Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Baltimore, Atlanta, Princeton (WV) Run, November 7-10, 2014


With November starting it is only a matter of time before all the ice treating gravel and constantly cold temps turn long trips to the mountains into short trips in town.  So with friends in Atlanta (One having a gig with his new band on Friday night) it was time to head South.  Out the door by 3:00am to beat the gridlock that lurks between DC and Richmond, I made it to Ashland, VA, at about 5:00, where shaking after 2 hours in low-40s cold, I stopped for gas and to sit with a cup of coffee, before throwing on my Rev'it rain-suit as a windbreaker.

The rest of the drive is just Interstate drone down I-95 & 85.  However, every run to Atlanta always ends the same... Everyone's pent-up desire to drive fast in SC's long three-lanes of radar enforced 60mph is unleashed in GA's two-lanes of 70mph.  So I stop, gas-up, rest-up, caffeine-up, and take off the neon yellow rain-suit at the QuickTrip off exit 21 in SC, before committing myself to keeping up with whatever the fast-lane is doing from there until everyone's anxiety magically dissipates where I-985 merges with I-85 and you can resume a normal pace.

Time table kept, I was now able to enjoy the endless conveyor-belt of beers that starts with the first congratulatory handshake.              
We closed-up that bar with the band and went looking for more, but at 2:00am the pack got a little thinner and we ended up at the Porter Beer Bar in Little Five Points where I was able congratulate myself on a successful 24-hours of consciousness.

The next day was slower and but got up to speed taking out an '82 911 Targa that is now calling my friend's garage, home.  Another late night meant an even slower start to Sunday.  But once again I-85 demanded my attention.  Northward traffic out of Atlanta isn't as aggressive so you can make good time without having to choose between a slow moving semi in-front or a tailgating SUV behind.
   
With a hotel reservation in Princeton, WV, the plan was to take advantage of the weather one last time to get up in the mountains.

So the path was I-85 to US221, then 221 North all the way past Boone, NC, where I could catch Hwy 16 North to 460 and run right into Princeton.  US221 between I-85 and Marion, NC, is an easy low-hills run where the grade doesn't pick up until the Pisgah National Forest. 

Before I could get to the good stuff, I stopped to photograph a water powered gristmill at the intersection of US221 and US74.  I let the bike tip over as I went to lean it down on a kickstand that was still up... Not having my A-Game on, I unsuccessfully resisted the fall until doing a slow roll away at the end.  I thought only my pride was injured but even that little jolt cost me an inch of my clutch lever.  Thankfully it didn't snap-off at the base (because I would be still in NC waiting on parts from Triumph). So after man-ing back up to get it back on two wheels, I poured some coffee in me for strength with pulling my head out of my ass.   
Getting through Boone was slow, and made slower by noticing a low sun.  The signs for 221 were good up until the point where I missed one.  Unsure of myself on what became 421, I felt lucky to find where Hwy 16 intersected it.  Dusk slowly greeted me as I pushed hard on an unintentional, but fun section of 16.  Unfortunately it was dark by the time I reconnected back with Hwy 221.  
That meant what would have been a much sought after challenge would now just be a challenging challenge in the dark and cold mountains where making the pace meant driving to the edge of the high-beams while staying balanced in mountain twists by jockeying the seat and the high-beam toggle-switch.  This played on and on, until I hit Independence, VA, where I had to abandon my Plan-B of taking an interesting looking US21 North to Wytheville to just take the commercialized 221 all the way to I-77 at Woodlawn... Which was really the only choice because I was exhausted and hanging on for an hour at 75mph ended up be all I had left in me. 

Monday morning was low-40s cold.  A cold made worse by thick fog on 460 out of Princeton along the Bluestone River.  Turning onto VA42 at Newport, VA, you pass a small gas station and couple of businesses, which is still a perfect place to thaw out and get ready for running 42.  
And the run is sweet all the way to New Castle, VA
(in the valley below)
Hwy 311 out of New Castle is just as good and even though the areas has already had snow there wasn't too much gravel up on the mountain switch-backs.  

I've taken 311 all the way to I-64, but this go-around I picked up Hwy 18 in Paint Bank for a quick valley run to Covington, VA, where I was going to stop for gas but ended up on the truck route through town:

Pushing on I was rewarded with a empty set of mountain switch-backs as US220 gets North of Covington and into Hot Springs.   Hot Springs & Warm Springs, VA, is an old-money playground so two-wheeled hooliganism should be restrained on that stretch of 220.  Not there there was any fight left in me.  I needed gas and a warm up, so the quiet Sunoco station made for a perfect place to do both with a hotel waffle I made 'to-go' and a still warm thermos of dark coffee from my morning stop at Starbucks.



