Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Johnson City, TN, September 7-8, 2015

I had thought of plans that started on the 4th and involved 3-4 days of riding; until the buzzkill of a rainy forecast washed that idea away… Opportunity seemed to knock again for a plan to do 2-nights of drinking, until life's shifting sands drifted over that idea… A lucky scramble tilted Saturday and Sunday morning towards success and so with the weather looking bright enough for sunglasses, a hotel reservation was in-order.  I like Asheville, but knowing there wouldn't be anytime left to enjoy it, Johnson City fell into the good-enough category.
Interstate is the same day or night; so the 100 miles to WV started at 5am.  There is espresso waiting for you in Berkley Springs, WV:
But you have to wait until 8am to get it, so it was time to crack open the thermos.               
WV Hwy 9 West out of Berkley Springs starts off at 40mph switchbacks (and is speed trapped accordingly) but you are quickly in a 55mph zone which serves as a dare for the remainder of the mountain.  Dropping down in the valley you’re rewarded with more fast moving turns as the road matches the Potomac and later Cacapon Rivers until you go South on WV-29.  The next part of WV-29 is high speed ‘up-and-down’ highway with just enough twisty segments to keep you on your toes until you have to turn right at Forks of Cacapon.  This continues until you have to connect with US-50 to resume WV-29 a little further to the East.  Starting now, WV-29 rocks a great combination of high-speed sweepers, tight 90-degree course adjustments, and hillside-hugging switchbacks, all the way down to US-48.  US-48 is a divided highway connection to Moorefield, WV, where if you’re lucky you get a spirited ride (past a WV state trooper barracks) to Petersburg, WV, where the fun of US-220 South really begins.   To break my routine I took US-250 West out of Monterey, WV.  Don’t be fooled by its Mayberry Charm:
Monterey is a speed trap.  Fortunately the sharp twists of the mountains that greet you as soon as you leave Monterey were free of entrapments since it rocks it all the way to its connection to WV-28 South.  28 soon merges with Hwy-92 and with you still being in the heart of mountainous WV you are in for a great run even without much change in elevation.  After merging, then parting, with WV-39, Hwy 92 South straightens to the point of tempting you with high-speeds without boring you with too much straight-line.

Take I-64 East an exit, or two, to Hwy 311 where you are immediately greeted with a short series of switchbacks as soon as you exit the Interstate.  That mellows for stretch, but soon enough you are crossing multiple ridgelines and enjoying the sharp switchbacks that lie in wait for you between Sweet Springs, WV, and New Castle, VA.

Another set of switchbacks greet you immediately out of New Castle on VA-42.  Unfortunately, I only got to enjoy the tailgate of an old pick-up truck driven by a driver whose's dangle-out-the-window arm is the universal sign for “I am driving without purpose”.  My only consolation for enduring this offense was knowing my exhaust pipe was pointing at his face as I blasted past in the first passing zone.  Free of the La-Z-Boy pilot, it was time to relish the long stretch of high-speed sweeping turns, mini-switchbacks, and sharp course adjusting turns, that is VA-42 all the way until US-460.  
Hungry, I hurried to Narrows, VA to enjoy a delicious fried chicken sandwich at Anna’s restaurant… Unfortunately Anna had also taken the day off and left me eating a granola-bar over the last of the thermos coffee in the parking lot of a shuttered bank... Which was fine because it left me focused and ready to tackle the fast running hwy-61.  Luckily the first time a police cruiser passed me, it was as I was transitioning into an apex, and his speed was such that I don’t think he had time to pay attention to his radar since he should have been similarly focused on the grip of his tires.  I thought he may turn around, but I guess he had other plans.  This happened again on the other side of I-77 where hwy-61 tightens-up and although this time I felt caught as I rolled on the throttle exiting a turn, a search of my rearview mirrors failed to reveal any pursuit; so considering it a good-omen I kept on it hard until Tazewell, VA.  Knowing a shortcut, I was able to skirt everything except the empty old-town section of Tazewell and reach Hwy 16 to run the Back of the Dragon.  In the middle of the Dragon there is a driveway that provides a great vantage point, where my only company on this section would appear shortly in the form of two bicyclists:
16 all the way to US-58 East at Volney, VA.  US-58 is twisty-tight running for most of the way to Damascus, VA.  At one point slow traffic and a lack of passing zones on US-58 were enough to pause the action so the road could reset.  
With rivers and mountains all around, Damascus is an outdoor activity hotspot.  In the center of town, I caught VA-716 South where you go through what is labeled as a tunnel... But clearly this is just a hole punched through a rock wall:
After that you’re in Tennessee; and being in TN means dealing with speed limits that are 10-15 mph slower than they need to be (case in point: Tail of the Dragon is a Vespa friendly 35mph).  Of course everyone still goes the speed they want to go, but now instead of going 10mph over the speed limit you’re going 20mph over, which means that on a long enough timeline the survivability rate of a my license would drop to zero.

