Rock Gap Rd, West Virginia
Image by D.Clow – Maryland
Flew out of work, the fleet flight of Friday before a holiday weekend. Everyone cracks a smile upon stepping out of the concrete and glass coffin of the corporate work week. The motorcycle is quickly gassed and loaded, I leave Washington DC at three-thirty, vowing not to check the time for the rest of the adventure. Adventure, the American adventure of the open road is what I seek. The road, my cameras, and escape.
Right turn off of 15th St. NW and I’m motoring past the Washington Monument and the White House. Harleys and clones are already lining the Mall for the annual Memorial remembrance that is Rolling Thunder. I’m soon over the bridge and on I-66 west. I plan on avoiding major highways when at all possible. Preferring scenic byways to drab highways. 66 is a necessary evil to flee the DC metro area as quickly as possible. At the start, 66 is a good quick run, for awhile anyway. Loads of Rolling Thunder riders are heading in 66 eastbound.
I keep the ubiquitous two fingers down to the side salute to fellow bikers out for extended stretches of time. In my experience, HD guys return the acknowledgement about 30-40% of the time. No big deal, some animosity exist though between different bike cultures. Motor-ism two-wheel stereotypes. However with the Rolling Thunder guys there is a noticeable increase in response, perhaps due to no longer just one biker acknowledging another, but a patriotic sharing of support and remembrance for those left behind, POW-MIA.
Traffic worsens further out 66 and I come up on a full HD dresser. Screaming Eagle back patch worked in with POW-MIA covers his vest and is topped by a “Run for the Wall” patch. I keep back a pace and we adopt the natural offset positioning of multiple riders.
After some 66 backup, stop-and-go, we strike up a staccato conversation in the pauses of the traffic flow. Where you been, where you going, see the rain coming? I tell him I’m headed out to the mountains, Skyline Drive and West Virginia. He says he’s just in from there recently, was in DC for Rolling Thunder for the day and will be coming back in on Sunday again. His license plate is obscured by luggage, so I’m unsure of his port of origin.
Later on we part ways and my thoughts turn. Of my parents friends only my step-dad was drafted for Vietnam. Luckily, for us, he only went as far as Ft. Hood, TX, and came back with some good stories about army life and venturing into Mexico (at least the ones he’s shared with me). I think about all the life he’s lived since then, all his experiences and joys. Thinking about what all those who didn’t return gave up, lost, when they didn’t come home. The loss felt by those who loved them, families that have a name on the Wall.
Rain is sprinkling before Manassas. Enough to cool you off but not enough to get you worried yet, at least for a bit. Whooooo. Then come the big drops. I head off the ramp to gear up with the rain paraphernalia under the gas station pavilion. Finally get it all on and get strapped back up and out pops the sun and the rain stops. Too funny. Now I have wet clothes on under the raingear. Rain gear now keeping the wind out that would dry me. I motor on as more rain is promised on the horizon.
This brings up a point about rain. People always ask, “What do you do when it rains and your on the motorcycle”. I reply simply, “I get wet”. Duh. Rain riding has never bothered me. On the straight highways it’s no big deal. Just give more cushion to the cars in front of you. Drive like grandma on the exit ramps.
My turning point is finally reached. Off of 66 west and onto 647, Crest Hill Rd. at The Plains, VA. Crest Hill Road is my first slice of motorcycle heaven to be had this weekend. I’m delighted to find that the squiggly line I traced out on the map when planning this trip has translated so well in reality. The road is still wet from the passing rain clouds, and I give a small rabbit and then a chipmunk a near death experience. My first of many animal crossings this weekend. The road is fantastic. A mixture of hilltop road and tree lined canopies that create forest tunnels. Speed limit is 45mph, 55-60 feels comfortable on most parts. Keeping an eye out for a hilltop barn to photograph that I’ve seen in my minds eye, lit by the sun breaking through the clouds and backed by the mountain vista. No luck on any of the barns actual placement to fit the mental picture I have framed.
Crest Hill Road and Fodderstack Rd is a long stretch. I take shots of a church and other buildings along Zachary Taylor Highway. Fodderstack gives more of the same as Crest Hill, just a narrower road. The asphalt is of my favorite variety, freshly laid. Washington, VA is a tiny town of historic bed and breakfasts. Local wineries appear to be an attraction here too. Right after Washington the rain returns while I’m in route to Sperryville. Then it really starts to come down, a full on summer thunderstorm. Visibility is down. Road and parking lots soon resemble rivers. Rain drops of the monster variety explode on the pavement, and you know it hurts when they hit you.
