XCountry – Pt 2 (2006)

Riding North Along the Appalachians

Map Link

Now I’m where I’m supposed to be – for the most part – and will have time to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak. The following is my trip up the Appalachians, from Deals Gap, NC to Canaan Valley, WV.

When I left my sister’s house Tuesday morning I had essentially one goal in mind: to explore a place called “Deals Gap” in North Carolina. Just about anyone who rides a motorcycle knows of this place, as it is touted as having 312 curves in 11 miles. That’s a lot of curves! I figured that if I was this close to it, I might as well make the three-hour detour to check it out myself. Who knows when I’d be coming through this area again on my motorcycle?

Leaving Franklin I headed east on some secondary roads, getting immediately mixed up near Murfreesboro. I corrected my course, estimated time to cover vs. time to travel and meandered my way closer to the interstate. The original idea for the day was to swing a little further south and ride the Cherolo Skyway across the mountain range and then come back on Deals Gap before heading north. But I could see that time wouldn’t let me play and I opted for the more famous Deals Gap. Fortunately, Tennessee is a beautiful state and I enjoyed the views along this fast stretch of road, all the while trying to gauge the best approach to Route 129, the north end of the Dragon, as it is also known. I turned off the highway and explored some enticing roads that lead through Maryville, eventually taking me to the beginning of the Dragon. There is no sign, but it’s obvious when you’ve reached the Dragon. Suddenly there’s no view and no time to miss it. The road bends back and forth, following the natural contours of the landscape as it rises and falls. It is easy to imagine that this route was originally a wagon path, and an Indian path before that, and a game trail before that. It was mid morning on a Tuesday and I expected to see a few bikes on the road with me, but not the multitudes that are reputed to clog the pavement on the weekends. I waved at bikers at they went by, but quickly gave up as both the number of bikes and the number of curves increased. As I was 3,000 miles from home, traveling alone, I took no chances here. I rode at a casual pace, wanting to feel the bike lean into the corners but not wanting to be surprised by any of the dangers that are known on this road. Despite the Gap’s winding route, semis are knows to traverse its length, cutting far into the opposite lane as they attempt to navigate the curves. Even other bikes have been known to take a corner wide and encroach into another’s lane. I rode my own ride and enjoyed myself, although I was always conscious of any bikes coming up behind me that might want to pass, but none did. I was surprised when I came around a corner to find two cruisers before me. I didn’t expect anyone to be going slower than I! I followed them for a while, hoping that they would see me, move over in their lane and wave me by. But no such luck. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I took the initiative on what must have been the only straight bit of pavement and passed the rear bike. There was no room to pass both, so I rudely stuffed myself between the two of them. A short while later I found a place to pass the lead bike as well. I felt bad for passing them as I did, but not bad enough not to do it.

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Packed and ready to go

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Eastern Tennessee views

At the “end” of the Dragon is a resort (Tail of the Dragon) where just about everyone stops. There are rooms to rent, food to eat and souvenirs to buy. I bought a sticker, asked someone to take my picture and then looked at the map to continue my journey. I wanted to follow the Blue Ridge Parkway north for as long as I could, but time was once again my enemy. Tonight I was to share a campsite with another STN friend at mile 239 on the Parkway. I was at mile 0. So I cheated and took main roads as far as Asheville before hopping on the to the BRP. This would at least give me a chance of getting to the campground before dark.

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Now that’s a big leaf!

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Deals Gap

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Nice curves

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The straightest stretch

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Nice pavement and camber

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I beat the Dragon!

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Mist rises in North Carolina

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North Carolina roads

The Blue Ridge Parkway is interesting in that it is a winding, limited access road that follows the ridge line of the Appalachians. The highest points are at the southern end and it gradually flattens out as you head north. I didn’t know any of this. The clouds had moved in and limited scenic visibility so I was hesitant to stop and take pictures. I consoled myself by promising to stop in the morning, when I had dawn’s fresh light to give me great photographic opportunities. In the meantime, I enjoyed the close scenery of rhododendron bushes, dogwood trees and the close cut rocks along the sides of the road. I reached the BRP’s highest peak in a cloudy soup with no reason to stop because even the visitor’s center was closed, it being well after 5pm. I kept going. The speed limit here is generally 40mph, an almost stifling pace if you’re on two wheels and trying to get somewhere. I bumped it up where I could, and passed cars as politely as possible, but the little white mile markers along the side of the road went by almost painfully slow. My bum was still sore from the heat of Kansas, and while a day off the bike did help, this day did not. I was ready to kick back and visit with Jean-Francois next to a nice campfire.

