Retirement Ride II
Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
The V-Strom, all loaded and ready to go.
Oil and filter changed (Amsoil 10-40 Motorcycle Synthetic Oil and Suzuki filter).
Chain oiled and adjusted. Tire pressures OK. Coolant OK.
Planning for the RR-II began back in the cold rainy season we call winter here in southwest Illinois. As a piano teacher, I found that most of my students are out of town over July 4th, so that’s a good week to travel. My first retirement ride in 2005 gave me ideas for more places to explore in and around West Virginia.
When a minister friend of mine retired in South Carolina earlier this year, I looked at a map and discovered that Deals Gap (a very popular motorcycle area just below the Great Smoky Mountains Park) was almost in a direct line between here and there. Hmmm. OK, there are two destinations.
Linking South Carolina and West Virginia are many good motorcycle roads. One that I was really interested in was the Blue Ridge Parkway. Along the border of West Virginia and Virginia (yes, they really are 2 different states!!!) are several twisty roads promising a good ride. The only problem is which ones to pick.
My original plan had me leaving IL on Monday and traveling to far eastern TN. Getting up early Tuesday, I would explore the Cherohala Skyway and the Deals Gap area, then continue on to SC. After a days rest/visiting there, it would be north to WV. But as you are about to see, plans change for the dumbest reasons.
One other thing I would like to mention about my trip is that I tried to stay within a very strict budget. Being a substitute teacher and church organist doesn’t exactly put me in a high tax bracket, if you know what I mean. I believe you do not need to buy the most expensive new bike, the most expensive new riding gear, and the most expensive luggage and accessories to have an enjoyable ride. For example, I bought my bike (a 2005 Suzuki V-Strom 1000) used with 4K miles. The original owner upset it in his garage and scratched up the right side somewhat. I got the bike for slightly more than half the cost of a new one. Another example: I looked at motorcycle rain suits for $50 - $200 at the bike shops and found a comparable one at the local farm supply store for $17. It kept me perfectly dry through 300 miles of hard downpour, except for my socks and pant cuffs. Moral of the story – If I can do it, almost anyone can.
Well, enough talk – let’s start the trip!
Day 1 - Illinois to Clarksburg WV
Those of you who know me know that I am a notorious early riser. Even on the weekends, I am awake by 6:00 am. It should come as no surprise that I was awake for this trip at 3:00 am, and drove out of the driveway at 3:45 am. Three reasons I do this: 1) 20 degrees cooler than daytime temps, 2) far less traffic, and 3) I love watching the sun come up and night turn to day.
Originally, I had planned to make a loop going through Tennessee and the Carolinas, then heading north to West Virginia. However, 2 weeks before the trip, I could not find a replacement rear tire anywhere within 200 miles of St. Louis. As a last-ditch effort, I called Leeson's Motors in West Virginia and got lucky. My tire had enough tread to go from Illinois straight to West Virginia, but not via the southern route. Therefore, I decided to do the original route, but clockwise instead of counter-clockwise.
Since I had 630 miles to go, I decided to hit the interstate all day. I will have lots of opportunities for back roads in the coming week. I don’t even need a map today. I-64 East to Charleston, West Virginia, then I-79 North to Clarksburg. Easy.
I-64 in western Indiana – about 6:00 am.
I love mornings!!!
It was unusually cool when I left, just in the mid 50’s. I debated about wearing my lightweight long johns, and was glad I decided to go ahead with them. It was none too warm at 75 mph with jeans. I kept them on until about 8:00 am. It wouldn’t be the last time I had them on.
I had clear weather and no winds for the first 450 miles, which I made before lunch (even with losing an hour at the Eastern Time Zone change. However, at the West Virginia border, it suddenly got darker and started raining. Within 20 miles, it was a hard downpour. Apparently the entire east coast of the USA was having a week of hard rain and flooding.
Soaked on the first day in Hurricane WV.
Lucky I wrapped everything in Zip-Lock 2-gallon bags.
I continued on to Clarksburg in the rain. I was a little concerned about the rear tire with little tread left on it, but there was no hydroplaning. I rode rather conservatively to be safe. Along the way, I passed a semi-truck that had crashed. They were unloading the contents – ice cream!! Just a mile later, two cars had collided. Between these two accidents, traffic was single file and slow for about 5 miles.
