Illinois to West Virginia
For many years, I have thought about taking a long motorcycle ride when I retired. Well, the time has finally come. My teaching schedule for the summer has most students on Mondays. Since many were going to be gone or busy over July 4th, I was going to skip a week of lessons anyway. Spencer is in summer school getting classes out the way so he can have more selection of classes later in school, and Beth is taking classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, so they won’t miss me at all.
Where should I go? I’ve often joked about riding off into the sunset, but I really don’t want to go west from here. It’s a LOOOONNNNGGGG boring ride across Missouri and Kansas to get to the Rockies, and I only have about 10 days. How about going to some of the best motorcycle roads and scenery right in my old backyard – West Virginia!! We are talking hundreds (Thousands?!) of miles of twisty roads, the kind that make bikers drool. Add to that remarkable scenery, reasonable prices, and friendly people, and the decision has been made.
How to get from my home (20 miles east of St Louis) to West Virginia is the second question. Since I really want to spend as much time as I can in the mountain state, I will break my normal rule of avoiding the interstate. I-64 passes just 3 miles from our home, and my computer trip program tells me it’s 435 miles to Huntington. I want to stop to see some friends in Logan, WV, so the first day will be about 500 mostly-interstate miles. Boring, but I get to West Virginia quickly. Even with long breaks to walk and stretch, if I leave here at 4:00 am (I’m a notorious earlybird), I should be there by suppertime.
My bike, a 1993 Honda 750 Nighthawk, is equipped with a fairing (windshield) and saddlebags, but it is not one of the fancy touring bikes with TV sets and refrigerators like you often see on the interstates. It’s more of a mid-size “standard” bike. So, 500 miles is a long day, but not extreme.
My original plan had me coming in through the southern part of the state near Logan and circling around through the eastern part of the state first, riding the mountains for several days. I would have ended up in Clarksburg to visit my parents when they returned from their vacation on about Friday. As it turns out, they returned early, so I planned to visit Clarksburg first (after stopping overnight in Logan), then end my trip with 2-3 days riding in the mountains.
All loaded and ready to go!
Day 1 Illinois to Logan, West Virginia
Approaching from the southwest, I entered WV
just about 50 miles from my destination of Logan.
Being the early riser that I am, I awoke at 3:30 am and had breakfast. After double-checking the bike and saying good-byes, I was on the road at 4:15 am. Since it had been in the 90s for several weeks, I was dressed for hot weather (my long-sleeve, lightweight T-shirt and leather jacket). However, I found myself stopping less than a mile from the house to put on a sweatshirt under the jacket. It felt good to be cool. That’s one nice thing about traveling at night in the summer!
The traffic was very light at 4:15 am. I usually avoid the interstates (boring!) but I wanted to cover a lot of ground today. I-64 was almost deserted. It was interesting that the first vehicle I saw was another motorcyclist about ¼ mile ahead on me as I got on the interstate. I only saw about 20-25 cars on my side of the road the entire 100 miles to the Indiana border, which I crossed at 6:00 am. I am on my way!
It was nice to see night turn to morning as the sun came up at the Indiana border. It looked like clear skies ahead, and there was almost no wind. Perfect! A couple of quick gas stops put me into Louisville, Kentucky by 9:00 am. By then, traffic had picked up, and this was probably the busiest road on the entire trip. After getting through Lexington (60 miles east of Louisville), I stopped for gas and lunch – and a much-needed 45-minute break. By noon, I was back on the road and was on the Kentucky Mountain Parkway by 1:00. The Mountain Parkway starts just east of Lexington and extends about 75 miles southeast through the rolling hills.
Kentucky – Mountain Parkway
The first 40 miles is 4-lane with enough curves to keep it interesting. The last 35 miles or so is 2-lane, with mostly gentle curves. It was on the Mountain Parkway that I ran into my first rain. It only lasted about 15 miles, and then the sun came out and dried me off by the time I got to West Virginia.
After the Mountain Parkway ends near Pikeville, KY, I looked for Rt 119 which goes up into WV. There is a lot of construction going on as Rt 119 becomes a major 4-lane corridor between the two states.
I’m back in West Virginia. This is the first time I have ridden
a motorcycle in WV for over 20 years.
Logan, West Virginia -- a truly friendly town.
Destination: Logan WV, located in the southwestern corner of WV.
It is surrounded by beautiful mountains, which are even
more captivating in the fog.
From left to right: Me, Eddie Eiland (local saxophonist in the band), Liz Spurlock, Don Elkins and Elnora Elkins (who own and operate Don Elkins Music Store in Logan and were also both in the Annie band with me in 1984).
