2700 Twisty Miles Through, VA, NC, TN, WV and OH
I had such a great time riding the roads around Sparta, NC for the first time on last year's ESTO meet that I planned another trip down there this year. I had 7 open days before I wanted to be at an event at King's Island near Cincinnati OH so, with the help of some folks here, I laid out a leisurely route from NJ to OH by way of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio. Joined, as I often am, by Dave and Peter (nearlyseventy and gasgauge). Peter was eager to explore more of SE Ohio's roads since you may recall his bike got run over by a tow truck last year after one day in the area and was totaled.
I took the usual route from southern NJ to get to Front Royal to meet up with the other guys who were coming from western NY. Turned out they were going to be running a couple hours behind so I had a blast riding down Skyline (about 35 miles to the first tunnel near Thornton Gap) and back again. There were hardly any other vehicles on the road, the weather was perfect, and my pace was…brisk.
Back at Front Royal the guys arrived, and together we had a great run down to 33 at a fun pace. The great times on Skyline almost ended on a sour note when 1 mile before the exit to 33 we passed a cop on the side of the road who turned on his lights for a second to give us a warning. Whew!
Comfy hotel and a great dinner awaited us in Harrisonburg, VA.
The tunnel past Thornton Gap entrance
We rode back to the 33 entrance to Skyline Drive and headed south before connecting up with the Blue Ridge Parkway for a stress-free, pretty ride down to Sparta, NC. The southern half of Skyline was not nearly as fun as the northern section, and the BRP was more crowded than I had seen it before (it was a Saturday after all). Lots and lots of passing ensued. By dinnertime we were rolling into Sparta and the Alleghany Inn. Dinner (of course) was a 10 minute walk away to the Main St Pizzeria and Tap House. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) they no longer offer $5 pints of Delirium Tremens.
Dave on Skyline
Peter on BRP
Dave and Peter on BRP
Dave on BRP
Peter on his new BMW S1000XR that replaced his BMW K1200GT
Dave and his BMW R1200RT
Peter on BRP
Of course the Aprilia looks the best. It is red.
I had never taken the loop road up to Roanoke Mountain. It was nice and cool in the forest – it was getting pretty hot in sections on the Parkway
Today we would be riding what I have titled in Basecamp as "Doug's Loop". R Doug had been gracious enough last year to lay out a great day of riding for me – unfortunately those $5 pints of Delirium took their toll and I wasn't able to hit the road until after lunchtime so it mostly went unridden.
We started out with a clear no-traffic run on 58 to Damascus, a road that quickly became everyone's favorite. It offers a little bit of everything over it's 37 odd miles from Mouth of Wilson to Damascus. This time of year the raft-carrying vans were replaced by bicycle-carrying vans, but the only one we encountered was nice enough to pull over at the first opportunity.
I wasn't feeling 100% this morning so my pace was a bit off, especially on the super-tight hairpins. Just couldn't get into a nice rhythm. On the road heading out of Damascus I almost executed a double-yellow pass on a sheriff's car. Get your head in the game!
Next fun road was the "Back of the Dragon", or 16 from Marion to Tazewell. We agreed to meet up in Tazewell so we could all ride at our own pace, and Peter headed out first, with me following Dave. Dave and I fell into our familiar pattern quickly – I can keep right on his tail on uphill roads, but on downhills I don't like to carry as much corner speed and he opens a bit of a gap. Until the next uphill section.
It was on one of these early twisty uphill sections that we did a quick double-yellow pass of a car on a short straight. There's a section about midway on the route that the road splits, and I was behind Dave as he split off in the wrong direction. I pulled over on the correct split where I could still see him, and he quickly realized I wasn't behind him any more. As I was waiting for him to double back and get on the route the car from earlier passed me by. Dave caught up and we had another chance to pass the guy again. We stopped at the last big overlook for a while, and once again that car came by, and once again we passed him when he made the final run into Tazewell.
When we rode into Tazewell we were surprised to not find Peter waiting for us. We rode up and down the town (doesn't take long) and no sign of Peter. He had been in front of us, and we agreed that if he had gone down it was quite likely we would have seen evidence along the way. So we waited. And waited. A good 45 minutes later Peter rolled into town – the split that Dave accidentally took for a minute also snagged Peter – who rode for quite a lot longer than a minute on the wrong route. He eventually noticed that he wasn't seeing Tazewell on any of the road signs anymore and turned around. I should note that Dave and I had GPS's with the routes loaded, Peter did not. Reunited we headed to the Painted Peak Brewing Company for a tasty lunch and small samples of some of their brews.