I made it home by 4:00 and emptied a half-liter of water out of each boot. My $17 rain suit from the farm supply store worked great, except I didn’t bring boot covers. Oh well. It’s just water.
Mom was ready with a great meal. A warm (and dry!) bed awaited. A great day, even with the rain.
Today is new rear-tire day for the Strom! Since it was raining, I would not be doing much riding, so it was a good day for this. Leeson's Motors, the Suzuki dealer in Bridgeport WV, has always taken care of its customers since I first starting doing business with them in the early 1980s. It's a family business run the way a dealer should be - honestly.
If you ever need service or a new bike, check out Leeson’s Motors.
On the way to get my new rear tire.
Check out the $17 rain suit!! Hey, it works. (Wish I had brought boot covers, though.)
Days 3: Exploring West Virginia
The Weather Channel showed Wednesday to be sunny and clear until late afternoon thunderstorms, so I decided to head for the mountains. I could see quite a bit and still be back home by 3:00. As usual, I was awake early, and started out at 6:00 am.
Rather than go straight to Seneca Rocks by my familiar route (Philippi, Belington, Elkins), I had researched a different route that took me through some areas I had not seen for over 30 years. I love taking back roads, and I was not disappointed.
I took Rt 50 East out of Clarksburg for about 10 miles, then turned south on Rt 76 towards Flemington and Galloway.
Rt. 76 near Flemington
After reaching the end of Rt 76 at Berryburg Junction, I took Rt 219 south to Philippi. The main attraction in this small town is the Civil War-era covered bridge. Although badly damaged by fire about 15 years ago, it was carefully restored.
Inside the Covered Bridge.
After leaving Philippi on Rt 250 for about 5 miles, I turned left onto Rt 38 towards Nestorville. This 2-lane follows several streams along the way. Don’t overshoot the corner or you will get a free bath!
Past Nestorville and before St George, Rt 38 provides a nice twisty ride.
At St George, I followed Rt 72 south to Parsons. After leaving Parsons on Rt 219/72 for about 3 miles, the road splits. I took Rt 72 on through Hendricks towards Red Creek and Canaan Valley. Good road and beautiful mountain scenery.
After just a few miles past Hendricks on Rt 7, this sign told me of good times to come.
The sign was right! The road does narrow to about 1 and 1/10 lane wide. This is rural West Virginia
back roads at it’s finest! One of the many roadside waterfalls along Rt 72 east of Hendricks.
Rt 72 about 10 miles east of Hendricks.
Motorcycle heaven! Watch out for gravel, though.
A secluded cabin along Rt 72 near Red Creek.
Nearing the East end of Rt 72 near Canaan Valley.
Before heading across the mountains to Seneca Rocks, I usually stop at the Exxon station in Harmon. Most bikers continue on to Seneca Rocks to the gas station there and hang out in groups. I guess I like to avoid the crowds. It’s a nice quiet place to stop for gas and a soda.
After a refreshing stop at Harmon, it's east on Rt 33 over the mountains.
(Yes, I turned around facing west for this picture - it's more photogenic)
Seneca Rocks Visitors Center.
This area has many fond memories of Sunday afternoon picnics with my grandparents. They used to love to come up here and watch the climbers through binoculars. I have it in my will that my ashes be spread from the top of Seneca Rocks, where I have climbed (via the footpath, not straight up the side!) with my wife and son.
When I retired from the Air Force last year, I was asked where I wanted my retirement flag to be flown. State capital? Washington D.C.? No, I wanted it flown over the Seneca Rocks Visitors Center. The head ranger, Sue Grafton, graciously agreed to fly my flag on this pole for the entire day. I was glad to see her this day and say “hi”.
After spending some time reminiscing at Seneca Rocks, it was time to head back to Clarksburg. I decided to take my familiar route home since it was beginning to look like rain. Coming westbound out of Harmon on Rt 33 towards Wymer, I took a small detour on top of Rich Mt (County Road 31) and took this picture looking back towards Harmon and Job.
