A Ride Somewhere Other Than New Jersey
It felt like ages since I’d be able to get away for a “real” bike ride. “Real” meaning more than one day on interesting roads. Thanks to a flexible job and the nearness of the STN National this year in Lewisburg, WV, I was finally going to get out of town. Dan, sadly, does not have a flexible job and had to stay home for this little adventure. The main meet day was scheduled for Wednesday and so I took Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off to enjoy it. That would give me one day there, one day to explore and one day to get home.
June 14 – 17, 2010
Total Miles: 1,325 miles
Verona, NJ to Lewisburg, WV
It was less than 500 miles to the meeting, and Google maps said that I could do it in 7 ½ hours, but I didn’t want to spend that much time on Interstate. I checked out maps and realized that my cousin lives on the way, about 2 ½ hours away. Perfect! I’d pack up the bike and leave directly from work on Monday, giving me a head start on Tuesday’s ride. A quick email to my cousin confirmed that a couch was available and I packed up the BMW 1150GS.
I left work at 3:30, missing the most of the rush hour traffic, and took obscure side roads to cut diagonally across New Jersey to the Pennsylvania border. The weather was perfect, if a little on the hot side. New Jersey had been suffering from high heat and humidity – two of my least favorite weather conditions rolled into one – and today wasn’t very different. I was looking forward to the scattered thunderstorms that were forecasted for my ride ahead.
Today I was borrowing Dan’s GPS, a Garmin Zumo 450 or some such model. All I know is that I liked it and it was a great tool to have on board the GS. I hadn’t used a GPS for much more than a digital map, rarely taking advantage of its navigational aids and instructions. But this time I had it set to lead me to my cousin’s via the shortest route, which is not necessarily the fastest. Therefore I found myself riding through lots of small towns and on little-used back roads for most of the route. I also found myself surprised when I crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, for there was a covered bridge immediately after the steel-grated bridge over the main river. It was the Uhlerstown Covered bridge, built in 1832. I would have stopped for a photo, but a car ahead of me had already stopped and was waving me around them. However, I was given a second chance when I stumbled upon a second covered bridge ten minutes later, and it being in the middle of nowhere, I was able to stop and get some photos.
The roads I found myself on were varied and, because I was following the GPS, I can’t say that I have a full comprehension of where exactly I was for the most part. It wasn’t until I passed a large dairy with the GPS saying “Arrive at Cousin John’s” did I finally recognize the area. Good thing, too, since the GPS had me a good ¼ mile away from my cousin’s house.
My second surprise covered bridge of the day
Historical house next to the bridge
The evening was very pleasant and short, as Tuesday would be an early day for everyone. I was on the road by 7:30, the sun already drawing up the humidity. I was anxious to get moving, to let the air pass through the vents on my gear. I again set the GPS for “shortest route”, but didn’t always follow it.
There was a bit of traffic, it being a weekday morning, but the scenery was pleasant as I rolled through Pennsylvanian farmland. I stayed south in an attempt to avoid the traffic of Lancaster and was, for the most part, successful. Again, the GPS navigated me through obscure neighborhoods, narrow roads and over the Susquehanna River. I manipulated the GPS once in a while to make sure that the “straightest” route wouldn’t be an interstate but for the most part just followed its directions. This led me to another pleasant surprise: White’s Ferry crossing just northeast of Leesburg, VA. It was a short cable crossing but as always on a ferry, very pleasant.
River Rd near the Milford, NJ
I never even saw the sign until after I took the picture
Uninspired eating in Hyatttown
Beautiful old house
White’s Ferry near Leesburg, VA
Wardenville Pike Trail
I was getting closer to my target and began to manipulate the map and GPS before me a little more. I threw in a random waypoint to push me further into the mountains. This started immediately after leaving the Winchester area, where I followed Wardensville Pike up and into the mountains connecting Virginia and West Virginia. The GPS threw me for my first real surprise along this route when it asked me to take a cut-off, thereby traversing Wardensville Trail, a nice dirt road through some intensely green forests. I was enjoying this unknown route-making! Now I was in the mountains and there were no bad turns to make. I was deep in the Monogehela National Forest with nothing but green hills and clear rivers around me.