Logan is home to the Aracoma Story and the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater. Named after one of the biggest supporters and organizers of the arts in this area, the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater hosts 2 outdoor productions each summer – the Aracoma Story (based on the Shawnee Indians of the area) and a different musical each summer. This year, the theater was performing The Wizard of Oz. I worked here as musical director in 1984 when the theater performed Annie. Several of the folks I worked with treated me to a great dinner and then we watched The Wizard of Oz.
The orchestra pit of the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater, where I spent
the summer of '84 as Music Director/Conductor/Pianist of "Annie".
A view from the seats. What a beautiful setting.
We're off to see the Wizard, and I'm off early tomorrow to see the rest of West Virginia.
For more information, check out the Aracoma Story website:
I awoke at 6:00 am on Wednesday, packed and stopped for a quick Egg McMuffin before heading out of Logan. I was planning to go see Brian Cameon, a high school buddy who is teaching at a boys' school in a remote part of WV near Charleston. The school is for high-school boys who have had discipline problems and would probably drop out of school if given the opportunity. I was going to stop by there then head northeast to Petersburg. However, as you will see, plans can change.
Heading southeast out of Logan on Rt 10, I quickly re-discovered why West Virginia is
so popular among motorcyclists from all over the country.
Rt 85 near Oceana.
Hmmm…., based on the condition of the sign, I think I'll pass on this restaurant.
A common sight around southern West Virginia - coal mines.
Kanawha Falls, just south-east of Charleston on Rt. 60.
I stopped for lunch at a pizza shop in Gauley Bridge. As I sat looking
out across the street at the local Senior Center, I saw several
folks looking across at the bike and probably wishing they had
done what I'm doing this week when they were younger.
Continuing out Rt 60 eastbound, I stopped at Hawk's Nest State Park
for a nice overlook of the Kanawha River. Rt 60 between Chimney Corner and this
overlook is a rollercoaster bike ride -- lots of 15 MPH corners. Sorry, but there
was not a safe place to pull off and get pictures.
Next stop was the New River Gorge Bridge.
Arching gracefully across the New River, the bridge has the world's 2nd longest single arch steel span.
At 876 feet above the New River, it is the second highest bridge in this country. Only the
Royal Gorge Bridge over the Arkansas River in Colorado is higher.
For more information: http://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/nrgbridge.htm
I had planned to head northeast to spend the night in Petersburg WV. However, I received a call from my parents, who had just returned from their vacation in Maine a few days early. So, I decided to stop briefly to see my friend Brian at the Joshua Scott Boarding School.
It's a steep, rough road to get into the camp. I started down and felt like I was riding on marbles,
so I slowly turned around and parked at the top of the hill. Brian gave me a ride down in his Jeep.
This is the smooth section of road.
Brian's cottage is the one in the middle. The church refurbished it quite nicely.
The students live in a large cottage to the right, and there is also a large school/dining room cottage.
The students at the school all have chores and responsibilities, including taking
care of some animals and working in this huge garden.
For more information: http://www.jsboardingschool.com/contact.shtml
After visiting with Brian a while, I was off for Clarksburg (120 miles north) to see my parents. But first, I had to make a slight detour to the town of Looneyville. Yes, there is such a place, and I wanted my picture by the city sign. However, there was no sign to be found. Maybe if you look long enough for it, you WILL end up in Looneyville. Oh well, one hour wasted.
I pulled into Clarksburg at about 8:00 pm, and Mom was making a big plate of spaghetti with Minards’ sauce and meatballs. Minards is an Italian restaurant that has been a popular spot in Clarksburg for over 50 years. What a good way to end a fun day’s riding.
Fun Ride Clarksburg to Petersburg
I had planned on this being a day of rest, after riding over 880 miles the past 2 days. However, the weather forecast said today was supposed to be beautiful, and tomorrow it would rain. Hmmm. I decided to take my Day 4 trip a day early and rest on Day 4 instead. I wanted to ride the route from Clarksburg to Petersburg, the way we used to drive to my grandparents’ farm a thousand times since I was a baby. The first part of the trip (60 miles) goes from Clarksburg – Philippi – Belington – Elkins on a nice 2-lane road. The next part (35 miles) crosses several mountains in the 3,000-3,500 foot range. The first 6-8 miles is now a 4-lane (although a fun one!), and the rest runs the extremes of gentle turns to 25mph hairpins and 10% grades. This section (Rt 33 from Elkins to Seneca Rocks) is one of the finest motorcycle roads in WV. The last section, 22 miles from Seneca Rocks to Petersburg and 8 miles past, is a very good 2-lane with lots of medium-speed curves and great scenery.
Here we go!