After making it to Belington (via Elkins and Rt 33/250 through Junior), I detoured again through Audra State Park and Volga on CR 11 (a very twisty little road!). After turning right on Rt 119 at Volga (towards Philippi), I turned off at Carrollton to see the covered bridge there.
My last stop before heading home was Buffalo Lake, about 10 miles south of Clarksburg. I used to swim out here when I was a kid. My parents would bring me out here and I would scare my mom to death diving off the high dive and swimming across the lake with the men -- when I was still in 1st and 2nd grade! Now, the swimming area has been closed, and the lake is deserted. But, I can still hear the happy screams of hundreds of swimmers on a hot summer afternoon.
Well, that was an enjoyable ride! Lots of old memories for me.
Hope you enjoyed it too.
Day 5: More Exploring
390 Miles – All Backroads
The Weather Channel forecasted Friday to be clear and sunny all day – no rain until Saturday morning! I wanted to take advantage of every minute, so I was on the road by 6:00 am (again!). Since I rode most of the roads between Clarksburg and Seneca Rocks on Wednesday, I decided to take my usual (quick!) route to Seneca and pick up where I left off.
Approachin Elkins in the early morning haze.
Rt 33 eastbound out of Elkins. If you have to be on a 4-lane, this is it!
It does change back to twisty 2-lane after about 6 - 8 miles. What a view!
I took the same picture with my Honda Nighthawk last year on my Retirement Ride I.
One of the limestone caves on Rt 33 east of Elkins.
Approaching Onego on Rt33/55 eastbound. Motorcycle heaven!!
I was in Seneca Rocks by 8:00 am (I stopped to take pictures). Turning left on Rt 55/28 towards Petersburg, I went up to just before Cabins and turned south onto Smoke Hole road (CR 28/11). Until just couple of years ago, this 18-mile route was a gravel road. Now it’s paved, but you still have to watch out for gravel in the turns. Take it easy – it’s a desolate spot to slide off the road! This is the first I’ve been on the road since it was paved.
North entrance to Smoke Hole Road -- CR 28/11 off of Rt 28/55.
Scenic Smoke Hole road.
More Smoke Hole scenery.
Our farm is just over those mountains about 10 miles.
Yes, more Smoke Hole scenery.
The general store, about 5 miles from the south entrance.
Smoke Hole cave to the left. Sorry the cave is dark, but I
didn't want to wait several hours for the afternoon light.
Near the south end, the road runs along the South Branch of the Potomac River.
A fisherman was trying his luck by Eagle Rock.
South Branch of the Potomac River.
The south entrance of Smoke Hole road, at the Junction of Rt 220.
This sign is posted at the south end of the road. The other legend is that the moonshiners’ stills left a lot of smoke hanging in the air back during prohibition. You can decide which story you like better.
After this, I was planning to ride up Rt 220 past our farm and into Petersburg for lunch, but I decided to backtrack and ride the Smoke Hole road again northbound. It’s that enjoyable!!
I stopped in Petersburg for lunch with Smitty Alt, an uncle who runs a large furniture store there. We had a good 20-minute visit, then it was off to cover more ground.
First, I headed south out of Petersburg on Rt 220 to my grandparents’ old farm near Pansy. They passed away about 15 years ago, and my parents still live there part-time.
Our farm as seen from Rt 220, south of Petersburg.
My grandparents' old farmhouse.
I used to sit on the front porch with my grandparents and listen to the
bullfrogs and crickets singing their songs on hot summer evenings.
Grandma would sit in the rocker, and grandpa and I would sit on the glider.
After leaving the farm, I headed north on Rt 220 about 4 miles and
turned east on CR 220-4, also known as Mill Creek Road.
Mill Creek Road is named for …… Mill Creek.
This narrow road meanders through old farmland and comes out 5 miles later at Dorcas.
After reaching Dorcas (home of the Spring Run Fish Hatchery), I headed south on
CR 9 and CR 1 to Mozer, Kline, and Upper Tract.
After coming out on Rt 220 at Upper Tract, I headed south to Franklin, then east on
Rt 33 for the Virginia border, passing through Oak Flat and Brandywine.
Climbing Rt 33 eastbound up to the West Virginia and Virginia border.