I was 30 minutes away from Lewisburg – perfect timing for a quick shower before dinner. Have I mentioned that the temperate was still up there and that the humidity had climbed some more as well? I had stopped briefly at a picnic site in Seneca State Forest for a bite to eat and an off-the-bike break. As I continued down Rt. 28, I checked the GPS again: I was to take a right on Greenbrier River Trail. Oooo – another trail! The Greenbrier River Trail started out paved and about 6’ wide. Less than a quarter of a mile later the pavement disappeared but left a very well maintained dirt road snaking through the forest. I was surrounded by walls of rhododendron bushes – a month ago this trail must have been ablaze with color. A quick break in the trees gave me a view of a single house, one of only two I’d see on this trek.
Seneca Rocks from Rt 28
Taking a break in Seneca State Forest
As the trail lost elevation it got a little rougher, with puddles and dips and a bit of mud to grub up the bike a bit. And then the trail reached the river and essentially went through someone’s front yard. I kept on going but not for long: the GPS was asking me to turn right – across the Greenbrier River.
I parked the bike and got off. A man and his grandson were relaxing in the cool water of the river and I asked them for information, as I wanted to know if the trail continued across the river. The gentleman assured me that it did, but it would be another 7-8 miles before I met up with pavement again. Interesting, but first I’d have to cross the river. It was at least 40 yards across and maybe 2-3’ deep with a gentle current.
In great hindsight, I should have done it. But I didn’t. The rocky river bottom, the condition of the unknown trail on the other side, street –biased tires and… well, that was all that kept me from giving it a try. I should have tried it. I’m sure the locals would have given me a hand if I needed it. I thanked the man for his time and retreated back the six miles to Rt. 28.
Once in Lewisburg I found the motel, a shower, my STN friends and dinner. We spent the evening pouring over maps and route options. Many riders had spent the day riding locally and had good information to share. The kind of riding I was looking for (“goat paths”, dirt roads and possibly even another chance at a river crossing) was not in great demand and I found myself creating a route for a solo ride.
The GPS said to turn right onto this “road”
The “road” becomes a trail
That led me through some lovely countryside
Even a house! (One of two that I saw)
After passing through someone’s front yard
The GPS wants me to turn right again…
…across the Greenbrier River
A man and his grandson helped me out with directions
After a quick breakfast I met up with Doug, the proud owner of a KTM 990. We had been discussing the Greenbrier River crossing and I had tried to talk him into doing it with me. But due to a number of valid reasons (one of them being that he can barely touch the ground on this bike) we agreed not to try it this time. Instead, we expressed interest in each other’s bike and decided to swap them out for a while. We headed north from Lewisburg on Rt. 219 towards Marlinton. This was an excellent chance to put both bikes through their paces, with decent straights, nice sweepers and some beautifully cambered tight twisties. The KTM felt much more nimble than my GS, but since I’m generally riding to sight see and not tear up the pavement, my GS suites me just fine for long trips. The KTM was fun though!
Once in Marlinton, Doug and I swapped bikes again, with him heading home and me looking for adventure. I was trying not to backtrack too much (although 219 was a worthy road to traverse more than once) and I worked out a “Figure 8” route to get me around to some recommended roads. The first one was the Highland Scenic Byway. But before I could ride it I had to get there. The GPS was once again put to work and it did a fantastic job of guiding me up a very remote, perfectly paved road somewhere south of Rt. 15. It twisted up into the mountains through thick forest, wound through some open farmland, and then lolled along as a one-lane road through more forest. It was cool and pleasant and beautiful. Then I hit the scenic byway.
Woodrow Road, north of Marlinton, WV
Barn along Woodrow Road
The Highland Scenic Byway (Rt150)
Not terribly scenic
I was told that it wasn’t very technical, but it was beautiful. I’ll have to agree with the first part and disagree with the second part. In fact, I would not recommend this road to anyone on a bike nor in a car. It was fast, sterile and lacked any views worth mentioning, even with clear weather. Fortunately the byway came to an end and I was once again on nicely curving roads, slicing their way through more lush foliage.