After Tazewell it was off to Burke's Garden – unfortunately we were behind a number of cars (who were behind a truck towing a boat) on the twisty road up the mountain. Once you cross the mountain the valley is quite beautiful – it's like someone took a few square miles of Amish farmland and dropped them inside an old volcano. We enjoyed the short loop around the valley (Virginia's highest) and, after a stop near the river to cool off some, headed back over the switchbacks and out of the Garden.
Some fun riding on 52, 749 and 16 took us back to Sparta. Dinner was once again at the Tap House.
Back of the Dragon
Dave on 16
Lunch at Painted Peak Brewing Company. Stupid that breweries in NJ are not allowed to serve food.
The road to Burke's Garden
Peter on the road to Burke's Garden
Dave on the road to Burke's Garden
Riding in the Garden
Left the luggage behind for the day
As did Peter
These guys were trying to figure out what an Aprilia was
Pretty spot in the Garden
Some cool old cars at the country store and watchtower
Owner of this old beauty was interesting guy to chat with
After a lousy breakfast at the coffee house in the middle of town we began today's "Snake Loop" (provided by Garry) by doing another run on 58 to Damascus. And again there was almost no traffic - this really is a fun, run road. After Damascus we headed south through Cherokee National Forest towards Shady Valley and "The Snake". The plan was to run up and down the Snake on both sides of 133 and return each time to the country store, but some GPS confusion (magnified by the fact that we went without intercoms today) had us only doing the western up-and-back on 421.
At one of the gas stops I was taking out my etymotic earbuds and the left memory foam tip stayed in my ear when the cable came out. No amount of finger pulling could dislodge it, we had to resort to needle-nose pliers. Not fun.
Farther south we turned into Roan Mountain State Park and then onto Heaton Creek Rd, which was a fun super-tiny country road – until it dead-ended into an imposing looking uphill gravel road that, according to the GPS, went nowhere. Figuring the GPS had again tricked us we doubled back to the main road only to have the GPS shortly wanting us to turn onto TN1330, a smooth dirt road. Feeling adventurous we stuck with this one and after a few miles it eventually dumped us out onto the main 226 road again. Further and further south we went on 226, getting hotter and hotter as the temps climbed into the 90's.
Eventually relief was found in Little Switzerland, where we took a switchback-filled rollercoaster road down the mountain. After Little Switzerland (which we probably should have spent some time in, but time was getting short) we headed north again, detouring for an hour or so for the run down and up 181 (Jonas Ridge).
By this point in the day we were getting hot and tired, so instead of following Garry's route we hopped on the parkway for a relaxing ride back to Sparta – we'd even get to ride the Linn Cove Viaduct since we were this far South. Well, that was the plan anyway. We were only on the parkway for a few miles before we got to a "road closed" sign, and had to detour onto Blowing Rock Highway (which was on Garry's original route anyway) behind a string of cars and dump trucks. Not only was the BRP closed at this section, they were repaving Blowing Rock Highway as well. So we sat and sat waiting for our turn on the one-way flagmen-controlled sections, all the while being swarmed by bugs. We were SO ready to be done with the day at this point.
Back on the BRP after a stretch for a chill ride north towards Sparta and dinner. Great roads today, but a long and hot day with GPS confusion, missed roads, detours and construction. Beer was a welcome tonic.
Beautiful old RV, but I would hate to be behind it on 58 to Damascus
Dang she's pretty
On the road to Damascus
Cool tunnel in Cherokee National Forest
On 181, the ride back up Jonas Ridge
Peter looking contemplative
We just want to be done at this point
Finally, back at the hotel
Today would be a repeat (more or less) of the fantastic route Garry laid out for me last year to get from Sparta up to Marietta, OH. Almost no time spent on highways, virtually all of it on great twisty roads. A long day, to be sure, but promised to be a fun day. Temperatures were hotter than they had been so far, climbing well into the 90's during the day. Fortunately there was no rain – the forecast before the trip had been sun for Sparta, then solid rain for days in WV and OH.
After a while on nice empty backroads our first 'big' road of the day was another run on 16 from Marion to Tazewell, aka "Back of the Dragon". We took off individually, like before with Peter first, then Dave, then me, with instructions to meet in Tazewell. Had a fun run on it - but those blind tight right-handers with the rocks right next to you can be nerve-wracking. Somewhere after the split that had caught both guys out last time I noticed another bike behind me for the first time that day. As they got closer I could tell it was Peter's XR. How did that happen? We pulled over at that last overlook and he said he was so careful to not make the same mistake at the split he managed to make another one and went in yet another direction. Fortunately he recognized it quicker this time and rejoined the route.
Peter on the road toward Sugar Grove
The trip north included another run on "Back of the Dragon"
My new desktop wallpaper
The run from Chimney Corner to Gauley Bridge on 60 was great – once I got past the 2 dump trucks holding up traffic. Perfectly clear road after that all the way into town.
