Monday, August 10, 2015

Louisville, Kentucky, Run - August 7-9, 2015

Looking at the map, Louisville is a city that appears to be as far West as you can go in a day without unconditionally surrendering to Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate System.  I had also read it was home to a good nightlife downtown; so under the excuse of needing to reconnoiter my dream of making it all the way West I decided early in the week to give it a go.

The original plan was to take US-33 out of Harrisonburg VA, all the way across WV.  Forecasted rain pushed my route North; so it was I-70 West out of Baltimore to I-68 West to Cumberland MD.  Passing Cumberland and seeing that I may be past the area of rain, I couldn't resist exiting Southward on US219.  But I should have.  US219 goes through the Deep Creek Lake which is a congested recreational area almost all the way to US-50.  Turning West on US-50 I was immediately rewarded with a downward set of twisties.  The pavement is old and completely wash-boarded from heavy commercial use but the Triumph Tiger’s adventure style suspension handled it easily; however, that was about it for US-50 because soon a series of lane-blocking flagmen convinced me turn South on WV-92.  A good choice which would have been made better by following instinct and turning West on WV38 as opposed to letting myself be dumped back onto US-219, where further South is an even more boring section of US-33 linking Elkins, WV, and I-79 to the West.  That part of US-33 is one of those 4-lane divided roads that will make sense in 20-years but now you just wonder where all those empty intersections are supposed to go to.  Fortunately that forward thinking only lasts until Weston, WV, where US-33 reverts back to its old, original job of helping you get across the state.  

Getting through downtown Weston it is easy to see how the interstate relocates the vitality of commerce away from old highways.  I was tempted to simply remark how Weston’s best days have passed, but noticing the old (opened in 1864) state mental asylum you have to also assume some of those old days were pretty horrific… In fact the historical marker says the building is the largest hand-cut stone building in the U.S., which makes you wonder what kind of hell needed specially cut stone to contain?

From there US-33 is lined with poverty's clutter... Thankfully it too gives way and you can resume concentrating on the rural highway.  This part of WV is hilly, but not as mountainous as the Eastern part so soon you’ll find yourself in Spencer, WV, where, in spite of all the odds against small towns, everything seems to be going well.

US-33 blends into I-77 North for a few exits, but I wasn’t interested in that, so crossing under I-77 I continued on with WV62 until I could take WV2 South down the Ohio River Valley.  For my effort I was rewarded with a long straight ride through Nothing where the only mental relief from the constant kidney punch of the highway’s raised asphalt seams were long passing zones where I could knock back 4, 5, 6, cars at a time.  This seemed to go on for so long that I thought I was lost... I mean who would intentionally take this road? But soon enough I found I-64  (which is a navigational beacon to Louisville) and went West along it for a minute until reaching Huntington, WV, where the plan was to find away across the Ohio River to find US-52, aka "Ohio River Scenic Byway" and go West.  My map wasn’t really clear and its not like there is a sign saying, “River Crossing This Way”, but eventually I could see a bridge and so was able to figure out a way to loop around to it.  (optionally you could just follow the signs for Hwy-7 North as that is the way across).  

All the way to Portsmouth, OH, US-52 is just 4-lanes of divided hwy which is only made tolerable by a 70mph speed limit.  Portsmouth may be a cool place but what you see along US-52 keeps you from wanting to find out.  US-52 quiets down after that, but with the Ohio River being blocked from view by a constant tree-line, I failed to see how the highway lives up to its 'Scenic' label.  Luckily the next option to cross back over the Ohio River was the one I wanted; and considered the price of riding on US-52 as being paid by the cool drive over the Maysville-Aberdeen Bridge where the extra long length is even more accentuated by its narrow lane width and tall suspension towers. 

Turning around in Maysville, KY, to photograph the bridge, I quickly recognized the town as being a place I would want to stay if I didn’t already have reservations.

Take the combined US-68/62 to get out of Maysville, but look for the sharp right turn to stay on US62.  US-62 doesn’t deserve the ‘U.S.’ label, it is more like a county road with 55mph straights interrupted by sharp 20mph turns leading to another 55mph zoned straight.  There are also lots of farms & houses who's driveways send gravel running off into your path, and the sweeping turns are usually banked the wrong way (so that it tips you to the outside of the turn); so, in short, the road, if taken fast, is an adrenaline blast!  So much so that if I lived off of it I would buy a small 250-400cc bike and learn to own this road.  62 starts to mellow after Cynthiana, KY, but you’re now refreshed enough to tackle the hour long interstate run into Louisville.