(Yes, they really are two separate states!)
This used to be a very narrow, winding road up the mountain, but now it's "improved".
I prefer the old road, but this one is still great.
Some fellow bikers enjoying Rt 33 near the WV/VA border.
At the top of the mountain is the WV/VA border. As I turned around and headed back into WV,
I laughed at the first sign after the border: 9% Grade and 25 MPH Curves. YES!!
After turning around at the VA border, I headed back down Rt 33 into Oak Flat WV.
At Oak Flat, I turned north off of Rt 33 onto CR 3
that runs 35 miles north to Moorefield WV.
I have driven past this road a hundred times but never had the time to explore.
CR 3 about 5 or 10 miles north of Ft Seybert WV.
Watch out for deer!! I saw one in or by the road about every mile.
After reaching Moorefield, I headed west on Rt 28/55 through Petersburg and back to Seneca Rocks. This time, the lighting was a lot better, so I stopped for another picture.
Strommin’ at Seneca Rocks. I wish I could take it up the trail to the summit.
After Seneca Rocks, it was over the mountains to Harmon for gas, then quickly home to Clarksburg via Davis, Thomas, Silver Lake, and then Rt 50 east into Clarksburg. I was running late for supper, so I didn’t stop to take pictures. Rt 32 from Harmon to Davis is great!
It was a GREAT day. God was good in giving me the nice weather to ride most of the roads I wanted to explore on this trip. I enjoyed every one of the 390 miles today. The V-Strom is a great bike -- powerful, comfortable, and easy to handle.
Hope you enjoyed the ride too.
Day 6 - Hanging out
After yesterday’s great ride, I was ready to rest a little and visit folks before riding to South Carolina the next day. I also took the opportunity to do a little maintenance on the bike – oiling the chain and checking all fluids and tire pressures. Everything was fine, except I added less than 1/10 quart of Amsoil synthetic motorcycle oil (10w-40) to bring the level up to full (it was halfway between full and add on the sight window).
After assuring her it would not tip over, my mom posed for a picture on the bike.
She has a heavy foot and doesn’t like to waste time when driving. I wonder what she would say if she felt the acceleration of the bike from 0-60 mph? (Would you believe she's 74?)
My dad was also interested in the bike, but preferred not to sit on it.
(I think he’s a Harley guy? ! ? ! ? ! ?)
Today, I also had a nice visit with Olga Hardman, my choir teacher at school from 7th grade to 11th grade. She gave me the opportunity to serve as the pianist for the choirs, which gave me the experience I needed to develop into a professional performing musician. She has a very interesting website at: http://www.olgaswritings.com/
When I got home that evening, my Mom asked me what I wanted to do with the beer I had in the basement. Huh?? She took me down and I found an old time capsule (OK, a cheap cardboard box) with about 25 cans of Billy Beer and J.R. Ewing Beer from the '70s.
Day 8 - Clarksburg WV to Lexington SC
Which way is up?
609 Miles (should have been 500)
I had two options for the return ride. Option 1 was to take the northern route and visit a great-uncle in Toledo (who is celebrating his 90th birthday in July) and also a sister who lives in Canton, Ohio. The second option was to take a southern route down to South Carolina to visit the retired minister (and his wife) from our church, then circle around to Deal’s Gap and the Great Smoky Mountain Park area.
The Weather Channel was calling for severe storms from where I was in West Virginia and all points north and west (through Ohio), so I decided to take Option #2, the southern route.
Once again, I was up early and on the road by 6:00am.
I love traveling the back roads as the sun comes up. Only me and the deer.
Rt 57 between Clarksburg and Philippi.
After filling up with gas in Elkins, it was south to Huttonsville WV on Rt 219 (a good ride),
then east on Rt 250/92 over the mountains (picture).
The view from Cheat Mountain as Rt 250 crosses into VA is spectacular.
After crossing into Virginia on Rt 250 eastbound, the forest opened up to this beautiful view.
Rt 250 eastbound coming into Monterey, VA from West Virginia.
Nice curves, but rough pavement. If they ever repave Rt 250, it will be a great ride.