This is Rt 33 eastbound coming out of Elkins and up into the mountains.
For a 4-lane, it's a pretty enjoyable ride. Luckily, it changes back to
a nice 2-lane after about 6 - 8 miles. Scenery is A+.
I can remember passing this old cave (limestone?) since
I was a wee lad on the way to my grandparents' farm.
The last mountain before Seneca Rocks is the Allegheny Mt. (Rt 33)
The next picture was taken about 1/4 mile ahead looking back this way.
This is on Rt 33 at the top, facing back to the west.
Rt 33 eastbound before Onego. Great riding road, great scenery.
Civilization (sort of). Harper’s Old Country Store is located at
Seneca Rocks and the Junction with Rt 55/28.
The old Honda looks good, eh? Fill up with gas and ride on!
I had to stop to see Seneca Rocks. We used to bring my grandparents here for Sunday picnics, and I will always remember passing the rocks on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s when I was a kid. Lots of good memories here. I have written in my will that I want my ashes spread from the top of the rocks, where Beth, Spencer and I have climbed twice.
Inside the Seneca Rocks Visitor's Center.
My grandparents would sit here for hours watching the climbers way up on the rocks.
For more information: http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/mnf/sp/senrcks_txt.html
After Seneca Rocks, it was up Rt 55/28 North to Petersburg.
Destination: My grandparents’ farm, 8 miles south of Petersburg. They both passed away over
15 years ago, but my parents still keep up the house and spend quite a bit of time here.
The old house. Built almost 100 years ago. There used to be several sheds, corn cribs, chicken houses,
an outhouse, a cellar, and 3 or 4 gardens. Now, it's just one big yard surrounding the house.
When I used to spend my summers back here when I was a kid, I would sit out here on the porch with my grandparents in the evening and watch the bats fly around the evening sky. We had no television or phone at the time, so we knew how to carry on a conversation for entertainment. Now, the deer come out of the woods and eat apples that have fallen off the trees. It’s common to see deer less than 100 feet from the house.
The old water pump in the back yard. With no running water, we pumped all we needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, washing dishes, etc. etc. The outhouse (torn down a few years ago) was just down the hill to the left. My parents finally had running water put in when the county pipeline made it down Rt 220 past the farm a few years ago.
I can still remember my grandma pumping water as I rinsed shampoo off my hair while holding my head under the nozzle.
As I had done hundreds of times before, I walked up the mountain road. This time, though, it was to visit their cemetery in the woods. I really miss them both, and cannot walk this road without thinking of the times we all walked it together.
Here is a home-made-with-tape panorama of what the farm looked like back in the '70s.
This picture was taken from the hill behind the house, looking out toward the road.
My grandparents: Herb and Mernie Alt - taken in the '70s.
After resting a bit in the shade of the porch, I was on my way again.
This is Rt 220 about 10 miles south of our farm.
It’s a great ride for 22 miles to Franklin.
One road I HAD to ride was Rt 33 from Franklin west to Judy Gap. This extremely curvy and steep road crosses over into Germany Valley, seen in the background. When I came back up here on my way home Sunday, there were several bikers gathered here.
The sign reads: "In Germany Valley is the site of Hinkle's Fort built in 1761-1762. It was the only
defense of the South Branch after Fort Upper Tract and Fort Seybert were
destroyed by Shawnee Indians under Killbuck April 27-28, 1756.
Rt 33 through Germany Valley is one hairpin curve after another,
with a 10% grade thrown in for fun!! Who needs Deal's Gap?
On my way back over the mountains from Seneca Rocks to Elkins, I stopped for this photo by a county road that goes up to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state (4861 feet).
The ride home was fun but uneventful until I got to the Philippi covered bridge. When I got to the bridge, it was clouding up. When I came out the other side, it was pouring the rain down. I had rain for about 15 miles, then the sun came out and I dried off by the time I got back to Clarksburg.
A VERY fun day’s ride! As good as it gets.
God is good!
Visiting Friends and Sightseeing
I spent several days visiting friends and going back to see my old hangouts.
I drove out to see Betty McWhorter on Friday afternoon. She was my organ teacher when I was in high school. She is a fantastic organist, and was organist at the First Methodist Church in Clarksburg for about 30 years. The Casavant pipe organ there is the 2nd largest in the state. Talk about a world traveler, she was one of the first Americans to travel through China in the 1970s. Mrs. McWhorter now lives in a senior's independent living center, and even though she is in her 90s, still stays active and travels.
