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Blue Ride Day 3 September 11, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Another poor night’s sleep and another 9:30AM start and I was on the road heading north on US-19 after a gas stop at the little concentration of commerce north of Summersville.  The ride was getting a little onerous and I was lacking the enlightenment and peace I had hoped for.  I opted to focus on ABC points for a while to give myself the distraction of some objectives.  I picked up Braxton and Nicholas counties on the way up US-19, and decided to get my S-city and a cup of coffee in Sutton, WV, where US-19 breaks off from I-79 and merges with WV-4.

Pulling into town, I saw signs for the Cafe Cimino Country Inn and figured that would be a good spot to stop.  It was more of a quaint B&B and dinner restaurant than an actual cafe, so I continued to explore the town. 

I passed a small flea market which got me thinking about the economy.  Here I saw people who have little, selling their used clothing and belongings to more people who have little.  It seems that irrespective of the broader economy, people still need to consume at some basic level.  But in times of downturn the economic communities get smaller, more localized, and a step closer to a barter system.  While it may be depressing to some, I see it as a good sign that irrespective of the financial news, that the core engine of trade will keep chugging along slowly until it can build up a little momentum again.

Since I had already lost mileage momentum anyway, I rode out to Sutton Dam.  A nice little recreation area at the base of the dam was hosting some kind of event.  But despite the number of milling about people, it just didn’t seem to be a public function so I circled back through town and kept heading north on WV-4.  Still without coffee, I stopped at a little convenience store at Laurel Fork and pulled up next to an obese and rustic family eating McDonald’s breakfasts in a rusted-out pickup.  I got my coffee, pulled out my atlas and sat on curb to plan my route.   A few minutes later, the truck started up with the roar of a challenged muffler and a billow of smoke.  As they were leaving, the portly man in the passenger seat started yelling at me quite obviously incensed, though I couldn’t tell why over the din of their failing muffler. 

I continued to try to make sense of my location on the atlas, which gets a bit squirrely on minor roads and the GPS on my phone was useless without a data signal for the Google map to download, but figured I was hopefully still on the right track just proceeding up the road I was travelling.  I finished my coffee and continued up what I guessed to be WV-4 toward Flatwoods, where I encountered a traffic backup headed up by a yellow-vested flagman that left me motionless for about 20 minutes.  The earlier ride had been through cool shaded roads and I was again thankful for having brought chaps, but now I was stopped in the sun on a hot bike and baking.  I had already encountered a ridiculous construction stop earlier in the trip where they unnecessarily had traffic down to a single escorted lane that slowly ran past only two small construction activities  that were separated by 2 miles.  So I kept thinking the road was going to clear “any minute now…”, and continued to bake.  Finally as traffic started moving, I found it was not construction, but a parade that had blocked  WV-4 just around the curve. 

And not just a parade…  as I am writing this, I found out it was most likely the Flatwoods Monster Festival, commemorating the UFO landing and encounter with a 10-foot tall, green-clad, orange-eyed, spade-headed alien purported to have happened Sept 12, 1952.  Needless to say, I am now exceedingly bummed having ridden right by this without stopping to check it out…

The ride was enjoyable from there with plenty of twists and great countryside.  I stayed on WV-4 as it split from US-19 heading toward Rock Cave to pick up a U-county point for Upshur County only to miss the sign.  I picked up WV-20 toward Buckhannon where I did manage to find an Upshur County Park; my fingers are crossed hoping they accept that as an “official” sign.  A bit further up the road I found a local restaurant,  The Original T&L Hot Dogs, whose sign was a call to “Remember the good old days…”.  I had to stop.

The place is clearly a popular local lunch destination.  I was lucky to have gotten in just ahead of the bulk of the line.  The place was quaint but generally unexceptional.  Service was very friendly but not exceedingly efficient, which didn’t bather me; I was in it for a great hot dog.  I ordered a couple of dogs and a chocolate-strawberry milkshake, the latter of which surprised the older woman at the counter to think you could even make such a thing.  The dogs were good but not great and far too small for the bun.  I could have eaten more, but by the time I saw my food, the line was nearly out the door.  Slurping the last of my shake, I reviewed my atlas and decided to get on US-33 to pick up my E-city at Elkins.