At a construction stop a flagman approached me and said "my buddy used to race 'prillers at Daytona!" Nice to see someone who knows what an Aprilia is – usually I get a blank stare when I tell someone what kind of bike it is. Usually after a few seconds I just say "It's Italian" and they smile.
Somewhere near Ivydale WV we had a GPS incident that would ruin the day for one of us. We were heading north on 16 when the GPS route just kind of…stopped. We didn't want to just plug in a direct route to Marietta – still over 100 miles away – because the custom route had been so good all day and we knew there were more fun roads ahead. We pinched and zoomed, recalculated, scrolled and waypointed until we figured this little road just west of us - "Upper 2 Mile Road" would lead us back to the route after a few miles.
Within a hundred yards or so the road turned to gravel, but nicely groomed and not deep at all. I was actually enjoying it! We stopped a couple times to decide if we wanted to keep going or not – we did. Of course the road got worse, and then worse, but we had invested a few miles in it and were loath to turn back – surely it improves soon, right? Then we came to a steep downhill section where the gravel was much deeper – it was easily the scariest off-road thing I've done. We all made it to the bottom of the hill, but we really should not have attempted it. What if the road got even worse? What if there were more of those hills? But no, always the optimist we pressed on. I rode ahead, and after another mile or so I noticed the guys were no longer behind me. I waited for a minute, then another, then turned back and found Dave and Peter on the side of the road.
The front of Dave's RT washed out in a deep gravel section and he had gone down hard on his side. The side cases were scratched badly, turn signal lens smashed and a deep gash in the cylinder head cover. His hip and arm were hurting, and he was badly bruised, but he was OK to ride. His top-shelf KLIM gear had some scuffs but no tears. His head and helmet took a good whack on the road– a new helmet is being ordered. ATGATT baby!
Thankfully the remaining 4 miles of road were just groomed dirt and not a challenge.
The rest of the ride was on good roads and often fun, but our thoughts were mainly with Dave and what the ramifications might be of his drop. He's not as young as he used to be (who is?) and a body slam is no fun at his age. Complicating the issue is the fact that he is on blood thinners and at his age the possibility of a broken hip is daunting.
The next day Dave wisely sat out the ride and got himself over to Urgent Care for x-rays which thankfully showed no fractures. Other than a headache, some nasty bruising and overall soreness there should be no lasting damage.
The beginning of "Upper 2 Mile Road". It got much worse
Still enjoying it. I wish I had taken a picture of the deep gravel downhill but I was too fixated on not crashing the bike
Worst of the fallout on the RT
There had been wicked weather in SE Ohio overnight but the weather in the morning was only cloudy with no rain. Peter and I headed out to explore the "Usual Suspects" in that corner of Ohio, but it didn't take long for us to run into the aftermath of the overnight storms. Roads that were likely a hoot when they were clean were absolutely covered in vegetation debris, dirt, stones, etc. In the course of a half an hour we ran into multiple road crews clearing out downed trees, areas where trees were leaning over the road and we had to scoot under. It was interesting to ride in for a while, but once we found a larger main road that was not running through a forest (564) we took it west to seek better riding.
At Caldwell he connected to 78 and took that east back to the fun area of the route, but coming in from the north this time. We spent the rest of morning and early afternoon going this way and that on various curvy roads – 78, 800, 145, 556 and 256. 256 was a highlight of my last time in the area, but once again construction stymied us as the road was closed near 7 and had several construction zones before that. We did a few miles and turned around. The weather was looking more threatening so we made it an early day.
The damage from the downbursts
Today we would spend some time riding the Hocking Hills area, including the "Triple Nickel", aka OH 555, and then leave the hilly corner of SE Ohio and cruise on over to the other side of the state and Cincinnati.
Didn't take long for Ohio road construction and closures to thwart our route. After a great ride on 555 and 78 we wanted to head north on 216 but that was closed after 8 miles. We ran it anyway, 8 miles of clear road to the closure and back, hoping the GPS would find us some alternative connectors. That was folly – one of the many dirt roads the GPS suggested had a visible water crossing only 10 yards from the start.
We spent a little while on the divided highway of OH 30 towards Logan, and with the weather starting to look iffy we decided to shorten the southern loops we had planned. We did an out-and-back of 328/56/278 that was a lot of fun. 278 has some serious hoop-de-hoo crests!
Heading west after returning to Logan again we did a nice detour through Clear Creek Metro Park and its sandstone cliffs. After that it was an uneventful (if speedy) ride through open farmland west to Mason OH and the end of the fun motorcycling portion of this trip.
Peter and Dave on the empty OH 216
Clear Creek Metro Park
The Hanaway covered bridge in Lancaster, OH
Fun part of ride
Here's an overall map of the trip