Morgantown - West Virginia University. Here’s a view of Cheat Lake from the old bridge. I used to swim out to the concrete “islands” and climb up onto the beams under the interstate bridge, then dive 40+ feet into the lake. Crazy college kid! I spent a lot (too much, some would say) of time during my college years out here at Cheat Lake. I would often swim across the lake, or would dive off the underside of the Interstate bridge and swim the half mile over to the old bridge. People said I was crazy!
The Creative Arts Center at West Virginia University, where I spent a lot of time trying to learn how to play the piano (when I wasn't out at Cheat Lake diving off the bridge!). I used to park my motorcycle under the canopy, but I didn't want to risk a ticket today.
This brought a tear to my eyes – the Frontier Bakery. When I lived in Morgantown (1976-1983), there were 3 old Italian ladies who operated a bakery out of their basement. These ladies were like 3 grandmothers to me, often slipping homemade cookies or some other goodies into my bag. They never advertised – just a small wooden sign up in the window. Strictly word-of-mouth. The Frontier Bakery didn’t make doughnuts, they made GREAT sandwiches on homemade Italian bread. THICK Italian bread. Oh my goodness – they had meatball sandwiches and ham/cheese sandwiches (and about 5 others) that were 3-4 inches thick and 6-8 inches across, and they cost less than $2.00. They were SO BIG and SO GOOD! The ladies would fix them up and put them in the big toasting oven for about 5 minutes so they came out hot. I ate there at least 5 days a week for several years. Now, the building is deserted, and I’m sure the ladies have passed away. Lots of very good memories here!!
I also visited with Imogene Foster, who lived next door to me with her husband and 2 small boys when I was in school. Now, her 2 small boys are both grown and married. Makes me feel old. Her husband, Roger, who was out of town the day I visited, also had a motorcycle years ago and used to ride with me over to see my grandparents at Petersburg.
When I got back to Clarksburg, my parents and I headed out to USA Steak Buffet and made total gluttons out of ourselves, eating several steaks, salads, and way too much dessert.
That evening, it was time to pack and get ready for Day 6, the start of riding back to Illinois. I would actually start by heading east out of Clarksburg for about 60-70 miles, then heading south along the West Virginia and Virginia border for about 200 miles of curvy mountain roads.
I double checked the bike, and filled up with gas. Ready to roll.
Day 6 - Clarksburg to Logan
Route started in north-central WV and moved clockwise southward to Logan.
I originally planned to ride about 275 miles today and stop in Lewisburg WV, but again my plans changed. I had seen many of the places I planned to visit during my ride in this area on Day 3, and some of the places were closed for the July 4th weekend. Even with a detour to ride Germany Valley/Judy Gap again, I found myself at Lewisburg shortly after lunch. Not one to just sit around, I called ahead to Logan and made a dinner date with my old friend Liz Spurlock. Just 170 more miles to go – should be easy. Right? Read on.
Rt 50 eastbound from Clarksburg.
Nothing like the boring Rt 50 in Illinois.
It’s like this for 30 miles from Grafton to the Maryland border.
Look out for that 15mph hairpin curve. Whoo-hoo!
Yep, I'm still in West Virginia.
OK, OK, I'm really in Maryland for about 10 miles as I turn off Rt 50 at
Redhouse and start south on Rt 219. Still, almost as nice as WV.
I followed Rt 219 South through Thomas, Davis, and on to Harmon WV, a beautiful and very fun ride of about 50 miles. The road was mostly high-speed sweepers (curvy, but you don’t have to slow down much, if any) and ran through the scenic Canaan Valley. Excellent motorcycle route.
From Harmon, I once again passed over the mountains to Seneca Rocks (see Day 3). Since this was a familiar road (and a great biking road!!), I decided twice was OK. From Seneca Rocks, I headed south on Rt 33 to Judy Gap. Before heading south on Rt 28, though, I made a quick run up the mountain from Judy Gap to the overlook of Germany Valley on Rt 33. (Again, see Day 3). This time, though, I was not alone at the overlook.
When I got to the Germany Valley overlook, a gentleman named Paul Mihalka from near
Baltimore was riding his nice BMW 1150-R Boxer Twin. He is a BMW salesman at
Rochville Harley-Davidson/BMW/Yamaha/Ducati in Gaithersburg MD.
He has ridden out near St Louis to some of the places I ride to,
including Hermann MO. Small world.
I made a quick stop at Green Bank to see the radio telescopes.
However, I had a lot of miles to cover, so I skipped the tour.
About 5 miles past the main facility at Green Bank Observatory, you can
see one of the large dishes just to the right of the barn.
For size consideration, remember the dish is about 5 miles away.
For more information: http://www.nrao.edu/
After turning west on Rt 66 (state route, not the famous one out west), I was quickly in Cass WV, home of the famous Cass Railroad. This old steam engine takes passengers up the mountain to a very scenic overlook. Definitely worth taking the trip if you have a couple of hours to spare. I did not this time.