I quick soaking circuit of Sperryville confirms there are no local hotels. I duck into a barn shaped restaurant to wait it out. My drenched gear takes on bar stool and I occupy another. There’s a few flying pigs about. The bartender get me a hefeweizen, and recommends the angus burger. Locally raised and grass fed, we exchange jokes about my passing the burgers relatives on the way in.
Don’t freak about the beer. I have a one only rule when riding. It was followed by a meal (best burger of the weekend!), several coffees, and this bar top journal entry.
Somewhere along Crest Hill road I decided to keep the cell off for the weekend. In addition no tv, newspapers, internet, or e-mail sound like a good idea. Of course I now am studiously avoid eye contact with the two beautiful plasma’s above the bar.
Hazel River Inn, Culpepper, VA, has the coolest street side seating in town.
The downpour let up at the Shady Farms bar in Sperryville and due to the deficiency in local lodging I quiz the bartender for options. Over the other side of the mountain, the opposite side of Skyline Dr via 211 is Luray with lots of motels, but I want to save the mountain for the morning. The waitress suggest Culpepper, there being a Holiday Inn etc.
Stepping outside the sun has broke through the clouds again. Enough for some shots of Shady Farms Restaurant and a bridge. Heading down 522, the Sperryville Pike, I keep an eye out for photo ops to catch the next morning as I’ll be rerouting back through. Following the mantra of Dale Borgeson about tour riding in the US, I aim to avoid large chain establishments, whether they are restaurants or hotels, and explore the mom-and-pop local variety businesses. I have a dive-ish roadside motel in mind, Culpepper comes through with the Sleepy Hollow Hotel.
Before check in I ride through downtown historic Culpepper. It’s a cool place. The Shady Farm bartender had recommended the Culpepper Thai restaurant. I see it but don’t visit, still full from the meal earlier. Cameron Street Coffee looks like a great place, located in an old warehouse. Unfortunately their closed for the night.
Shower and changed, room 102 at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel. I hop back on the bike, refreshed and dry and ride through the warm night air back downtown. The coffee at the Hazel River Inn comes with a sweet fudge confection on the side. The peach and blackberry cobbler with vanilla sauce is divine.
The reconfigured plan for this getaway is to shed. Shed worries about the job, career, housing, and relationships. My motorcycle is therapeutic. It’s 600cc’s of Zoloft on two wheels. The road lifts my spirits. This wasn’t supposed to be a solo run, and there are stretches of road where I feel the emptiness behind me.
The cobbler is finished and I can hear the sound of a band doing their sound check. The banging of the drum requires investigation.
I found Brown Bag Special in the cellar pub of the same restaurant I was in. On my way to the door the noise of the sound check floated up the stairs and directed my feet downward. Brown Bag Special opened the set, appropriately enough, with “I drink alone”. The ol’ man, Big Money, would have loved it. Drink alone started off a Big Money Blues trifecta to include “The Breeze” and “Mustang Sally”. Then they made the mistake a lot of bands make that have a great lead guitar player. They let him sing. The lead guitarist karaoke sucked his way through a Tom Petty hit. He was so off key in his singing it made you appreciate the guitar solo’s all the more for the relief they provided. Thankfully the regular singer soon resumed his duties and the night went on. More good stuff from the band.
Folsom Prison Blues
Cheap Sun Glasses
“can’t you see, can’t you see, what that woman, what she’s done to me”
Off to bed now at the Sleepy Hollow Hotel with the ghost and shades of dead hookers and overdoses past.
150 miles today.
Morning breaks on the Sleepy Hollow Hotel, a hot shower and I’m back on the bike. A quick stop downtown to shoot the Hazel Inn, then it’s back on the Sperryville Pike. More stops to capture some sights seen yesterday. Mr. & Mrs. Pump. The open mouth caricatures are an accurate representation of the current gas cost and the pumps eating your wallet.
I keep telling my daughter that her first car, college car, will be a hybrid. She thinks they are ugly. The bike isn’t so bad, averaging around 40mpg. At about 180 miles on the tripometer I start to look for a refill, although I’ve pushed it to 211 miles before.
A quick left in Sperryville on 211 and up into the mountain, Blue Ridge Mountains and Skyline Drive. Heading up the mountain I get the first bite of the twisties I’ve been craving. The fee at the gate to Skyline Drive is well worth the price. Great scenery and fantastic views. The only drawback is the 35mph speed limit that is well enforced by the park rangers.