I have yet to have a bad run on 220; so I ran it up past Moorefield (where I would usually cut over towards Front Royal) and all the way to US50, where I went East to Romney, VA.  That section of 220 (and 50) is boring and congested, but from there you can catch WV Hwy 29 North to Hwy 9 East into Berkley Springs, which has not failed to be lightly traveled fun.  Skipping the temptation for a good sandwich in Berkley Springs, I pressed on to Hancock, MD for gas and the last of my coffee before doing the two hour sprint on I-70 to Baltimore.

At 1575 miles, I have to say it wasn't an easy run, but if another cold winter means the bike doesn't get out of Maryland again until the Spring, I can still be content knowing I pushed my limits this weekend.  

   
                

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Baltimore - Princeton, WV, run - Sept 27-28, 2014


Roads:  I-95 - 495 - I-66 W - then S. on I-81 for two exits.  Exit VA-WV 55 to Moorefield, WV, tank up at the big Sheetz gas station, then Hwy 220S to Petersburg, VA.  After that, 220S from Petersburg all the way down to Covington, VA is sport-touring gold... But since my plan was to go down through the middle part of West Virginia I choose WV Hwy 28 to Seneca Rock, then onwards to WV 33 to catch US 250 West towards Huttonsville, WV.  
US250 between Bartow and Huttonsville WV is a good mountain Highway, but all the Porsches on 28 & 33 reflect the fact that the real joy of that stretch of road is mainly high-speed sweepers.
US 250 runs into US 219, where I went South long enough to to hit WV Hwy 15.  15 is good all the way to Webster Springs, WV (where I saw a heavy police presence but none of them speed trapping).  
Stop in the town square to look at an enormous lump of coal which was mined locally and have fun thinking about how much the EX deserves a part of it for Christmas
If you find yourself West of Webster Springs on Hwy 15, you missed the turn for WV Hwy 20 S.  Find the Go-Mart gas station and you will be on WV 20.  Not that I recommend WV 20.  Sure it is a lightly traveled mountain road where the speed limit almost never dips below 55 and legal passing opportunities are plentiful, but you have to be ready for inexplicably uncompleted asphalt repairs lurking just past your view of the apex, and equally unexpected scatterings of loose gravel that suddenly appear like a prankster's shot of adrenaline.

I was happy to exit 20 and go West on US 60; so I could connect to WV Hwy 41 South towards Beckley, WV.  WV 41 is deteriorating as evidenced by sunken patches but with the winding mountain highway being free of road debris the adventure bike's suspension refused to be upset by any of it even during spirited riding.  All was well until Hwy 41 crosses the New River where the bridge over it is being renovated and only one lane at a time can cross.  Riding over concrete and rebar wasn't a problem, but as I climbed the switchbacks to get out of the valley, rain had distributed a thin layer of clay over the asphalt (like butter on toast) and even at a slow (25-40 mph) pace I allowed myself a little too much lean and the front tire tried to slide out from underneath me.  Instinctively I kicked out with my left leg, and, thanks to non-slip sole on my Solovair boots my leg formed a quick strut and propped the bike up just long enough for the front tire to catch its footing.  Luckily my speed was low enough that the resulting high-side force wasn't insurmountable.  And thanks to the strong boot for keeping my foot from getting injured as the forward momentum brought my left foot back into the bike.
         
Getting through Beckley was too detailed of a task for my paper map; so I missed connecting to WV Hwy 16 South and ended up taking US 19 all the way into Princeton, WV, which was a good choice that would have been even better if I had not already run out of daylight.  

There are lots of food and hotel choices in Princeton, and having several right outside the Hampton Inn makes it a good choice especially since walking back from the bar was right choice.

Sunday started at Starbucks and although it was clear and cool in town a wet fog soon made stopping to apply RainX a necessity.  Thankfully when it was time to exit the boring 4-lanes of US460 I was out of it.  VA Hwy 42 is pure sport-touring gold; so I was quick to stop early on in order to shake off the fog as I checked out an old covered bridge.