In the parking lot, I was duped by the sun and stowed my jacket only to get goosebumps as the  road turned to hi-way outside of town.  Freezing along US-33 I was looking forward to stopping in Elkins; but US-33 makes a weird split going off in two directions, and I ended up on the one running north of town.  Now the town felt to out-of-the-way.  I headed south on US-219 going only as far as the Elkins sign to get the ABC-point and slip on my jacket; then I headed back up US-219 and into the Monongahela National Forest. 

I was reminded how spectacular US-219 is through that area; it has everything that is wonderful about a mountain riding road.  Great sweeps and twist with incredible scenery.  I picked up a National Forest point upon leaving the Monongahela and continued on, just missing one of my favorite scenic overlooks of a wind farm just west of Thomas.  But unlike past rides, I didn’t miss the access road to the wind-farm and pulled in for a closer look. 

I thought about the ongoing windmill controversy.  On one hand, proponents see them as “free” clean energy and aesthetically beautiful to look at.  The opposition thinks they are ugly, unreliable, expensive bird-killers.  I am impressed with the engineering of these enormous structures whose size is deceptive from a distance.  As for aesthetics, I have been on both sides of the issue.  A solitary wind mill is a unique oddity and minor engineering marvel.  A small cluster on a ridge or in a field rhythmically synchronized is kind of charming.  But, I have also seen then as eye-sores when they expand into large fields, shifting the scene from green energy sculptures moving in harmony with nature into an industrialized visual assault of the skyline.  This one outside of Thomas, however, falls into the cute kinetic cluster category (for me anyway).

Further up, I stopped briefly at the overlook of Backbone Mountain which crosses the westernmost border of Maryland.  The mountain is location of both Maryland’s highest point and West Virginia’s first fire tower.  I proceeded up US-219 crossing into MD, where I picked up US-50 east, nipping the southwest point of MD crossing back into northern WV.  I continued east picking up US-220 via WV-972 heading north just 7 miles from where I had started heading south a couple of days earlier. 

Backbone Mountain

Having more or less completed my WV loop, my plan was to take US-220 north into Cumberland, MD and race home on I-68 and I-70.  However, passing through Cresaptown I saw Warner’s Bavarian Garden and was compelled to stop in the Wurst way (sorry).However, in the parking lot I paused.  Enjoying German beer and sausages could mean a cold dark finish to my ride home, or put me in a motel ridiculously close to the end.  The Wurst won out and I entered the restaurant.  The place was amply decorated with Bavarian knick-knacks and gew-gaws with a traditional dark wood ambiance.  Very charming, but I was inclined toward the beer garden out back.  With atlas and journal in hand I sat down, being the only outdoor customer, and waited to be noticed as a patron ohne Bier.  Eventually, a young Dirndl-clad waitress appeared and took my order.  I ended up having Knockwurst, Weisswurst and Bauernwurst, all of which I enjoyed immensely leaving me a bit more than full. 

Looking at the waning elevation of the sun, I half-contemplated spending the night there.  Instead, I mounted the bike and continued up US-220 to pick up I-68 eastbound.  Riding like a bat out of hell, I picked up I-70 a while later.  Night fell and so did the temperatures, and I was not fully equipped for the change.  I took the exit off I-70 for the Dogpatch Tavern thinking to warm up there, but rode past opting against it lest I be riding really late.  I instead pulled over in Myersville and put on my raingear over my leather for layered warmth.  I pressed on down I-70, eventually arriving home tired and shivering, chilled to the core with numb fingers.  I opened the garage and rolled the bike in. 

Blue’s absence was painfully obvious.