I shoot some self-portraits at Pollock Knob overlook. They’re funny in that with all the scrambling and hurrying to be the camera timer, then trying to effect a relaxed pose. I’ve also broke out my old friend this trip, the Lubitel 166, a medium format, 120mm film, twin lens camera. I’m like Jay-Z with this camera, I have to get it in one take. There is no digital review after the click for instant gratification. As a fellow photographer it’s “Point, Push, and Pray”. I’ll be interested to see the results. Not that I’ve left digital behind. Carrying both cameras, I’m an analog/digital double threat.
After the self-portraits and some dead tree shots I’m about to pack back on the bike and leave when I meet the preacher and his wife. He offers to shoot me with my camera and I return the favor with theirs. Conversation flows and in a ‘small world’ moment it turns out that he works for same Hazel family that owns the restaurant I was at last night for his Monday thru Friday job. I get a friendly “God bless” and I’m heading south on Skyline Drive. I make several more stops and break out the cameras again at Big Meadow.
There is a gnarly dead tree in the middle of the meadow. It has burn damage at the base, either the result of some wild fire or perhaps a controlled burn done to maintain the field. I spot and shoot a few deer, they probably won’t turn out as they’re to far away for my lens on the D100. I shoot a bunch of shots of the tree with the D100 and then totally switch processes with the Lubitel. The picture setup with the Lubitel takes about a minute-and-a-half. Manual zoom, i.e., walking back and forth to get the framing I want. Light meter reading. Then dealing with the reversed optics of the look-down box camera. It is fun though, to switch it up, change the pace and the dynamics. Just one click though, hope I caught it.
It’s a long but enjoyable ride to the south end of Skyline Drive. Unless you really like slow cruising I would suggest picking which third of Skyline Drive you’d like include in your trip and leave the rest. I drop off the mountain and into Waynesboro. Finding Mad Anthony’s coffee shop for a late breakfast. I overhear that it’s around noon. The Italian Roast coffee is good, in fact, it would prove to be the best coffee of the trip.
One of the pleasures of traveling by motorcycle is that it’s an easy conversation starter. People ask you where your coming from, where you’re heading, ask about your bike, tell you’re about their bike or the one they wish they had. One of the peculiarities of these conversations is that if the person even remotely knows of anyone that has died on a motorcycle, they will be sure to share this fact along with details. These stories usually involve a deer, a car pulling out, or someone taking a corner to fast. The conversation goes something like this:
Stranger“my cousin Bob had a friend that hit a deer and died on his bike”
You“yeah, deer are dangerous, got to be careful”
I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve held variations on this conversation many times. Luckily this isn’t the conversation I have with the owner of Mad Anthony’s. He’s a former sailboat instructor who now finds the same release and head clearing on his motorcycle that he used to get from his sailboat.
This brings to mind the same wave – don’t way dynamic that occurs between sail boaters and power boaters, very similar to the sportbike & HD crowd.
The proprietor is a coffee guru, we discuss roasting (my Italian roast was just roasted Wednesday this week). We talk about the good and the evil of Starbucks. We’re both in agreement that they over roast their regular coffee, but I think their foo foo drinks are tasty. He has in his shop both the Bodum press and the Bodum vacuum coffee pot that I got my mom for x-mas. A shameless plug here, the Bodum vacuum coffee pot makes the best home coffee ever. It’s also an entertaining crowd pleaser, no joke.
Leaving Waynesboro the plan was 340 northward to 33, then into Harrisonburg, VA (home of the Valley Mall and JMU). 340 proved to be boring so I jumped on 256, Port Republic Road, for a better ride to Harrisonburg. I don’t know if the coffee wore off or if I was just worn out. I pull over at Westover Park, pick out a spot of grass, and take a good nap in the sun.
I had my motorcycle bug handed down to me by my step-dad. My kindergarten year of school we moved right at the end of the school year. Rather than switch schools at this inopportune time my Dad stuck me on the back of his Honda and rode me to school and back again for the last month or two. Even earlier than that I have a great photo of me in 1973-4 sitting on his chopper with him. Me in a diaper and him with his long hippy hair. The wild side of the Reverend indeed.
Refreshed from my nap it’s back on 33 westbound. Heading out of the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham County is more glorious twisty roads and the George Washington National Forest. GW is a beautiful tree canopy lined road with a river off to one side. Franklin, WV is the destination, a return to the Star Hotel.
I stayed at the Star a few years prior when they first re-opened the historic Star Hotel. The owner, Steve Miller, is a great guy, friendly and conversational. I told him I’d be back again, but it’s been a few more years than I thought. Late lunch at the Star is pesto grilled chicken on ciabatta bread with roasted red peppers. Not the type of fare one might associate with West Virginia, but people have misperceptions about everywhere. Steve promises a prime rib later at dinner tonight to die for.