Monterey, VA. A nice sleepy little town on a Sunday morning, except -- what's that?
Up ahead on the right, it's a Crown Vic police interceptor, waiting for speeders. Not me.
Leaving Monterey VA and heading south on Rt 220. Behind me (about 75 miles to the north)
is my grandparents' farm. It's still hazy at 8:30am.
After miles of nice farmland on Rt 220 south, I was surprised to come around a corner and find this -- Hot Springs resort. It looks like an expensive hangout, with lots of BMWs and Mercedes around. No thanks.
The last leg of Rt 220 south before reaching Covington was an enjoyable ride.
Am I at Deal’s Gap already?
OK, this is where it gets weird. Here’s a quiz. I’m going eastbound. I come up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs north and south. I want to go south. So, I should turn right. Right? Except, I pass under a road with a stone bridge, just like the ones on the BRP. Then the road turns right (south) for a few miles, then right again. I’m thinking I passed under the BRP and am now approaching from the east (facing westbound). Now which way is south? Left. Well, that’s the direction I went without looking closely at the verrrry small sign. There are no “North” or “South” signs on the BRP. Only after an hour did I notice the small cement mile markers were getting smaller. Then, I passed the James River. Wait a minute!!! The James River is NORTH of where I got on. Oh crap!!!! I’ve been going north for the past hour and 15 minutes. I should have been looking at signs rather than the scenery. By the time I got back to where I started, I had been on the parkway 2 and a half hours. Now it’s 2:30, and I still have 250 miles to go. I was not happy.
Blue Ridge Parkway - middle of Virginia. See the smile? That’s before
I figured out north from south. Nice view, though.
After getting off in Roanoke for gas, I decided to make up time on the interstates. I had had several great days of backroads, and now I need to make time. Although there was a lot of holiday traffic, I managed to make it to Columbia SC by 7:00 pm. Tired!!! Very tired.
Day 8 - Visiting and eating.
A hot day in South Carolina.
The 77-degrees inside felt mighty good!
I spent Sunday evening and Monday visiting Rev. Edsil Bragg and his wife Lovern in Lexington, SC, just on the western edge of Columbia. They were at our church in West Virginia my senior year of high school and as I was at the university. We’ve kept in touch all these years throughout many moves – Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska, Germany, and now Illinois. I had a great time, and Lovern made some great meals. Thanks!!!!
We drove over to Fort Jackson on the other side of Columbia for the day. There was a very nice museum there with displays of Army training, and of Army life in general.
A WWII era truck, nicely restored.
Barracks life from WWII.
Ah, yes, Sad Sack peeling potatoes.
(Did I spell that right, Mr. Quayle?)
Ft Jackson is a training base, and here is a picture of a
Drill Sgt "encouraging" a recruit to do better.
A very solemn room -- dedicated to South Carolina soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice
for their country and who awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary acts of bravery.
Later, we attended a great fireworks display on the base (even though it was July 3rd).
On the way back to the Bragg's house that night, we passed this interesting tunnel.
What is cool is that it is painted on the side of a building.
Day 9 - Lexington SC to Deals Gap NC
I was up early, but not as early as usual, had a bowl of cereal with Edsil Bragg and was on the road by 6:30 am. It was a beautiful morning, and the Weather Channel said just a slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms up in western North Carolina. The day will prove them to be good forecasters.
Leaving in the morning also had another advantage. Instead of the 100-degree temperatures from the previous afternoon, it was a more-manageable 70 degrees.
I wanted to get to the mountains as soon as possible,
so I jumped right on I-26 and headed northwest through Greenville.
Rt 178 northbound approaching the border of NC.
Great road!!! Getting warmed up for Deals Gap.
I was at the North Carolina border around 10:30 and stopped for lunch around 11:00. The weather was great,
and I was looking forward to riding Deals Gap that afternoon.
Want to see a motorcyclist drool?
NC Rt 28 near Stecoah. The scenery and the roads are getting more interesting.
The Ironhorse Lodge. This is where I stayed July 4th.
All of the weekend guests have gone home, though, so I just about had the place to myself.
The restaurant and registration office are behind me as I took this picture.