VA Hwy 42 N from 460 rocks all the way to New Castle, where smart money is on taking Hwy 311 W.  Well into 311 I should stopped to join the other motorcyclists gathered at the Swinging Bridge General Store in Paint Bank for lunch but the complete lack of traffic in front of me discouraged me from slackening my pace.  

Hwy 311 leads to I-64, which quickly travels Westward on I-64 to the exit for WV 92.  WV 92 is a fast paced valley road that had just received a fresh layer of asphalt so fresh in fact that it was still minus the lane stripes.  Mistakenly counting on gas being available at at least one of the little town-circles along 92, I started to regret not waiting in-line for gas at the busy stations near the interstate... So I ended up having to detour off 92 onto WV Hwy 39W towards Marlington to find it.  

Backtracking to 92, and then up to Frost, to catch WV Hwy 84 as it veers East to plug into US 220N.  (The run on 92 North of WV39 to Frost is a good run and worth finding a way to work into your path)  Proceeding North on US220 through Monterey a brief flash of blue lights to reminded me of what I already should have remembered from earlier trips through here; so I was happy to proceed with the flashing warning.  Soon after Monterey, US 220 soon gets back to being the one of the best highways in WV.  A spirited run ended just North of Upper Tract (a very small circle on any map), where gradually past there Sunday traffic was too thick to work through.  Not wanting to be stuck in stupid, I turned around to Riley's general store in Upper Tract for a rest and re-think. 

Locals confirmed what the map showed, and that is that just a little further South I could turn on Schmucker Rd and connect to S. Mill Creek Rd (aka WV 9) which would loop a long way around to connect back to US 220 immediately S of Petersburg.  It proved to be a perfect detour with the only alarm coming from a guy on a 4-wheeled ATV using my lane to make his apex at what was easily 70 mph; I quickly made room for him and even gave his helmet-less bravery the two fingered acknowledgment usually reserved for fellow riders caught in slow traffic.    

Deal's Gap run - August 30-31, 2014

1400+ miles in 2 days of riding.  
Roads:  Interstate to escape the DC area, then VA Hwy 55 to Petersburg, WV, then US 220 S all the way to Covington, VA (watch your speed in Monterey and Warm Springs).  Tried to find a way South from Covington to reach a small town called Union so I could jump on 219, but lost confidence in my map as the road turned to gravel over an apparently aimless mountain backroad... Defeated, I turned back to I-64 W rode it to WV Hwy 20 S, where you can find food, fuel and a glimpse at what it would be like to live locally from a place even Google Maps won't show: 



WV Hwy 20 S through Hinton and all the way S down to I-77 to make the Interstate near dusk.  I-77 to I-81 S for a long straight run to Knoxville.  The interstate was wet, but the cloud lighting stayed to the North.  Made the hotel around 11:30 pm, stretched my legs walking for beer before crashing soundly in fresh sheets.  Starbucks over a map is a great way to start the day and after finding my way through Marysville, I was off to start the The Tail of the Dragon.    
Started the fun by passing a guy as he was turning on his Go-Pro; but the highlight was playing tag with a skillful GS rider.  The weekend road was busy with an organized event occurring at the Deal's Gap motorcycle resort so a second run seemed unrewarding.  Checking it off the list, I started making my way back East.  A series of uninspired choices gradually lead me to the La Brea Tar Pits of motorcyclists, US Hwy 441 N through the Smoky Mountains through Gatlinburg, TN.  My punishment wasn't over as I retraced my steps back to I-81 N where I exited North of Bristol to make a run on VA 42 which parallels I-81.  Such a sweet choice!  I took it all the way to VA100 N to US 219 N before going East on WV 39 through Warm Springs.  Night had fallen; so the plan was to cut the mountain backroad driving short by short cutting onto Hwy 39 E to Interstate 81.  A mentally taxing night run on a foggy and wet 39 through the George Washington National Forrest was compounded by running parallel to I-81 on the very troublingly deer infested Hwy 42 connecting Goshen and Buffalo Gap, VA.  From there finding I-81 was easy, but the final 3 hours of Interstate home felt painfully slow no matter how fast my speed.   


2013 Triumph Tiger 800

After a 700 mile day on the Speed Triple I realized I couldn't get out as far as I wanted without stopping for a day of Yoga and contemplative meditation.  And as much of a minimalist as I like to think of myself as being, life wasn't fitting into my Ogio No-Drag backpack.  
So in the Summer of 2013 I picked up a new ABS equipped Tiger 800:

And found myself easily getting back out as far as I was before:


And with enough space to stretch it into two days of riding:

So that by October 25, 2014, the Roadie's odometer has recorded 10133 adventure miles.  