The sun, wherever it was, was setting and the light was getting weaker. There were no other cars on the Parkway, the curves had given up their vigor and I was cruising along at 45 – 50mph. That’s when the first doe ran in front of me. She was far enough ahead that there was no fear of collision, but she startled me by running out of the bushes at full bore and across the road. I sat up a bit in surprise and instinctively rolled off the throttle until I realized that she was no threat. It would be business as usual. That’s when the second doe ran out. This one was closer, and I was already getting back on the gas. Some quick subconscious mental calculations somehow led me to chose to keep going rather than try and stop. I pinned the throttle, leaned into the bike and wondered what the outcome would be. A solid “thump” came from the back of the bike as the doe hit my side bag and pushed the entire rear end about 8″ to one side. The bike remained upright and stable and as I checked the mirror I could see the doe was recovering her stride to continue her suicidal tendencies elsewhere. I kept riding, thinking some mundane thought like “that was close” while hoping that I didn’t see any more deer.

I did see other deer, but they were placid and had no interest in killing themselves at this time. It was a short time later that I found the entrance to the campground, found Jean-Francois’ note of which site he was at and I parked my bike next to his. I set up my tent just before dark and we spent the next few hours catching up with each other and playing with the campfire.

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A cloud-shrouded campsite

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They’ll let anyone drive in Virginia!

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Ah – look at the view!

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Slow going on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The next morning I lay comfortably in my tent, listening to the sound of fat drops of water hitting my tent. I hate packing up a wet camp. But it wasn’t rain I was hearing; it was the heavy fog rolling off saturated leaves above me. I peered out the front of my tent and saw about 40′ before it faded into white oblivion. Well, at least it wasn’t raining. Jean-Francois and I got up, packed up camp and headed out in different directions, to meet up that night for the STN Meet. I continued north on the BRP, my previous day’s hopes of glorious morning sunshine dampened by the heavy fog. I wend my way slowly along until the road elevation fell and I found myself out of the clouds. The new goal for the day was to take the BRP all the way to its northern end, but I could see that once again I would be cheated. I needed to be in Canaan Valley by 4pm and the BRP is NOT the way to make time. I jumped off at Mt Airy, NC to get gas and breakfast, eating at a cozy little dinner whose name escapes me. I studied the map for a while; looking at roads I really wanted to take, versus the roads I knew I’d have to take. I found the nearest interstate and took it. At Beckley, WV I stopped at the Visitor’s center to pick up a local map and get an idea of time travel to my destination. She said that I could take interstates 84 and 79 and be there in 4 hours, or I could follow the much more interesting Route 219 but it would take 6 hours. I had four hours.

Insult was added to injury in that the interstate I was now forced to take was also a toll road. Mind you, the $1.25 wasn’t going to break the bank, but the effort of taking off the gloves, fishing for change, putting the gloves back on, all the while cars waited behind me (and I took my time, of course) made me unhappy. And they charge the same for a motorcycle as they do a car. The inhumanity of it all! I finally got off the main interstates and was now within spitting distance of Canaan Valley. I pulled off the road for one more tank of gas before continuing – on the wrong road. Yes, despite GPS and paper maps, I still managed to get on the wrong road 30 miles from my destination. Fortunately my gut instinct kicked in and I stopped to actually compare town names I had been passing to the map that was in front of me. When I made my u-turn I happened to glance down at my odometer: 50,000 exactly. My bike was finally broken in!

Once I knew where I was going I had a grand time making up lost time. I passed cars with reckless abandon and raced through corners like Rossi. Sort of. I finally reached the resort, hoped that the miles-long entrance driveway was the right one and was rewarded for my efforts with welcoming cheers from my STN friends, all gathered in front of the resort waiting for me. It was 4:07.

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Finally a bit of a view

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More views from the Blue Ridge Parkway

It was a mad frenzy to get the registration set up, people informed, and prizes set up. Tonight would be the “big night”, with the buffet, prize giveaway and t-shirt distribution. Tomorrow would be full of individual and group rides, with informal dinner plans the next night before people headed back to their own lives. The dinner was tasty, there were many jokes and laughter during the prize distribution and we had what were probably the best-designed shirts ever created to wear proudly.