I had a bed reserved in the bunk house. This building has several rooms that have 4 folding beds, complete with a stack of sheets, blanket, towels, and pillow. Wash room is the last door on the right.
More information: http://www.ironhorsenc.com/
My room. Although there were a few other guests, they put each of us in separate rooms rather
than sticking us all in one room. Very nice of them, eh? Plain, but VERY clean!
After dropping off my luggage and resting my eyes for about 30 minutes,
it was off to Deals Gap, about 15 miles away.
Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. The popular bike hangout.
It wasn’t as crowded as I expected since most bikers
had gone home after the long weekend.
The “Tree of Shame”.
This is where people who wreck their bikes on Deals Gap put a piece of their bike.
It’s layered with bent and broken pieces off every brand bike you can think of.
I did not contribute, thank you!
So what is this Deals Gap? How about 318 curves in 11 miles?
It is Rt 129 across the border from North Carolina into Tennessee,
and has earned the nickname “Tail of the Dragon”.
I know places in West Virginia they would call that a straight section of road.
It was very twisty and went up and down the steep mountain, but
I think some of it is marketing hype. There are plenty of other great roads.
This one just has a lot of advertising. Still, it was fun.
Been there, done that, bought the T-Shirt.
More information: http://www.tailofthedragon.com/
Nice view above a lake on the Tennessee side of Deals Gap.
OK, twisty, but so was Rt 220 above Covington.
Coming back into North Carolina in Deals Gap.
I tamed the Dragon, and left no pieces for the Tree of Shame.
Before heading back to the lodge, I went out Rt 129 towards Robbinsville. Just a short time
down the road from the Deals Gap Resort, I passed the Cheoah Dam. This is the dam
Harrison Ford did the Peter Pan dive off of in the movie “The Fugitive”.
About 15 minutes after I got back to the Ironhorse Lodge, a large storm passed through,
with high winds and rain. Glad I was back from the ride.
I sat on the porch by my room and watched the storm for a while, then headed to bed.
Tomorrow is a long ride back to Illinois.
A great day riding!!! God is VERY good!!!
Day 10 - Deals Gap NC to Illinois
Awake at 5:15 am, I packed my gear and headed out of the Iron Horse Lodge at 5:45, as slowly and quietly as possible. I was apparently the only one stirring at that hour. A light drizzle left over from last night’s storm convinced me to put on the rain suit. I headed down the road to Robbinsville for an Egg McMuffin (one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind!). After eating and filling up with gas (two separate events, folks), I headed out of Robbinsville on Rt 143 east, which turns into the Cherohala Skyway about 10 miles later. The skyway is a 40-mile section of scenic road that runs along the top of the ridges between North Carolina into Tennessee, ending at Tellico Plains. It connects the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest. It was surreal, with the morning fog and light drizzle, and no traffic. In fact, the first car I passed was 30 miles later, just 10 miles before the end of the road. I love early morning drives!
A drizzly morning. NC Rt 143 out of Robbinsville.
Start of the Cherohala Skyway westbound.
I didn’t see another person for the next 30 miles.
For more information on the Cherohala Skyway, click here:
Cherohala Skyway – NC.
Cherohala Skyway. Ever wonder why they're called the Great Smoky Mts.?
Another Cherohala Skyway overlook.
More of the Great Smoky Mountains.
After passing through Tellico Plains, I headed northwest up Rt 68 to get on I-40 near Crossville, then head west to Nashville. The rain started about 8:00 and poured it down hard until mid-afternoon.
Pouring rain on I-44 westbound near Nashville TN.
It would rain hard like this for about 300 miles. At least it was very warm.
When I reached Paducah, Kentucky, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Unfortunately, the wind started. I wrestled against 30mph crosswinds the rest of the ride home.
I arrived home at about 6:00 pm tired but very happy.
The V-Strom performed flawlessly. Even when pushed hard, I averaged just over 40 MPG, even with me and about 75 pounds of luggage. It was comfortable, and I had plenty of room to stretch my legs and good luggage provisions. All in all, it’s an excellent bike for all types of roads.
Final mileage: 10807
Start mileage: 8071
Not bad considering I was only on the bike 6 out of 10 days.
Now, where should I go next year?