In Louisville, 21c is a nice boutique hotel on the fringe of downtown’s tourist area and even features an art gallery in the lower lobby.

But I stayed at the Hampton Inn... Which is fine because there you are a couple of blocks from being right in the middle it.  I got in too late to find anything but beer and chicken wings for dinner but was able to wander around and find some good music.

Places are open until 4am, but I was done by 1:30, and so after enjoying a gauntlet of late-night panhandlers it was soon lights-out.  I woke up restless and wanted to head-on, but my stomach was protesting throwing that many beers on top of yesterday’s strict diet of granola bars and thermos coffee during gas-stops; so putting my restless spirit in check, I spent the day covering downtown with its tourist attractions

The day's most memorable attraction however was seen as I took a side street and noticed a woman, my age, standing outside, with one shoe missing, the back of her dress undone, as she was talking loudly on her phone saying something about: "Dad… pacemaker… refusing…" and in my own inerrant way of finding the most wrecked of train-wrecks, I instinctively thought of introducing myself.  Thankfully (to everyone involved) I kept to my role as tourist, but sadly departed without photographing the moment.  

Gradually I made my way past Slugger Field and into the NULU area of Louisville where I stumbled on a street festival/flea market of sorts where hundreds of people were spending the afternoon junk shopping, eating from food-trucks, and generally just having a good time being a community and so found myself thinking that, yes, Louisville could have worked for me in another life…

Day spent.  Dinner done.  Ready to get on the road.  Up at 4, this time without thinking “why the fuck is the alarm clock going off?”  I got going fast enough to catch the sunrise outside of Lexington, KY.

Soon afterwards heavy wet fog stayed with me almost all the way back to Huntington, WV.  Staying on I-64 all the way past Charleston, WV., until taking exit 85, where I-64 veers away from US-60 and you are presented with your last, best, chance to cross the Kanawha River, and get into the mountains of West Virginia.  US-60 along the river is a beat-up, busy highway, but it takes you to WV-16 at Gauley Bridge.  WV16 is good riding, but so is the fast running WV-39.   Westward through Summerville, then a even more rewarding time as you work through the Allegheny Mountains, I ran up on a wide-load tractor-trailer right at the intersection of WV39 and US park road 150 (Highland Scenic Hwy).  Choice was simple; Hwy 150 it is... Sure you could easily do double the 45mph speed limit on this ridge-line running park hwy, but I chose to enjoy the scenery (at a, somewhat, more moderate pace).

The steady gaze of the bike's amber fuel warning light prompted me to grab the first gas station I found after I turning South on US219.  The station's high-test gas may have turned brown with age, but the shaded, custom picnic table surrounding a shady tree made it a good place to stop.  

Finicky fuelers will want to remember that Marlington, WV, is just a few miles further South.
Which is also where you reconnect with WV-39.  The stretch of WV-39 between US219 to US220 is a sport-bike’s reason for being.  And I won’t re-write my praise for US220 North, but will note that June’s road repair work is done.  Not wanting the fun to end I topped off the fuel tank (for the last time) in Moorefield, WV, in order to take WV-29 North to I-70 (as opposed to running the shorter line out to I-81).  I had to punch through a heavy Summer rainstorm between Rio and Delray.  As I did I could feel the strike of fat rain drops through the jacket and within a minute cold water was in too.  It took a little longer to trust the tires to hold the curves, and although I don’t think I ever got too near the limit of tire’s wet traction, I forced myself to stay as on-it, as I could because wet pavement stayed with me, off and on, all the way to Berkley Springs.  From there, quickly North to I-70 where Sunday drivers choked the interstate and pounded my patience with a relentless series of: full-stop, then accelerate to 90mph, then full-stop again; all the way to Frederick, MD.  As always the torque filled triple-motor fully proved its versatility in getting through it.

At 1439 miles it was a good run with some big lessons learned.  The biggest being that WV and VA have spoiled me with good fast mountain roads, and if I want to go West, that type of riding is not going to be easily found in the great space between Ohio River and the Rocky Mountains.  The second being that the Tiger 800 'roadie' can do it, but that I am going to need a lot more vacation time to make it happen.