Part of the Figure 8 was to cut through Watoga State Park, an unknown to me, which would then lead me to “the 600s”, a series of roads marked with a “600” route number that were said to be fun and beautiful. Watogo was a nice park, with mile after mile of empty road that snaked easily through the forest. There’s a lot of forest in West Virginia. There were also rental cabins along the way and most of them had vehicles parked in front of them. One in particular had the entire family parked in front of the cabin. It was a little unnerving, as at first all I saw was merely a group of people clumped around a picnic table. It was only when I turned to wave did I notice that they were all facing the road, and looking at me. I’ll assume that they were posing for a picture and not part of some hillbilly cult.
Back into the trees – in Watoga State Park
Coming out of Watogo I was back in the sunshine and the heat. Today would be the hottest day of my trip. I kept on riding, checking out the paper map in front of me while glancing at the GPS periodically. I was running north to meet up with Hwy 39, which would in turn lead me to 687, the first of my 600s. Hwy 39 was the type of road that a motorcyclist strives for when he needs to get somewhere quickly but wants to enjoy it. It was a fast road with fast sweepers and pleasant scenery.
The turn onto 687 lead me south along a hot and narrow valley. Small farms dotted the scenery and the road kept to one side. It was a nice alternative to Hwy 39 and kept me entertained for a while, keeping me going until I was south of I-64 and had moved onto Rt 18. But I was looking for something other than pavement. Someone had mentioned that “any road” that jogged off to the west from here would be fun; it was time to put that to the test.
I turned off randomly and was rewarded with a freshly graveled road that immediately swung out of the valley and up the neighboring hill. Forest enclosed the way and the temperature dropped. I spent the next three hours doing this: turning off onto random roads just to see where they went. Most of them were enjoyable but unremarkable. I found dirt, gravel and narrow pavement, but no water crossings. The trouble began when I realized that it was almost 2pm and I hadn’t eaten anything since a bowl of cereal 6 hours previous. I asked the GPS where some food could be found but nothing was nearby; I really was in the middle of nowhere. Knowing that I’d be having dinner when I got back to the hotel in a couple of hours, I decide to just plot a course in that general direction and see what I came across.
Nothing. At least nothing to eat. So I did my best to ignore my headache and my belly and kept on going. As I pulled into Lewisburg I hit traffic. Perfect: rush hour traffic through the entire town while I sat on my bike in full gear in the hot sun with a headache and a hunger. I was a little grumpy when I got back to the hotel and it wasn’t long before I was a Ruby Tuesdays having an unremarkable steak.
Beaver Creek Rd, south of Minnehaha Springs, WV
Thursday was the official end of the meet, even though a number of riders had lit out the previous day. While I had a day and then some to get to Lewisburg, it would be a single shot to get home. I gauged the time and miles I had to cover and decided that I could afford to play a little while in the enjoyable mountains and then pay for it later by taking the interstate the rest of the way home.
I once again traveled up 219 to Marlinton, this time staying north all the way Elkins. This was an excellent choice, as the road zoomed wildly through the mountains, gaining elevation steadily as I neared the Snowshoe Ski Resort. And the only vehicle in my way easily moved over into a handy passing lane, giving me free rein to blast my way through the corners.
At one point I stopped to adjust my ear buds and while standing by the side of the bike, another BMW rider approached. Two up, he slowed down and motioned “Are you ok?” I motioned “Yes”, pleased at his thoughtfulness. And with the approach to Huttonsville, my pleasant wilderness riding came to an end. There were nothing but small towns and traffic, even in the long stretches in between outposts. Therefore when I reached Elkin and saw the sign for Canaan Valley, I took it. Canaan Valley was the location for the STN National Meet four years previous and I rode over 3,000 miles to attend it. I could hardly justify not “swinging by” on my way home.