Blue Ride Day 2 September 10, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Day 2 proved to be an exhausting day, though not from anything in particular.  I didn’t sleep well with the 3rd Base Sports Bar conqueso giving me a case of heartburn.  I woke at 6:00AM and stepped outside to check the weather: chilly bordering on cold.  I was regretting not bringing better gloves; but had awoken so fatigued, I wasn’t in a hurry to get out anyway.  After a few cups of lobby coffee, and three and a half hours of dawdling, I was on the road, glad to have chaps with the temperature still just flirting with 60 degrees.

I headed south accomplishing one of my main objectives: simply to ride US-220.  The crisp air was rousing and I was immediately reminded of how much I love West Virgina roads.  US-220 twists along streams and mountains yet provides a fast, lightly trafficked ride.  I was wondering about the approach of the civil engineers responsible for designing the roads of WV.  Many other states are predominantly plains or rolling hills, or thay have tamed the landscape to cut & fill the terrain to create roads that are more or less straight, saving the real twisties for small patches of rough mountainous terrain requiring lots of tight switchbacks.  The result is a choice of boring speed or slow nail-biting curves.  Even looking in south central Pennsylvania, most all the highways between I-81 and 99 lazily follow the natural ridges and valleys of the Appalacian and Tuscarora ranges, sweeping out large smooth arcs running a northeast line across a third of the state intersected periodically by slower switchbacked roads running northwest.  But WV seems to have neither plains nor natural “easy” routes, but still has a need to get people and cargo from town to town with a decent amount of speed.  The result are the most incredible (reasonably) well-maintained high-speed twists and sweeps connecting the population hubs.  Yes there are stressful switchbacks and the occassional prosaic valley road, but so much of WV posesses the most gloriously swift curves urging the rider to swoop through the mountains, providing a wonderful combination of riding titillation and sublime scenery.

I also really appreciate how the WV curves are (generally) so reliably marked with a (generally) consistent conservatism in recommended speed.  Riding in Maryland and elsewhere, I have been totally surprised by an unmarked tight curve for which 30-mph was a “pucker moment”, only to be followed by a big warning sign of the impeding 50-mph curve ahead… What the…?  Or suddenly encountering a 35-mph turn that REALLY meant 35-mph amidst a course of 35-mph curves that were easily ridden at 50-mph.  But the WV highway curves are (generally) very reliably marked, making “swooping” though the rugged terrain both exhillerating and comfortable.  Of course there are exceptions, and signage is no replacement for vigilance and skill.  And, while WV does do an admirable job of keeping the highways free of debris, the occasional road-kill or gravel patch can turn even a well-marked curve into a test of skill. 

The ride was great but I was still a bit chilly and losing feeling in my fingertips so stopped a Cave County Camping somewhere south of Franklin for coffee.  In the office / general store / gas station I found the elderly proprietors organizing their stock of used books and looking a bit warily at the leather clad biker that just entered. I could smell the essence of burnt coffee and asked if they had anything brewing.  Pouring the last of the stale pot into a little styofoam cup, I paid my 55 cents and chatted with them about the weather, which really got them talking.  By the end they were asking questions about my bike and my ride, and strongly invited me to return.

I continued south on US-220 still awed by WV.  I had entered some valley farmland; the road still twisting gently along the narrow valley floor.  Tiny farms with small green fields lay cozily nestled between steep ridges.  As I crossed into VA the valleys seemed to suddenly open up.  The curves and intimacy of the narrow WV valleys gave way to the sense that the nature was “over there” as the land flattened and the roads straightened.  The ride was still nice, just a little less remarkable than moments earlier; but in the up side, I was able to make some pretty good time.

I often notice the abupt change in the environs crossing into and out of WV, and its irregular borders are not always determined by rivers and ridges, but sometimes make the most seemingly arbitary angles.  It really gets me questioning “Why?”.   Though I doubt it is the answer, I like to think the early West Virginians carved out the most beautiful and distinctive land for themselves.

Further down US-220 in VA the road became more interesting again as I hit signs for the George Washington National Forest (though I thought I was in the Forest all along).   Pleasant curves through denser foliage restored a degree of that natural intimacy I enjoy.  I was just north of Warm Springs at midday and was about to pass Jason’s Pizza and Subs when I noticed the number of cars and trucks parked out in front of this little eatery in the middle of nowhere.  Figuring that to be a good sign, I pulled in to get some lunch. 

