Altogether, I spent 1,696 miles in the saddle and 1,450 miles in the seat. I trailered to/from Chattanooga to avoid heavy thunderstorms on the outbound leg and extreme heat on the return (+100 degrees with the heat index). The route file below is the saddle portion of the adventure.
Travel to Chattanooga.
With 271 miles planned for the day, Scott and I were both eager to hit the road early. Living in different parts of the country, it's been a while since we toured together on a long-distance ride. I had never been through eastern KY or WV, but had heard of - and read about - many of the sights we were going to see along the way. Our first scenic stop was Cumberland Falls. The falls are not as tall as some I have visited, but it is wide and powerful...and muddy. We tried to rent barrels so that we could ride the falls, but the nice park ranger advised against the idea. The heat was rising after the falls, so we stopped by The Root Beer Stand in Corbin, KY for a root beer float. I highly recommend!
Having stayed at the Cliffview Resort in Zoe, KY, our Day 3 ride began with a beautiful run through the Natural Bridge State Park along KY-11, then along KY-77, also known as the Nada Tunnel Road. When I shared how beautiful the Nada Tunnel Road was with a friend from KY, she informed me that her husband's great grandfather helped cut the tunnel so that he could haul timber from his land on the east side of the mountain range. Small world.
|Pic from the Internet, but is the view exactly as soon from over the handlebars.|
Our first fuel stop of the day included an interesting encounter with the locals. There were four ladies in two cars that were at the service station when we arrived. Appears they were on a journey and had stopped for a drink and smoke break. As they prepared to leave, all four were wearing those u-shaped travel pillows around their necks. It was definitely a WTFWT moment and we were laughing too hard to sneak a pic. Guess these are called Kentucky Airbags around these parts.
There were storms forming on the horizon, but we placed a bet that we thought we could skirt them. Unfortunately, the mountains and twisty roads proved us wrong and we got drenched in the early afternoon...before we had a chance to don the rain gear. It was a welcomed relief from the heat, but made the twisties that much more treacherous.
We survived and were mostly dry by the time we pulled into the Mardi Gras Resort and Casino in Nitro, WV just north of Charleston. The Mardi Gras is very biker friendly and has a pole shed for parking the bikes. The shed is well lit and has security cameras. Nice Touch! Beer not included.
|Motorsickle parking at the Mardi Gras Resort and Casino|
We enjoyed dinner while watching the greyhound races, then made a few donations in the casino before retiring for the night.
With storms off to the east, we headed south on WV-85, then on WV-10. Both roads cut through coal country and followed a river or two along the way. While stopped at a McDonald's in Matoaka, WV for a break, we struck-up a conversation with an 80 year-old gentleman who had lived in Matoaka all his life. Although he had very little formal education, he was a self-taught and successful Ford mechanic, electrician, home builder, and coal miner. I suspect there was very little this man can't or hasn't fixed at some point in his life. A former Harley-Davidson rider (as well as many other brands), he still mows his own lawn (and those of his rent houses) using a push mower and is pretty handy with his smartphone too! I walked away thinking he was one of the happiest and most accomplished men I have ever met. I love the conversations with the people along the way, it always makes a motorcycle trip special.
We closed the day with WV-16, also known as the Back of the Dragon. IMO, the many twisties, coupled with the major elevation changes, makes this a more technically challenging ride than the Tail of the Dragon...and it was a LOT less crowded.We ended the day at the General Francis Marion Hotel in Marion, WV. Marion is a small town with a cool little downtown and a half-dozen restaurants within walking distance.
No pics today...too busy riding!
Leaving Marion, we followed Black Lick Road through the farms and forests. The views reminded me of what it must be like riding through the rolling hills of Ireland - bright green fields, gentle rolling hills, and undulating twisties. Add to it the smells of the many farms along the way and it really sets the mood for riding that morning. Once we turned north on US-52, we immediately entered one of the fingers of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest. This area played a key role in the Civil War. We stopped at the Big Walker Lookout to catch a view of the valley below and to read-up on the path the Union troops took to capture the railroads and cities along the way.
Just outside of Hillsdale, WV, we stopped at the John Henry Historical Park to see Mr. Henry's legacy. From the museum's website:
The legend of John Henry depicts an American folk hero known for his amazing strength and symbolism as an advocate for the working class American during the industrializat of not only Appalachia, but the entire United States. During the late 1800's, the railroad embarked on its expansion plans to head West over the Appalachian Mountains. John Henry, along with crews of men made up of over 1,000 former slaves and Irish immigrants, was hired to tunnel through the mountain, using hammer and steel rods to cut through the rock. Eventually the railroad management, in its quest for efficiency and speed, brought in the Burleigh;s top of the line steam powered drill to replace the crews on men. As the legend goes, John Henry challenged the railroad to a contest pitting his skill and strength using hammer and steel rods against the machine to prove the superiority of manual labor to mechanization and to, hopefully, preserve their jobs. John Henry made more progress in a shorter period of time than the machine, however, as the legend goes, he later died as a result of the contest.