True to form, I needed a new rear tire while at the Meet. I wanted to get one before getting out into the Midwest and fortunately there was a shop less than 30 miles from Canaan Valley. I called them up, made arrangements to have it mounted the next morning and proceeded to enjoy a short ride around the area with some other STNers. The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the resort, with a quick dip in the hot tub just because I could. Dinner was disorganized, as was expected, but still enjoyable. We spent the rest of the evening standing around our bikes, discussing modifications, rides, gear… and even non-bike related topics. I excused myself at 9:30, knowing that it would take about an hour to say good-bye to everyone (which it did) and wanting time to pack up some things before getting a good night’s sleep. I left dozens of people talking outside my door and I fell asleep to the comforting murmur of casual conversations.

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STNers doing what they do (second) best

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What’s a party without beer?

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Chili imbibes

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Chili goes a little too far

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Bike parking only at Canaan Valley

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Would you trust this guy to fix your bike?

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Breakfast in Davis, WV

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A local wind farm – and up close

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The trucks give a good sense of scale

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Wind farm with a view

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West Virginia back road

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Geology 101

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River shot

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Bucolic farm setting

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How much horsepower does that equate to?

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A well-packed bike

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Who knew Nikwax cleans off burnt beer?

I finished packing up the GS first thing in the morning in order to not be late for my 9:30 tire appointment. Another rider, Dave, rode down to the shop with me, as he wanted something looked at on his bike as well. It was a great ride to the shop, although the morning deer were still active. The tire change didn’t take long at all, Dave’s bike was looked at, discussed and tinkered with and then we were off. We rode together for a little bit, heading north on Route 250 before stopping for breakfast at a place with the tempting name of the Dutchman’s Daughter. I asked for orange juice, but they didn’t serve juices. So I asked for toast and eggs, but they didn’t serve breakfast. So I asked for soup and a salad, croutons in the salad please, but they didn’t serve croutons. Good grief! So after an ok lunch Dave and I split ways, with me heading east to Ohio to meet up with my other sister, Jennifer, and Dave heading east to check out Gettysburg, PA.. I chose Route 20 which looked fairly direct but remote. It surprised my by starting out near a massive coal plant, complete with huge cooling towers and a depressed town. Lumberport, population 937, which judging from an aerial photo I found, has a huge mining operation in its back yard.

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Covered bridge near Philippi, WV

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Inside the bridge

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Railroad trestle in WV

After an hour of enjoyable curves I came out at the other end of Route 20 at the Ohio River. On my map was a note that there was a toll ferry just a couple of miles down the road, and being one who can’t resist a good ferry, I sought it out. It’s the historic Sistersville ferry, in service since 1817 and is the only ferry that crosses the Ohio River between West Virginia and Ohio. The toll was $2 and I was the only passenger. As I wandered around the deck for the 10-minute crossing I heard a voice calling to me. The captain was up in his pilothouse and was inviting me to come up. I was pleasantly surprised and climbed up the ladder to his small wheelhouse, where he invited me to have a seat so he could take my picture. Unfortunately, I found out later that he didn’t actually take the pictures, but I still have the memory of Joe Frye, river ferry captain. The ferry was of a design I hadn’t seen before. Usually the wheelhouse is fixed to the side of the ferry and just goes forward or backward. But this wheelhouse was fixed on a pivot at the center of the side of the ferry. When it reached the dock, the entire wheelhouse would swing around on the pivot, putting the boat in position to drive forward back across the river. It was very ingenious.

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Looking across the Ohio River from Sistersville

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Incoming ferry

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Watching the landing

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My bike is the only vehicle on it

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Joe Fry, ferry captain

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Wheelhouse pivot system used by this ferry

Once across the river I stopped at Becky’s Fly Spot, right at the end of the dock. Other than an abandoned house and a couple of other unidentifiable structures there wasn’t much else to chose from. Becky herself was behind the counter to instruct me where the washroom was, and conveniently disappeared when I came back in to buy something to drink. I picked out what I wanted, left more than enough money on the counter and wandered around the store. A couple of gas-customers had come in and were also wondering where Becky was. She finally came out from the back room and quickly took care of the waiting crowd. I hung around, looking at various pictures hanging on the walls, showing the ferry from the 1920s, full of quaint cars. Becky saw my interest and talked to me a little bit about the ferry, offering up some postcards for me to send along.