I immediately recieved a very warm and friendly welcome as I took a seat at the counter.  Enjoying a sweet tea while I looked over the menu, I was stuck chosing between Jason’s Bacon Cheeseburger and a Philly Cheese Steak.  I asked the kindly waitress which I should get.  It turns out she is a vegatarian and hasn’t had either, but they both are pretty popular.  I opted for the signature selection and chatted with the owner while I waited.  I learned that the owners were Mike and Kathy (my waitress) and that Jason is actually Kathy’s son, a young man with cognitive disabilities.  Mike had owned an earlier restaurant named Mike’s; when he opened this place, his stepson insisted that it should be his, so they named it Jason’s.  It turns out that Jason is quite the outdoor sportsman and quite popular among the local folk; someone is “always taking him out hunting or fishing.  He loves it. ” Mike explained.  “That’s they way folks are out here.”   Mike went about work while whistling a seemingly random cadence of notes over and over as my burger showed up.

An excellent burger!  The half pound of meat was more than I was hungry for, but its wonderful juicy suculant taste had me finishing the whole thing before waddling out to my bike.  I still think the Chili Cheese King at B&R Old Fashioned hamburgers in Hawthorn, CA is the best in the country, but Jason’s may be in the top ten. 

I am not sure if overeating at lunch was the catalyst, but fatigue started setting in that lasted the rest of the day.  I continued south on US-220 and entered Warms Springs.  I had anticipated a little tourist-trappy kind of place with spas and new age shops, but instead found a very charming little mountain community.  I noted some county buildings, to took the opportunity to seek out an accessible Bath County sign for my ABC point.  Failing that, I did note some very charming inns, and made a mental note that this really would be a great place to just “get away” for rest without distraction. 

I continued on, meeting up with Hot Springs a short while later.  Hot Springs is dominated by an historic resort, the Homestead, that seems absolutely exquisite.  I have never “done” a resort weekend (except for Vegas…. but that is not quite the same), but the Homestead has me wanting to try.   I circled once through what appeared to be the “town” which really seems to exist in service of the resort.  Given the awkward time of day neither food nor drink was appropriate, and I continued south passing golf course after golf course.  (US-220 turns into the Sam Snead parkway at some point there.)

The road continued to provide a nice ride and some pretty active twisties just north of Covington, VA.  In Covington I picked up US-60 W that merged into I-64 which I followed west back into West Virginia.  Near White Sulpher Springs US-60 split back off and I stopped for gas and a Red Bull.  I was getting pretty tired by this point, and my mood had somehow gotten pretty tepid.

I continued west through quite a few twists on US-60 to Hico, where I stopped at the Harley Dealership to buy a T-shirt and get some guidance on the lodging situation north of there.  I spoke with some locals and not-so-locals including a family who rode from Deleware visiting for the rides.  Seems they were taking care of their recently orphaned nephew who at about 3 years old was sporting a mohawk and yellow sunglasses for the ride.  I got more advice about great rides in the area than about lodging. 

Being too exhausted to enjoy the advice, I headed north on US-19 arriving in Summersville, WV.  Riding into town I quickly found the one bar, Michelle’s Goodtimes Bar and Grill, recommended by the girl at the counter of the Hico dealership.  Given the early hour, the place was dead.  I had a beer and asked about nearby hotels.  Fully intending to return, I headed back toward the highway to check into the Best Western.  (I hadn’t really stayed in that chain before, but recently learned that my HOG membership gives me upgraded membership in their points program, so…)

Arriving at the motel lobby, I was somewhat bum-rushed at the door by a nice-enough but high-maintenance older (but not too old) couple.  They were statusing the clerk about the whereabouts of the 0ther half of their travel party, asking questions, and trying to get checked in while I stood waiting.  The clerk was friendly enough dealing with their chattiness and looked back to me periodically as I was about to fall asleep standing up.  They asked for a ground floor room, and was told they were all out, which bummed me out a little given that saddle bags don’t have handles.  After getting their keys and asking a few more questions, they headed out the door.  I stepped up, asked if they had a room available for the night; they did.  I gave her my new Best Western point number, and she looked up at me in my biker attire.  “You’d like a ground floor room wouldn’t you?” she asked. “Yes, please, very much so,” I replied, and within a couple of minutes I was unloading my bike right into the room watching the couple from the lobby heft their bags to the elevator.