So that there is no misunderstanding, in as much as the Sleepy Hollow Hotel was a dive, the Star Hotel is a dream.
Dump the gear in the room back on the bike for some roaming around. I head back to explore a river road I passed on the way in, Rock Gap. It’s a gravel affair and I follow it back a little ways. Photo some river shots. Down further there is a large cliff face with some college aged kids de-gearing after a day of climbing. I’ll try to stop back in tomorrow and shoot some climbing action, as well as some fly fishing.
I pick up a bottle of Barefoot Wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and drop it off with Steve at the Star to keep for later. I’ll enjoy that bottle later tonight from the 3rd floor front porch. South out of town I head, into some very secondary roads. I shoot an old decrepit cabin that would be right up Bobby Sargent’s alley. I put it in the metal folder for a possible future model shoot location, along with the river spots I’ve seen.
There are a couple more stops on this little ride. Once for what appears to be a feral chicken, and then for middle of the road stare down with a young doe. She’s camera shy though and is off before I can get a shot. Sportbike probably isn’t the best conveyance for nature photography. The pavement stops and gravel begins, I motor on. Rick & I once spent a full day just about on gravel roads, crisscrossing the back country around Cumberland, MD. So I’m comfortable with the less than ideal riding surface. A few miles on the road dead ends at a pair of chicken houses (source of the feral chicken’s ancestors perhaps?) and I turn around and survey the valley I’ve just ridden through. I have to stop the bike and soak in the scene. A picturesque farm is nestled in the corner of the valley, up against the hills. I meet some inquisitive cows, along with the farmer and his wife.
It seems that when you are in WV and you pass a sign that says “snow removal ends here” that the already suspect road conditions are going to quickly deteriorate and will soon resemble somewhat more of a logging road. I motor on through some back country, no houses, no farms, just mountains, steep roadside cliffs, and wicked gravel switchback curves. The part that gives you the willies are the downhill corners where the road grade is slanted to the outside of the curve and to the drop below. Yikes!
I creep along where a four wheeler would be much more functional. Although I still hit it a bit in the straights. Pavement arrives again and I’m unsure of my exact location. I follow the chicken farmers directions and soon discover myself back in Brandywine, intersecting the same stretch of 33 I rode on my way into Franklin.
Back at the Star Hotel it’s a shower and fresh clothes before heading down for dinner. Downstairs I find the prime rib to be as good as promised.
How beautifully staged is this. Barefoot on the 3rd floor patio, wine to ease the back and the ache in the knee.
205 miles today, the last 30 after check in, just to explore.
Out early in the morning. I find no climbers at Rock Gap, unsure of the hours they keep. Out of Franklin on 33 west, looking for another squiggly line I had seen on a map. Bland Hill Road name is a misnomer. A single lane country road winding through German Valley. I got a few shots of German Valley from the 33 overlook before turning on Bland Hill. Now I find myself in the same location I had shot from above.
The road cuts through some open pasture land and I meet some cows standing in the road after rounding one bend. They’re pleasant enough, if in no particular hurry to cross, and don’t mind posing for a shot or two before meandering on. People talk about the danger of hitting a deer, a cow would really ruin your day! Off of Bland Hill and on down into the valley. I come up on the rock formation I had seen from the overlook previously. It’s not Seneca Rocks, but a formation of the same ilk. I get some more photos, then onto German Valley Road. I’m still staying at the Star, there is no real destination today. It’s relaxing to stop as much as I like.
German Valley Road puts me back on 33 west and not long after I’m ordering breakfast at the Valley View Restaurant. Dale Borgeson warns of places that advertise home cooking, but that’s about all you see in these parts. There are a fair number of cars here and that’s usually a good since the food will be alright. Hell, even the Army could make a good breakfast. It all works out and it’s a hell of a deal, for toast, two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and coffee.
From 33 I hit 28 and turn off on Smoke Hole Road, just because it’s there and looks interesting. Boy, what a find it is. Combining the curvy one lane country road with nice wide smooth pavement (gravel free in the corners). It’s great. Smoke Hole Road turns out to run from 28 across the Seneca Rocks National Forest to 220 on the other side. Going west-to-east it starts out all curves and hills, then ends by winding along the south branch of the Potomac. There are lots of fly fishermen here enjoying the catch-and-release section of the river.
Up 220 to Petersburg, I run into some Ducati guys at the gas station. We swap riding info and I’m soon on 42 north towards Mayville. Hanging a left when I see a sign for Dolly Sods. I’m back on secondary roads and I soon pass another prophetic ‘no snow removal’ signs. It’s gravel the rest of the way up the mountain til it breaks out on top at Dolly Sod.