2007 Triumph Speed Triple

The second owner had put a few thousand, mostly commuter, miles on it during the few years he had it.  Taking it into the shop to have the state inspection performed the manager walked out, and pointing to the rear tire said, "The whole side of the tire is a chicken strip"
And as he turned to look at me, I was able to pass that inspection with a "Hey, I just bought it."

And now with the bike now registered in my name, I got busy correcting that misconception:

Of course there were bugs that the prior owner's no-maintenance policy had left for me that needed working out:

But it was always wicked fast and you had to be careful launching from a red light or it would wheelie... And running hard through the gears would slide you back in the seat.  Once riding fast behind a Mazda Speed and a Cadillac CTS on WV-29 between Forks of Cacapon and Paw Paw, the three of us came up on a slower moving dump-truck pulling a trailer in front of pick-up truck pulling a trailer, and in short stretch of passing-zone (only in WV) between two sharp hills, with neither the Mazda or the Cadillac being willing, I grabbed a handful of throttle at 45mph in 4th and as I hit 5th pulling in front everyone I caught the speedo reading an irrationally exuberant number.   


   WV ended up being the end of the Speed Triple.  The back roads getting out there can be fun, but the roads of WV are awesome almost across the whole state; so it was just a great place to explore:

And soon I was pushing myself further and further from home, until the day I made it to the New River Gorge Bridge not too far from Charleston, WV:

and tried to make it back the same night



Getting Back in the Darwin Challenge

In June of 2012, I was just minding my own business walking around in Asheville, NC,
and got to looking at this Speed Triple, And then thought I would share it with a good friend in Atlanta, by asking, "Have Speed Triples always looked so good?"



It didn't long after that to find one for sale locally: 

Of course buying a bike after being off one for so long was greeted with the usual predictions of doom... My response was a rhetorical: "When will it be okay to die?  Never right?  So why do I have to sit around and wait on cancer?"  

1978 Kawasaki KZ1000

Around 1995 I made the mistake of reading this ad:

Because a few days later it in was in my garage:

With the KZ1000 I finally a bike where I could stretch my legs, both literally and figuratively
With the bigger motor and longer wheelbase I was free to enjoy exploring Northern Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (where this photo was taken)  
Previous owner had already installed the Kerker pipe (the quick, then low burble, without the whirring of a starter motor is so satisfying!) so all that was left for me to do was switch to a lower handle bar and add another disc to the front.
I ended up selling it in 2000 (to pay bills) and the guy who bought it said he was going to crate it up and send it back to Japan. 



1980 Kawasaki KZ750

I bought this sometime after 1991
It had had a hard life, something the primary chain would remind you of, if you let it idle below 900 rpms (If you ever used a rock tumbler as a kid you know the sound)
But it ran like a scalded dog, and like a Timex watch, it could take a licking and keep on ticking.  
Light and with a short wheelbase it was a perfect bike for introducing me to sport of sport-riding.
Works performance springs out back and Progressive ones up front was all it needed to feel new.  And a lower handle bar and bullet screen was all it needed to feel right.

I did have the clutch cable break one Saturday just as I launched from a light down near Macon.  Right in front of a speed shop.  As the mechanic there was looking up the Honda shop's number in the Yellow Pages, he said there used to be a Kawasaki shop in the abandoned building on the other side of the street where I came to a halt.  Made me wonder if the bike's first owner could have been drawn to that red paint from the very show room that was now empty.   

1971 BMW R60/5

I bought the Toaster, for fun, shortly after getting out of the Army in 1987.
Then a car crash meant for one cold, rainy Fall and Winter in 1988/89 it was my only form of transportation to work and school at night.  
Original except for the cheap set of unbaffled pipes,
it was also in dire need of love that I was too ignorant to pay it;  
in fact John Landstrom, who was still wrenching out of his basement in Norcross, 
once wrote me a note on an invoice that said "Needs Tires NOW!" 
because I was oblivious to the depth of the dry rotting.
It always did what I wanted it to do 
even if that meant an hour at 80mph
or starting without protesting a life of being left outside. 
The only time it wanted to punish me was when I got on the front brake at speed without burning off the collected rain water slowly as I started out... Luckily before the tank-slapper could throw me to the ground, I let go of the brake and it righted itself as if nothing had happened.