I was so exhausted and even though I have a new rule about not eating at chain restaurants while on a ride, even though I intended to return to the supposd “only” good bar in town, and even though I found out that Summersville was having their annual Potato Day celebration complete with a fire department parade, I couldn’t bring myself to ride back up into town and settled for the Dairy Queen in the parking lot of the motel. 

After a burger and a shake, a little blog work, and the umpteenth viewing of Oceans 11, I was asleep for the night.

Blue Ride September 9, 2010

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Earlier this week, I was forced to sign the paper authorizing the veterinary hospital to end the life of my friend and companion, a 7 year old Australian Shepherd named Blue.  She was the sweetest, most affectionate animal I have had the fortune to know.  She developed a cough upon my Thursday return return from speaking at Space 2010 conference.  By Friday, she was running a fever of 105.  By Saturday, she was admitted to the hospital for 24-hour care and placed on oxygen.  By Sunday she was facing going on a ventilator with the prognosis of never coming off of it, only delaying in misery a rapid respiratory decline.

Last photo of Blue while testing Retro Cam.

While some may feel a dog to be “just a pet”, Blue is much more and her death was (and is) devastating.  The speed of her decline from being a healthy active dog to lying in a veterinary ICU with a mystery ailment necessitating euthanasia was (and is) too much to accept.  As fate would have it, I had already planned to take leave of work this week.  I hung about the house for a few days trying unsuccessfully to move on and dealing with the barrage of memory triggers, and finally decided to take a ride to clear my head and just get out of the house.

I took the morning to slowly get ready and get the bike packed.  I used to have the routine down like clockwork, but the relative lack of rides this year and the preoccupation of what I was trying to escape had me moving a little slowly and forgetfully.  By noon I was gassing up and hitting the road heading west.

The weather was clear and the temperatures were in that deceptively confusing warm/cool range: that intermediate point where standing in a parking lot in the sun leaves you sweating, but being on the highway under a cloud leaves you freezing.  Fortunately I had been fooled more than once before by this meteorological duality and set out with jacket and gloves riding past folks in tank tops and shorts and yet still feeling a chill on the highway.  This trip started much the same as any other: riding like a bat out of hell out I-70W to escape the local urbania to really “start” the ride”.  The winds were very gusty and I was quickly reminded of how riding can so effectively clear one’s mind.  Hitting a huge lateral gust coming over a ridge, at 80-mph on a 55mph turn, while crossing the bow shock of semi, tends to push every thought from one’s head save the one idea of staying on the road.  Though I’d be on I-70 to Hancock, MD, I hopped off the interstate at MD-17 to cut over to the Dog Patch Tavern, my normal ride terminus. 

Downshifting into the parking lot, I was noticing how numb my fingers had gotten, and I wished I had brought thicker gloves.  Being an early Thursday afternoon, I was, not surprisingly, the only patron.  Despite my lack of rides this year, the barkeep, Dawn, recognized me and was already reaching for my “usual” before I ordered.  We chatted for a while about the wind and weather when the phone rang, leaving me to jot some notes about the trip and review the route ahead.

Dogpatch bartender, Dawn, has remembered my "usual" since the first day I walked in.

Heading out from the Dog Patch, I got back on I-70 via MD-66 and was immediately buffeted by the wind again.  It blew warm; it blew cold.  I was still chilled to the core so it was all cold to me.  I got off I-70 an exit earlier than I planned which took me along MD-144 though Hancock than to meet up with US-522 heading south, a new road for me. 