I’m real happy with today’s roads, as both Smoke Hole Road and Dolly Sods were unplanned ‘discovered adventures’. I do some rock scrabbling at Dolly Sod and enjoy the cliff top views. A fellow tourist snaps a shot for me an I hike out well past the distance that the casual tourist and families go. Shot some more shots of the rock formations with both the digital and film camera. Do some more self-portraits. I then sit down to relax in the sun with the cliff side breeze steadily blowing and update this journal.
Well, fellow traveler, if you’ve made it this far I am duly impressed. I thank you for your perseverance. The rest of the day was spent riding without incident. Just more fantastic roads. You don’t have to be an explore on par with Lewis & Clark to find great rides in West Virginia. Just be curious in nature and unafraid to leave the beaten path. Drop off the numbered roads and take the route less traveled. Soon you’ll be in your own undiscovered country. Blah blah blah.
Out of Dolly Sod and I find myself on 32. Rough calculations put the dirt road travel around 25 miles for the day. While we are on stats, here’s today’s animal road count:
1 dead fox
3 dead possums
1 dead blob (undistinguishable)
No fearsome deer
I guided myself today by a rather non-descript map put out by mountainhighlands.com
Leaving Dolly Sod on 32 puts me in Dry Fork and back on familiar 33 west to Elkins. I cruise around Elkins on the off chance I’ll run into a guy I know named Dallas. Now all you need to know about Dallas is the following:
I don’t know his last name
I once gave him a hair cut with dog grooming clippers
I know he works at a bike shop making choppers
You figure the odds of me finding him, near zero.
If your curious it wasn’t the first time I cut hair, albeit the first time using dog shears. In Korea I cut in the latrine for a cut or for a 6 pack. Everything was barter in the Army. We had a cook that would make you a great custom birthday cake for a case of beer or feed you food out of the back of the chow hall at 3am when you staggered in drunk from the ville for the promise of a future round to be bought. Korea stories could fill another journal.
Anyway, out of Elkins and south to Beverly. Scott, if your reading this you were on my mind as I went through town, never forgive, never forget.
So far I’ve only tried to write about the positive food experiences of the trip without throwing anyplace under the bus. C&J in Beverly however, served only barely functional burgers and the vanilla shake was of the worst chemical prefab variety. There are some things that I am stuck on, good vanilla ice cream is one. The others that I’m picky about are beer, whiskey, steak, cheese-steak, and coffee. It’s just so disappointing when something you usually enjoy turns out to be sub par.
After C&J it’s 250 east to 28, which heads back towards Seneca Rocks and Franklin. It’s a good haul through the Monongahela National Forest. A road of the scenic variety, with good twisties up the mountain and through the scenery. These type road have become quite a common occurrence here in WV. Back in Seneca Rocks and 33 east into Franklin. I never shoot Seneca Rocks, the light is never right, number one can tell you how I get about my light.
The Star’s restaurant is closed on Sunday, dagger, so I shower and head into Franklin by foot. About Franklin, WV. It’s a nice little town, quiet and sleepy. No bars other than the VFW that I could see. Everybody I’ve met and spoken too has be pleasant, friendly and conversational, both here in Franklin and elsewhere in WV. I’m sure there are a variety of characters much as anywhere, this is just my observation from the tourist level.
Following last night precedent I grab another vino from the Shell station. The Star being closed is a dilemma; I’m in need of a cork screw (having borrowed the restaurants the night before). I wander back down to the hotel, wine in hand, and past the hotel just a bit til I meet an old man sitting out front. I explain my situation, wine without access, and he says he’ll sell me a corkscrew. He goes in the house, shortly to return with the necessary implement in hand. I figure I have it for -4 or maybe rent it for a one time use for . That proves unnecessary however, he says just to take it, and keep it for any future need.
The sole booking for the hotel tonight, I’m like a wraith as I glide through the halls. On the front porch with my bottle of vino in hand. I have some cheap cigars I also picked up and there’s nothing to do but kick back and watch the sunset.
It’s been a great trip. Somewhat lonesome at times. The lack of someone to talk to surely let to the length of this journal. It was a trip to getaway, to reflect. There was no great revelation or anything, just time to get to know yourself. The road gives you time to think. I know who I am and I like being me. I know what’s missing.
I’m resolved to take more bike trips in the future. It’s definitely my preferred way to travel and vacation. Motorcycling is the way to go.
Tomorrow I have my route generally planned out, more scenic byways for a winding route home.
Miles today, 240.
Just a short postscript. 20 miles east of Washington DC, on 66, the chain popped off the bike. It’s never easy.