getting back in the dark.  We talked about it for a bit and decided to hell with it, let’s do it anyway. It was great to actually see them this time, really impressive. When I came through here last year I couldn't see anything above the base.

Have to remember to check depth of field!

Dave's GPS found a ‘shortcut’ back to 250, cr4 (or 3?) that got smaller and smaller, rougher and rougher, until it turned into 2-track gravel road.  I was game for some gravel and dirt, but not really 2-track that may or may not actually go anyplace. Homeowner and his german shepherd came out to tell us the road didn’t go anywhere, and he kinda laughed at the gps – he’s seen our kind before. 

Our turn-around point

Heading back to 28

We did a U-turn, back to 28, over 250 in the twilight.  Saw some deer, getting really dark in the twisties. Gas again in Monterey (fjrski station), then into the dark again and more 250.  I really hate riding in the dark, and I should stick more to my gut instinct and just not do it if at all possible. The detour was my idea, so I had no one but myself to blame this time.

Turning onto 11 deer ran right across my path, then 1 mile later a car nearly ran across my intersection.  Twice hard on the brakes in less than a minute.  No thanks.

20 uneventful minutes of I-81 and back to Harrisonburg. Walked across the street to an Italian place in a strip mall - dinner was OK, ice cold beer and dessert were great..  Talked of coasters, rallies, and the iron butt.

Light rain falling as walked back to hotel. A waitress almost fell in parking lot on super-slippery painted arrow – remember that tomorrow!

Called home, went through pictures, wrote up notes.

Mile for the day: 380 miles

Dave's GPS tracklog for the day in Blue.


Saturday, October 25th

Woke up at 7 to the sound of rain falling outside. The forecast (obtained from Dave, who had purchased wireless access) looked pretty grim for the whole day. We returned to the Waffle House for breakfast and debated about what to do for the day. We didn't have to check out until noon, so we put off making a decision until near then.

I went back to the room and tried to kill time. Tried to watch a movie on the laptop but the disc turned out to be corrupted. I couldn't buy wireless since they had no codecards left. Nothing good on the tv. I got showtimes from the movie theatre that was in walking distance in case I was going to stay for the day.

11:30 we talked about what to do. Basically we could head out into the rain (which was still falling pretty darn hard outside), or hang around for the day and ride home in what should be better weather tomorrow. Dave was heading back up to NY, and he looked to be out of the storm later in a few hours, so he decided to get moving.

I had pretty much decided to stay put, catch a movie and leave in the morning, but at the last minute (11:55) "to hell with it" and packed up for the wet ride home. This turned out to work about as well as the "to hell with it" decision to see the Green Bank telescopes. What I should have done is had a long lunch, ridden west to get past the back end of the storm and do some riding. then left Sunday morning before dawn for a dry ride home.

What I did, on the other hand, was ride straight into the worst rain I've ever experienced on the bike, and stayed in it for pretty much the entire day.

I put my rain jacket over my "waterproof" Olympia Phantom suit, my "waterproof" Aerostich gloves over my regular gloves, and headed out. Started out on I-81 north, but the spray from trucks and cars was reducing visibility to almost nothing. I got off on 211, figuring I'd slice east across Virginia a bit and take 340 up to Frederick, MD. 211 was fun, even in the rain. At least there were almost no other cars to contend with, just a steady medium rain. Sections of one of the uphill lanes were totally covered in leaves, so I stayed away from that.

I missed the turnoff for 340, and ended up staying on 211 to 15. Once I got near Leesburg on 15 the rain started really coming down, combined with very strong winds. I stopped for a while in a bank drive-through to wait it out, and after about 15 minutes it slowed down a bit. Rain was heavy for most of the ride up to I-70, and didn't get any better on the interstate. By this point my Olympia gloves were soaked underneath the Aerostich triple-digit rain covers, so I stopped at a closed truck weigh station to swap them out with a dry pair.

Getting closer to the Baltimore Beltway the rain increased to ridiculous levels. Traffic was moving around 35mph, throwing up huge waves of water from the soaked roadway, and the skies were black. It started to get pretty damn scary so I gave up on the interstate once I got onto I-95 and exited onto US1. Pulling into a gas station I rode through a puddle that had to be at least a foot deep, completely drenching my lower half. Got gas and asked the scary old man inside about nearby hotels, but he said there were none around. Moved over to US40, and slowly made my way north.

I was pretty much in the middle of it, following it eastward. If I had waited just a few hours I could have been dry for most of the ride. The image below is what was going on while I was waiting it out in Delaware.

Sometimes the rain would let up a bit, sometimes it would come down so hard you could barely see in front of you. The winds came and went as well, which was making me nervous about the 2 big bridge crossings I had coming up. I could mitigate the Susquehanna crossing by taking the US40 bridge instead of the high I-95 Havre de Grace one, but I still had to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge at some point. I had considered taking the Conowingo Dam crossing for the Susquehanna, but I figured if I needed to bail out and find a hotel that route wouldn't offer me many options.

The US40 bridge turned out to be great, as construction had it down to one lane each way. I had the whole side of the bridge to myself, which eased my fear of getting blown around on the wet roadway. Night came very quickly as I neared Bear, DE, making the trip even more stressful.

My last gas stop was in New Castle, DE. I pulled into the gas station, soaking wet and pretty miserable. Immediately a man comes up to me and asks if I want to buy any gold for my lady. Yes, friend, that's what has me out in this disaster tonight, I'm looking to get ripped off on crap jewelry.

The rain had let up a bit, so I called home to say I'd be there in about 45 minutes. No sooner did I pull out of the gas station did the weather turn the worst it had been all day. I couldn't see a thing, and I was getting really blown around by the strong gusts. No chance did I want to climb the DMB in this. Pulled into a McDonald's that was maybe 100 yards from the gas station I was just in and got some food. Let me apologize again for all the wet mess I made in the place, I must have dripped a quart of water on their floor just getting to my table. Nice couple came over to talk a bit about where I was coming from, turns out they were just coming back from WV themselves. At one point Elvira walked in (it was pretty close to Halloween). I called home again, and Debbi said I was in the middle of the 'red zone' on the radar map, with winds gusting in the 45mph range.

Maybe 20 minutes later things looked quieter outside, so I got ready to go. Couldn't find my keys. Checked every pocket, nothing. Walked out to the bike, and sure enough, there were my keys laying on the ground underneath the bike. Glad the weather was so bad nobody would consider stealing a bike and riding away.

My keys - good place for them

Big sign on the upstroke to the Delaware Memorial Bridge - "Caution - High Winds". Great. Turned out nothing to worry about, it was calm and serene up there. This has happened before as well - as windy and nasty as it has been on the approach, the actual bridge span has been drama-free.

Light rain for the remainder of the ride, then some lightning started as I got nearer home. When will it end?

Home at 7:45 or so, completely drained. I intended to watch the World Series game, which was delayed due to the weather for a 10pm start. I was snoring on the couch by the bottom of the first.

Mileage for the day: about 280

Final Thoughts

Overall the trip was a lot of fun. Had a great time with Dave, our riding styles meshed really well. Smoke Hole Road was an experience I won't soon forget and one I intend to repeat. I enjoyed doing some action photography, definitely want to expand on that.

I WILL NOT make the mistake again of voluntarily choosing to ride all day in hellacious rain - I would have been much better off staying put and waiting it out.