Not fifteen minutes later and I was stopped for construction. Not sure of the procedure in West Virginia, I sat in line instead of moving up to the front of the line, like I would have done in California. Therefore when the sign holder signaled us forward, it was behind a healthy dozen cars and trucks and RVs. Fortunately for me, the road opened up somewhat after this and I was able to pass them with relative ease.
I had forgotten the wide, useless divided highway that 55/33 becomes as it crests over the mountain range. I saw only one other vehicle on it in the time I was on it; it was empty to the point where I barely hesitated to do a u-turn in my own lane to double back for a photo. Shortly after the wide overkill highway reduced itself back down a more acceptable two-lane road, I saw a cautionary flag at the side of the road. “Accident scene ahead”. I naturally assumed it was a motorcyclist, as this road was very popular with them and I was approaching some tighter, downhill corners. Some time went by after I had passed the sign but there was no hint of an accident scene. No sooner had a come to the conclusion that the sign was out of date than I came upon a second one, and even saw the car pull away after it had been placed. The vehicle pulled off to the side and so did I; there happened to be an outstanding view from here and I knew that there would be no hurry ahead of me. I slowly rounded a corner and there were two pimply-faced kids standing there, one holding a stop/slow sign and the other imperiously holding out his hand for me to stop. It amused me that he continued to hold out his hand until I had rolled up to them and put my foot on the ground. I still couldn’t see the accident scene, but they informed that it was a semi-truck and I wouldn’t be here long. True to their word, I was waved through a couple of minutes later (after answering their question of my bike’s size and if it was a V-Twin). I was approaching a downhill righthander, rather shape (I’d say that it could be comfortably taken at 35mph on a motorcycle) when I saw the first clue of the type of accident it was. An Atlas moving truck had been coming down the hill and took the corner too fast. The entire rig went over (through?) the guard rail and lay in a crumpled heap about 20′ below, lush foliage cradling it. There wasn’t much time to look around, but they had already pulled the cab out (looking very much the worse for wear; I can only hope the driver survived) and a leather couch piled high with furniture pads sat on the back of a flatbed tow truck. Imagine getting that phone call, letting you know that your life’s possessions were now on the side of a road in West Virginia.
Hwy 33/55 east of Elkins, WV
Cave alongside the highway
Accident scene ahead
View approaching the accident scene
Eventually I was brought back to the Seneca Rocks area and I found myself following one of the roads I had taken two days ago. I stopped for a less-than-average lunch somewhere south of Petersburg, WV before continuing on my way north, to the end of the pleasant pavement. It was time to make time.
I hit I-81 north to Hagerstown, then on to Harrisburg. Traffic was getting thicker, even though it was only 3 o’clock. It was so thick, in fact, that I gave up and resorted to my California ways and split traffic for about 3 miles. No one seemed to mind, or at least I couldn’t hear them complain, so I continued to hug the middle even after spaces opened up. That was when I heard a siren. Thankfully, it wasn’t for me but instead it was an ambulance coming from the other direction. The funny part is that few other cars could place the location of the sound, so when they checked their mirrors and saw me hugging the middle of the lanes, bright yellow PIAA light blazing away, they moved over. Ha! I laughed as I passed them and continued along.
The GPS kept telling me to head east on I-78 but all I could see on my paper map was the big yellow splotch that indicated the Allentown/Bethlehem area. That meant more traffic, more lane splitting and more chances of me getting in trouble. I made the decision to go 30 minutes out of my way and head north to I-80 and follow it home. This was a good choice, even as the temperature dropped and the clouds moved in. I thought for sure I’d hit rain and was actually hoping for it. The rider I met during a quick stop at Wendy’s, not dressed at all for inclement weather, was pleased to hear that it was warmer and sunnier to the south, where he was headed.
I-80 isn’t demanding and I was able to keep a healthy speed as I worked my way home, pulling into the driveway after eleven and a half hours on the road. It had been great to see some old friends, meet some digital ones and to get out for a real ride once again.
Historic house along a busy road
I have no idea where this is