Fall Colors trip to West Virginia and Virginia

October 23, 2006
Trip Summary ( for those who just want to see the pictures!): 3 days, 1015 miles. Rode on some fantastic roads in W. Virginia and did half of the Skyline Drive in Virginia. Camped both nights. Scroll down for some pictures.

Day 1: It was a bleak, wet Friday morning when I set out for W. Virginia. It had rained heavily the previous night but the forecast said there would be no rain Friday. I had packed everything I needed in the Harley-Davidson sissy bar bag (borrowed from John) and my two saddlebags. Clothes, tools, chargers for the camera and phone, rain-gear, fleece, toiletries, some trail-mix, water. The tent and sleeping bag were strapped on to my luggage rack. Despite the gloomy weather, I was feeling pretty good. There was that feeling one gets when embarking on a much anticipated trip-a mix of excitement and nervousness that was more potent than the 3 cups of coffee I’d consumed !
After a quick stop at at New Richmond on route 52 to check the bags, I rode at a steady 75 mph to Portsmouth, OH where I had lunch at Arby’s. I was glad I had a windshield to protect my torso from the cold wind, in spite of its bad design which caused some buffeting. Made it to West Virginia around 2:30pm and continued on I-64 toward Charleston. The fall foliage looked more colorful, even along I-64. South of Charleston, I got on to route 60 which runs along the Gauley River. I passed several small, impoverished looking towns located around big, ugly coal mines. Big barges carrying coal floated slowly down the river and several times, I got stuck behind a slow moving dump truck carrying…yup, you guessed it…coal. At the Gauley bridge, I took route 39 toward Summersville. On any other day, I would have enjoyed riding on 39 but by then I was getting tired and wanted to stop and set up camp before dark. I reached Summersville around 6:00pm. A local at a gas station pointed me toward Mountain Lake campground. Now, I’ve been to a fair number of campgrounds and this one was the best one I’ve seen so far- based on how clean the restrooms were. Considering that there was not a single other soul camping there, that was to be expected ! It was a little weird being the sole camper in a huge campground. Maybe all the sane folk were at home, warm and cozy. I quickly set up the tent, snapped a few pictures and rode into town to find some dinner. By the time I got back, the groundskeeper had, at my request, dropped off a bundle of firewood. I made a few calls, told everyone I’d made it safely thus far and then got a nice fire going. I sat by the fire for a long time, savoring a cup of chili, thinking about the day. When the fire went out, it was only 8:30pm, but very cold, so I retired to the tent and tried to sleep. Sleep, however, did not come for a long time. Maybe it was the excitement of the trip.

Total miles: 302

First stop to check the bags

The Gauley river in West Virginia

Mountain Lake campground in Summersville

Ready to set up camp!