The change was immediately better than the interstate.  The wind had subsided and feeling slowly returned to my fingers.  I reached Berkley Springs, WV a short time later feeling a bit peckish and rode past my turn-off in search of sustenance.  I had passed a Hardee’s on the way there, and had very nearly pulled off for a Mushroom & Swiss.  The dearth of Hardee’s in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area is beguiling, and I would typically avail myself of the opportunity on these west-bound rides to partake of that particular burger; except for the fact on that on a recent ride I had missed out on what looked to be one of the coolest-looking BBQ joints simply because I had just filled up with fast food.  At that moment, much like Alton Brown’s Feasting on Asphalt, I had vowed to not again eat franchised food while on a ride.

Following US-522 through town, I happened upon a 5-stand market next to the city park and pulled over to check it out.  There wasn’t much suitable for lunch-fare at the stands, but I had parked in front of the Fairfax Cafe and so ventured in.  My fast food boycott had instead landed me a chicken salad sandwich on multigrain with grapes (not “on the side” but in the salad) and a cream soda.  I ate my lunch in the park, bought some gluten-free pecan-date cookies at one of the market stands, and headed back up US-522 to meet up with WV-9 heading west.

My lunch venue in Berkley Springs.

Another “new” road, WV-9 was a great ride: lots of 40 mph twists and beautiful landscape affording views of the Cacapon and Great Cacapon rivers.  I continued on WV-9 to WV-29 south, continuing to afford beautiful scenery and some great twisting roads (at least until hitting the valley).  I met up with US-50 toward Romney stopping for gas in Augusta. 

The worst tank fuel overflow of my riding experience had me rushing for non-existent paper towels, and spending a bit longer at the station than I had planned to let the bike “air out”.  While waiting, looking at my map, and drinking my Lo-Carb Monster energy drink, I heard the roar of a Maryland State Police helicopter immediately above my head coming in for a landing.  Wondering what a MD police chopper was doing in WV landing right across the road from where I was standing, I quickly ran through a mental list to confirm that it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me just as the Augusta Rescue Squad ambulance showed up with sirens blaring.  Minutes later a patient was transferred to the helicopter and airlifted away as a small crowd looked on from the Augusta BP gas station.

Concerned that I was making poor time to my tentative destination of Covington VA, or at least to Warm Springs, I continued down US-50W toward Romney.  I passed the KoolWink Motel with a smile (post-dated blog pending) and met up with US-220S in Junction, WV.  US-220 continued to be a great ride, though the road did straighten out a bit along the valley and the wind picked up again; but I was making good time and the countryside was still a good backdrop.

I reached Petersburg as my shadow was getting longer than I hoped, and pulled into the Rite Aid as I appeared to be heading out of town to check my progress on the map.  Assuming (possibly incorrectly) that town populations were a fair indicator of prospects for food, drink, and lodging, I opted to turn back into downtown Petersburg and seek the Hermitage Motor Inn (whose sign explicitly welcomes Bikers and boasts a restaurant).   Checking in I learned that Grant County had exactly four bars, and that Petersburg has two of them, and furthermore, that the Hermitage is within two blocks of those. 

I guess the Hermitage Inn proper was built in 1800 and something but the building where my room is situated is apparently a bit “newer”, yet somehow not nicer…  The place is more reminiscent of a dorm built in 1960 than a motel or hotel, with an eerie sudden familiarity with the other guests.  The rooms are clean, though not extraordinarily so, with wood paneling decor that has not changed in about 30 years (not much more nor less).  I have stayed in much worse and much better, so I am content. 

I unloaded and covered the bike, got a quick shower and headed to the restaurant at the motel, where I had a pretty decent rib-eye, reasonable asparagus given the season, and a mediocre zinfandel with very friendly service. 

Finishing dinner, the evening had a bit of a nip in the air so I grabbed my jacket to walk down to the two bars in town.  The first, The Office Pub, is CLOSED; the owner was on vacation until the 14th, so of course (?) the bar is closed.

Fortunately the 3rd Base Sports Bar and Grill is open and right across the street, which is where I am right now…  working on the blog and really regretting ordering the nachos….