I had checked my maps while waiting for Becky and had chosen a direct (but not too direct) route to get me on my way to my sister’s house in Frazeysburg, OH. The clock was once again against me and I knew that in order to make it in time for dinner I’d have to forego some tasty roads. The roads that I did choose went well as an appetizer, showing me some wonderful architecture and barn paintings. Fields were ripe with hay and the corn was slowly coming out of the ground. I had the roads to myself, with little traffic to take away from the solitude of the farmland I was passing through. There wasn’t anything challenging about this stretch that left me plenty of time to consider this history of the area and what changes had come about in the last 100 years.

Meeting up with I-77 was a disappointment. It was hot, the road had nothing to hold my interest and I knew that this would be the last of the interesting roads for a while. I trudged along at 75mph (if you can trudge that quickly), connecting to I-70 and making my way west for dinner. Fortunately my sister had given me updated directions, as it had been many years since I had been in this area and new roads had been added and changed. But once I got onto the unpaved back roads that led to her house, I was in familiar territory. I arrived just in time for dinner, and her family was there to greet me. I parked my bike near the barn and settled in for a nice visit with everyone.

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Jen’s house in Ohio

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The barn

The next morning Jen, Maggie (my niece) and I went for a short horseback ride, which I haven’t done for years! Unfortunately, the sore bum didn’t help matters when it came time for trotting through the peaceful countryside. What I normally relish had now come to discomfort and I was wishing only to head back to the barn. It was only a couple of hours before we did return, and then it was a mad dash to pack up the kids, my bike and the car for our trip to Oglebay, WV, where we would meet up with the rest of our family for a brief “reunion” of sorts. Paul (her husband) and I would ride our bikes along some back roads with him showing me the local sights and Jen and the kids would follow along later in the car. Paul and I left the house and after a quick fuel stop in Dresden he took me on some comfortable back roads through more farmland and forests. The air was still cool, but not for long. We came to Zanesville, which is home to the only “Y” bridge in the country. It crossed the Muskingum and Licking rivers, with an intersection at the junction of the rivers. Once we had ridden over it and then taken pictures from a park on a hillside, Paul took me on an unsuccessful search for a very long covered bridge. Despite asking around, no one seemed to know where this bridge was. Never daunted, Paul then took me to see an “S” bridge. Apparently the builders figured that instead of trying to make a longer bridge over an angled stream then would merely “bend” the approaches so that the main arch was a short as possible when spanning the stream. This lead to a slight “S” shape to the bridge structure. We toyed with the idea of me riding my bike across it, but quite frankly it was just too hot to care that much about a picture. Instead we got back on the bikes and headed directly for the interstate, trying to make up time lost in our explorations.

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“Y” Bridge in Zanesville – the only one of its kind

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Zanesville, OH

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“S” Bridge – there are only a few left in Ohio

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Top-side view

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Looking along the side

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Brick work for the curvature of the bridge

Arriving at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, WV, I was surprised at the size of the resort. What I thought would be an easy location to find led Paul and I riding around for 10 minutes. Eventually we found Jen and the kids waiting for us, and Mom and Dad joined us shortly after that. A fairly large cabin had been rented for the week and we unpacked our vehicles to settle in. The next three days were spent at the pool, the golf course, walking the trails, playing games and just relaxing with family members I hadn’t seen for months. My brother, his wife and son came down for a day as well, and it was great to see them. My brother has a secret passion to ride a motorcycle across the country and I helped fuel that desire with a ride on the back of my bike. I think he enjoyed it.

On Tuesday morning it was time for me to leave. I had a lot of miles to cover and had made more arrangements to stay with an STNer in Madison, WI on Tuesday night. Monday night I packed up the bike and promised myself that I’d get up early for a solid day’s ride. My family all insisted that I wake them up before I go, which I did at 6:30 am. I don’t think that any of them were ready to get up that early. My parents were impressed as they watched me put my gear on, hopefully making mom feel better about my riding. I got on the bike, waved goodbye and took off into the sunrise, so to speak.

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Our cabin for the week

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Dave, Dad and Michael head out for a round of golf

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Mom and Dad team up in Scrabble

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Dad checks out the GS

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Clouds in Oglebay

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Forest rat, living an easy life in Oglebay

Return to Part I
Continue to Part III

Tell me what you think! I want to know!