VIP parking at the Hilton Doubletree
Followed by gravy covered fried chicken-steak and a side of beers (yes, I know beer can also be plural) within walking distance of the hotel was all I needed to call the day a success.

Thoughts of getting up early to greet the sunrise in the mountains didn’t make it past the realization that I already have a sunrise photo; and so the magic of daybreak was greeted with a snore.  Once up and fully caffeinated at 7:30, Johnson City's back-to-school congestion suggested the Interstate was the best way out.  Resisting a later temptation to get back on US-58, I stayed on I-81 all the way to Hwy 16 to run the Back of the Dragon one more time (I wonder if my friends and family would be disappointed if I retired in Marion, VA, so I can be closer?)
I only enjoyed a half serving of Dragon since Hwy 42 bisects it.  Highway 42 Northwards is immediately raucous, but transitions shortly into fast sport touring gold:
The fun is interrupted as you have to travel on VA-100 & then US-460 to reconnect to 42 North and so to make sure I was in the frame of mind to really enjoy it, I stopped at the old covered bridge outside of Newport, VA, around noon:
Retracing yesterday's steps on 42 to 311, I was rewarded with an obstruction free run.  I-64 East to connect with US-220 North (a good place to stop for gas).  US-220 North starts out with a long stretch of mountain switchbacks which transitions into tight valley twisties before dumping you into a 45mph zone which continues up to Warm Springs, VA.  There, an even slower moving line of semitrailers motivated me to jump onto VA-39 East where the road quickly crosses the mountains of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forrest.

Down in the middle of the valley, I turned North on a back road (VA-678): 
VA-678 is maintained well enough for you to get your speed up, and also, on occasion, poorly maintained enough for you to regret your speed… It can also be difficult to maintain your sense of purpose:
But if you make it, you are connected to VA-250 where West brings you back over the mountains and back into Monterey where you can resume US-220 N.

Since I crossed the mountains twice, it seemed natural to go for a 3-peat and take US-33 out of Franklin.  Being a US-Highway, 33 has two lanes of opportunity going up the mountain.  Seeing a semitrailer most of the way up, I frantically raced up the mountain using both lanes to make my apex and the triple motor to pull me up from full lean-over into full acceleration to get past it… Only to reach the truck exactly where the two-lane opportunity closed.  Defeated, but intently lurking for an opportunity, the driver was remarkably gracious enough to slide over just a little so I could get by... Too bad there were cars waiting for me further down, and soon enough I was in ever increasing congestion going into Harrisonburg, VA.  There isn’t a sign for 42N in Harrisonburg, but if you go the opposite direction of the sign for 42 that points South you’ll do well.  That part of 42 is lame all the way to Broadway, VA, where you pick up 259 (also lame) to get back into West Virginia.  There are fuel opportunities, but few food opportunities; so when in doubt, remember it’s hard to screw-up a BLT in the Summer.
Going under Hwy-48, the road turns into the WV-29 you were on yesterday… Rocking back up WV-29, I noticed the sun setting and established a personal goal of watching the sunset from the ridgeline that backs up to the starting point of fun in Berkley Springs. Getting closer, I could see occasionally see the shadow on the looming ridge and so my intent sharpened with with the approaching deadline...  

Victorious; but so closely so that I had to keep my helmet and sunglasses on to get my camera out in time.  Just as I was walking up I was pounced on by an overly friendly local who excitedly felt the need to point out that you could see the windmills on an adjacent ridge through a pair of binoculars even as trying to raise the camera up.  Seriously.  It seemed pointless to point out that the sun's setting was a quickly diminishing moment, but it seemed like the wrong time to be an ass so I contented myself with a hastily made digital trophy before letting myself be dragged into small talk that I was able to escape with an abrupt offer of a handshake.  
I thought that was the end of the tale; but on my way home, just as I started out on I-70, the feeling of being robbed of the sunset's chance for a timeout before enduring the remaining 100 miles of Interstate prompted me to exit at Bigpool, MD, for some Gatorade.  And just as I started getting busy on a bag of chips, the guy who had parked next to me gets out, pulls a rug out of his trunk, and starts praying towards Mecca.  Right there in the middle of Nowhere-ville, MD.  And so after a perfect two days of running a motorcycle across 4 states, and then pulling off a sunset victory whose satisfaction was heightened by the knowledge that the accomplishment was only due to fate's arbitrariness, I found it oddly fitting to be positioned by this random series of events so that I may bear witness to this guy's attempt to pay tribute to the fates.  I wonder though, in retrospect, if he just left feeling compelled to write about the rube who crunched potato chips all through his evening prayer...