The battle did not end with John Henry's death. As a result of his heroic victor over the machine, the crew of over 1,000 men kept their jobs and finished the tunnel. John Henry's legend served as an inspiration to those men finishing the tunnel as they kept the story alive through song. Although the "legend" has been embellished over the years, the reality is John Henry was a real man, hero, and symbol of hope. His legend lives on.
Our pinnacle destination of the day was the Bunker Tour at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WV. From 1962-92, this top secret bunker served as an emergency back-up site for members of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack. Built at the peak of the Cold War, the bare basics bunker was "hidden in plain sight" from the many guests who frequented the luxurious Greenbrier Resort. it included a state-of-the-art communications system and enough food, water, and fuel storage to be self-sufficient for up to 45-days. This is a must-see if you are ever in the area.
We were met with a wonderful surprise leaving Lewisburg, WV...US-219. On the map, it appeared to be a rather straight run through the valley, but we were pleasantly surprised to find beautiful scenery, a decent amount of elevation changes, and a number of welcomed twisties. North of Marlinton, we maneuvered more technically challenging twisties as we climbed to the highlands, then turned on WV-150 (also known as Highland Scenic Highway) for a long, gentle run along the ridge of the mountain. WV-150 connects to WV-39 around the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area and we followed the road west through the mountains and into Summerville, WV. We explored Summerville Lake which feeds the Gauley and New River recreational areas (camping, hiking, rafting, etc.) before continuing on to Charleston and the Mardi Gras Resort and Casino for a nice meal and an attempt to recover from our previous losses. Good thing we ate before gambling.
Feeling a little road fatigue, we opted for a more direct route down to Bristol, VA than we originally planned so that we would have time to explore downtown Bristol before they rolled the sidewalks up on Sunday. We stopped by the Indian Motorcycle dealer for a quick look see and stumbled across this beauty, a 2017 Jack Daniels Limited Edition Chieftan. It was already sold and under-cover, but we were able to get a sneak peak.
This was our last day of touring together, as Scott was peeling-off towards Charlotte in the morning. We decided to celebrate the tour by pigging-out at Cootie Brown's in Bristol. Their Memphis-style baby back ribs are to die for!
The day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse!!
I originally planned to witness the eclipse on Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but news reports of large crowds and traffic problems steered me to Plan B, a spot along US-411 just a little south of Madisonville, TN, which just happened to be dead center in the path of totality. Traffic was relatively heavy along the way, but most folks were stopping in Maryville or Vonore to set-up their viewing spots. The opportunistic entrepreneurs were out in full force, charging between $10-$20 for a parking spot along the road. There were license plates from all over the South and Mid-Atlantic, even a few from Canada. Kudos to the City of Madisonville, where they opened the city park for free parking, as did many churches.
I found my perfect spot, donned my ISO 12312-2 approved geek glasses, and set-up my smartphone to capture the historic event. My location was very remote, only 2-3 other people within sight in any direction. As the eclipse reached its totality, all highway traffic came to a halt, it became eerily quiet, and everything went totally dark. At the farm across the highway, the roosters began to crow and a flock of birds were swarming out of confusion. Two minutes later, the light began to return and life returned to normal. Sadly, the iPhone pic doesn't do the experience justice.
I spent the rest of the afternoon fighting traffic back to Chattanooga.
One of the most intriguing things I noticed on the ride were the geometric or hex designs mounted on the barns in the area. I researched this phenomena and founds the designs began with the Pennsylvania Dutch. They are usually 8'x8' and are placed on the barns for good luck in crop production or fertility of the livestock. I hope they produce the intended results, but nonetheless, they are beautiful and certainly added to the quaint rural scene.
While I really enjoyed this tour, I continue to learn the art of touring. I felt as though I had a little beginner's relapse reflected in my planning. Simply stated, I made the daily rides too long, ranging from 190-270 miles on the back roads, which translated to 6-7 hours in the saddle. This limits the amount of time one can spend on really seeing the sights and meeting people along the way - the very things that make such a ride so special. It also cramped our ability to find those mom and pop cafes where you literally get the flavor of the area. And pics...NOT ENOUGH PICS!!
But I do have the memories.