Settling in for the night

Day 2: I awoke with a cold and a sore throat around 7am. There was a heavy fog outside and everything was covered in dew. I was glad the bathroom had hot showers, so I proceeded to take one. By the time I packed up the tent and was ready to go, it was around 9am. A quick stop for breakfast at BK and I set out on that still misty morning, full of excitement. The plan was to ride on the Highland scenic route through the Monongahela National Forest in the Appalachian mountains and make my way to Skyline drive in Virginia. As the sun broke though the fog, it transformed the countryside into a menagerie of colors of the fall foliage. There I was, a lone biker cruising though the winding mountain roads, trying to take it all in. It was a challenge to stay focused on the road, when the scenery was so mesmerizing. At times, I just gave up and had to stop, turn the motor off and let it all sink in. But as spectacular as the scenery was, the roads themselves demanded full attention. The mountain roads are full of surprises-an unexpectedly sharp corner, a wet patch of leaves from the previous day’s rain, sweeping turns that never seem to end- It was a motorcyclist’s paradise! I rode for hours, stopping only to snap a couple of pictures. Eventually, at 3pm, I stopped for lunch at a mom & pop’s restaurant to try some local cusine. The lunch special was baked pork chops with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy, baked beans, bread and coffee all for a ridiculously low $7! I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I saw all that food.
By then, it was a relatively warm 58° outside and there was still plenty of riding left to be done. However, I realized there would be no time to go to Front Royal in Virginia, where the Skyline drive begins, so I decided to catch it at its mid point, near a town called Elkton. I reached the entrance to the Shenandoah national park around 5pm. After riding the scenic roads in West Virginia all day for free, I wasn’t pleased that I had to pay to enter the park and ride on Skyline drive. ( $10 for motorcycles, $15 for cars). As a motorcyclist, Skyline drive was mildly disappointing. Sure, the views from the overlooks are spectacular. But the road is full of the so called “leaf peepers” in slow moving cars. The drive is actively policed by park rangers who mercilessly hand out tickets to those driving above the posted 35mph. I was happy to finally exit the Skyline drive near Waynesboro, VA around 7pm. Now all I had to do was find a motel, get some rest for the long ride back home the next day-well, that was not to be. Thanks to a NASCAR race at the Martinsville speedway, it seemed like every motel in Virginia was full. It was getting dark, but I decided to proceed west on I-64 until I found a motel. After several unsuccessful stops in Virginia, I decided to keep going until I reached W. Virginia- surely there would be motel rooms there! No such luck. By then it was 9pm, I had been on the saddle for over 10 hours and my wrist and back were starting to hurt. At a town called White Sulfur Springs, an employee at the local McDonald’s told me that an old lady had private campground in her backyard on the outskirts of town. Without too much trouble, I found the place and she was happy to have another camper. She told me she used to ride a bike in her younger days. It was cold and by the time I had set up the tent, my fingers were numb. I slipped into the sleeping bag and tried to sleep. But sleep wouldn’t come for many hours. My cold and sore throat had gotten worse, I was sneezing and starting to feel a bit feverish. I hoped that I wouldn’t fall severely ill and be unable to ride back home on Sunday. I figure I slept no more than 3 hours that night.

Total miles: 360

Foggy Saturday morning

W. Virginia fall colors

Highland Scenic Highway

View along the Highland scenic highway

West Virginia countryside

Germany Valley

My lunch !


Skyline drive scenic overlook

Day 3: I woke up around 7:30am feeling pretty miserable but another hot shower fixed that. The tent was wet from the morning dew, but I packed it up and was ready to go by 8:30. I stopped at the same McDonald’s for breakfast and coffee. I was in the restroom there when I overheard a conversation between a couple of guys. They were saying something about a biker from Ohio, who must be insane to be riding in the cold. They were talking about me, I realized, and that made me smile. Come to think of it, I didn’t see too many bikers on this trip-maybe ten in all. And I guess we must be a bit insane!

After breakfast, I set out toward Ohio at a steady 80mph along I-64, then cut across via route 60 back to I-64 near Charleston and then onto route 52 in Ohio. This time, the mission was simply to get back home. Easy enough- just a couple of hundred miles of mindless riding on the interstate and route 52. But the aches and pains and lack of sleep from two days of riding and camping made things a bit harder. It was also a lot colder and my fingers were frozen over the handlebars. The last hundred miles were the longest I have ever ridden and to top it all, when I reached Cincinnati, I got stuck in traffic on I-75 from the Bengals game. Still, these were minor inconveniences. The euphoric high I experienced riding those beautiful twisting roads in W. Virginia is something I crave, so I’m already planning my next long distance trip, sometime in spring!

Total miles: 353

The old lady’s backyard campground.

Time to pack up and go home!


Trip to W.Virginia and Virginia this weekend

October 16, 2006
Looks like I timed it right! The fall colors in W. Virginia and Virginia’s Shenandoah national park should be peaking in the next few days. I plan to set out either on thursday or friday morning (depending on how many days I can take off from work) and return by sunday evening. I’ll be camping, unless the weather is really bad, in which case I’ll seek a motel. In preparation for the trip I changed the engine oil, filter and (shaft) drive oil today. Here’s the trip route from Charleston, WV.

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October 10, 2006

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