For more information: http://www.cassrailroad.com/
From Cass, I followed Rt 66 west for about 15 very fun miles through some good twisties. For you non-bikers, twisties are tight curves you DO have to slow down for, as opposed to sweepers. Rt 66 from Cass to Snowshoe is a definite “must ride” if you are in the area.
A little West Virginia roadside humor. (It's a fake person)
South of Marlinton, Rt 219 starts to straighten out and become less interesting.
Once I passed Peterstown WV (just on the Virginia border in southern WV), I was on Rt 460 West. This fun 4-lane runs along the WV and VA border for about 20 scenic miles. Yes, I can tell I’m still in West Virginia by the sign.
After passing through Bluefield, I start north/west on Rt 52 through Welch and on towards Logan. If you ever saw the movie “October Sky”, the Rocket Boys lived in Coalwood, which is near Welch. I thought about stopping there, but it was pouring the rain down and I still had over 75 miles of twisty road to go. Anyway, they filmed the movie in Tennessee, so I hear.
I hit hard rain for about 30-40 miles through Welch and north almost to Logan. Along the way, I ran into (figuratively speaking, of course) a rock slide where mud and rocks covered the road just around a blind right-hand corner. Lucky for me, a man flashed his lights to warn me so I had plenty of time to slow down and prepare. Again, God is good! Just 5 miles up the road, another car flashed its lights, and shortly I found a large tree across both lanes. There was just enough space for a bike to get through. These 30-40 miles took over an hour and a half, due to slow traffic and bad weather. The road would have been a lot of fun in good weather. Oh well.
About 15 miles from Logan, the sun came out and I actually was almost dry when I pulled up to the hotel at 6:00pm. It was a long day, 422 miles of twisty roads and some rain, but a very good ride.
My friend Liz Spurlock and I went out to Bob Evans for a big dinner and to catch up on 21 years of news. Liz is an interesting person and fun to be with. If you’re ever in Logan and go to see the Aracoma Story, tell her I said “Hi”.
I hit the bed about 10:00pm and slept like a baby until 4:30am.
Day 7 - Logan WV to Illinois
I awoke at 4:30am and decided to get an early start before the holiday traffic and heat. After a quick shower, I packed my stuff and headed over to McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin (my favorite road food) and OJ. I had planned to only go to Ft Knox, KY (halfway home) today, but the weather forecast showed it clear all the way through Kentucky, Indiana, and only raining in Illinois late in the evening. I figured I would be home by 4:00pm, so I would beat most of the rain.
By 5:45am, I was fueled and fed and on the road.
Rt 119 south out of Logan to the Kentucky border.
I love the early morning!
Shortly after this, I was back on the Kentucky Mountain Parkway.
This time, there was no rain, and very little traffic. Nice!!
By 10:00am, I had passed Ft Knox, KY (my original stopping point for the day) and was across the border into Indiana. The fun roads were quickly disappearing in my rear view mirrors.
The view for the next 300 miles is pretty much the same.
As I neared home (only 23 miles to my exit), the sky suddenly turned BLACK and I saw several bolts of lightning ahead. Lightning and motorcycles don’t mix, so I got off the next exit and ducked under the canopy of a Shell gas station. Within 2-3 minutes, the strong winds and heavy rain hit. I had a perfect spot on the back (east side) of the station, so I was blocked from almost all of the storm. I just bought a soda and sat on the little picnic table and watched it storm for about 30 minutes. Then the sun came out and I headed home. All was not over, though.
Just a couple of miles before my exit, the sky turned black AGAIN! Oh well, I figured I’m only about 7 miles from home, so I can get home before the worst of it hits. As it turns out, I was right (for once!), but only by a few minutes.
This is the scene when I parked my bike in the garage. Just moments later, the tornado sirens went off. We had very strong winds and heavy rain for over 30 minutes. The next day, we found out a tornado touched down less than 5 miles from our house. That was too close!
Well, I’ve looked forward to this ride for many years, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was an exciting 7 days, and I got to see a lot of friends and familiar places. Riding a motorcycle in West Virginia is like surfing in Hawaii. The two just go together.
My Honda 750 Nighthawk was a great ride. It goes to show you don’t need a ½-ton Winnebago-Wing touring motorcycle with television and refrigerator to ride cross country. Yes, my saddle got sore after a long day’s ride, but that’s part of the adventure, isn’t it?
I hope you enjoyed the travelogue. If you are a biker, I would highly recommend West Virginia as a place to explore. Plan on spending several days, at least. Ride safe!