Retirement Ride I
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.
Day 1 Illinois to Logan, West Virginia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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!