West Virginia’s Secret

Richmond – Marlinton, WV – Richmond

May 30-31, 2010

490 miles RT

West Virginia Scenic Highway near Marlinton

West Virginia is the butt of many jokes but those who haven’t dared cross the border don’t realize it offers stunning scenery, silky-smooth roads and solitude.

Highland Scenic Highway West Virginia

Holiday weekend traffic

We discovered this secret 10 years ago on our first tour of the state, covering 1,300 miles in 5 days. Three trips and another 2,000 miles later we’re still excited about going.  We only have two days so we decide to maximize our time in the mountains and stay off the highways.

Our first day is supposed to be hot in Richmond so we take off early. We stash our gear in the hard cases on my BMW F650 GS but the load is still light. Brother-in-law Jeff, an excellent rider, joins us on his Ducati Multistrada for the day.

goochland, VA farmland

Primo property, River Road West in Goochland County, Virginia

We head west on Rt. 6. It’s a beautiful ride between Henrico and Goochland Courthouse. Ironically, some of the prettiest property in the county, rolling hills bordered by the James River, is home to a variety of state penitentiaries.

We reach the George Washington National Forest after a few hours. A previous trip taught me to drive the speed limit in the National Forests. Ahead, Mt. Montebello awaits. The climb rushes back and forth like an over-caffeinated snake, making it impossible to stop for pictures. It’s beautiful, trust me.

Mount Montebello Virginia

Mt. Montebello awaits.

After 3 more hours of mountains we reach Marlinton, WV. Our hips and arms tired from shifting side to side through turn after turn. The Old Clarke Inn, a motorcycle-friendly B&B where we’ve stayed before, is booked for the holiday. Option B is Jerico Bed & Breakfast, just up the road. It’s tucked in a pretty canyon, a babbling mountain stream providing background music.

We check in and decide to explore, heading up the canyon.  At the crest of the first hill is a lovely barn. Around a curve, a toilet is propped against a tree. Hillbilly humor? Half a mile from the B and B is a shack with 6 decrepit cars sunk to the axles in mud and an outhouse.  OK, some of the stereotypes hold true.

Breakfast is good, the room is nice, but I can’t recommend Jerico unless you like cold showers. The guy that fires up the wood-burning hot water heater twice a day doesn’t show up during our stay.

On Monday morning we wake to cool, damp fog. It rained overnight and we set off wearing all the clothes we brought. You can count on cool nights here, a wonderful relief from steamy Richmond.

Only 10 minutes underway and the fog is gone, the sky blue. Our first destination is Rt. 150, the Highland Scenic Highway, a 22 mile road that was built just for sightseeing. It climbs to 4,500 feet with incredible vistas on both sides.  The scenic overlooks are ideal for photo ops.

West Virginia Scenic Highway near Marlinton and Snow Shoe

West Virginia Scenic Highway

Destination #2 is Snowshoe Mountain Resort. We want to check out their downhill mountain biking trails for a future trip.

Snowshoe Resort West Virginia

It’s cold on the mountain top and we talk with a member of the mountain bike patrol until we hear thunder. There are black clouds and grainy visibility in all directions. We hop back on the bikes, hoping to get to less twisty roads before the deluge. When we get to the bottom of the 7-mile drive to the resort, there is a tiny crack of blue sky in the purple and gray mess.

“That’s where we’re going,” I announce, aware of my unreasonable optimism. We floor it for the next 50 miles, hoping to get ahead of the storm. And we do, heading north and then east, staying dry through the twisties that border West Virginia and Virginia.

Suddenly, the clouds part like a theater curtain and we enjoy pretty weather again. More sharp curves up Lanz Mountain, down into the broad valley and Hightown. White barns with red roofs interrupt vast fields of bright green. We agree that the jagged, fir and hardwood cloaked mountains in front and back of us are prettier than the Rockies.  Another dizzying climb over Monterey Mountain and descent brings us into the town of Monterey. A courthouse, church, gas station, 2 restaurants and a hotel line the main street, Rt. 250. It’s as cute and old Virginia as you can get.

The diner, our lunch destination and the only open restaurant in town, doesn’t have power today. But they do have a huge, smoking grill out front with sizzling burgers, dogs and a 2-gallon iron pot of pork barbeque. The resourceful owner has emptied storage boxes to hold drinks.  Our Cokes come from an ice-filled plastic box marked “fax and printer.”

The clouds are inching over Monterey Mountain as we depart. It’s hot here in the valley. Although we have more mountains to climb, we’re losing altitude steadily and it continues to heat up. We hop on 64 east briefly but exit at Afton Mountain to avoid holiday traffic.  Starting at the exit ramp we inch down some of the steepest, tightest turns of our trip.

Scottsville is our next goal, the biggest town since Marlinton. We decide not to stop. It’s in the mid-90s today and we want to get back to air conditioning. 10 miles outside Scottsville the road bisects lovely farms and rolling hills, but we’d trade the view for some shade. The heat is coming off the road like a furnace, blasting up our Kevlar-lined slider jeans. I feel like I’m wearing a suit of armor in a sauna. In a sense, I am. My black mesh jacket is heavily padded – safety vs. comfort. For the last 50 miles my hamstrings are cramped and I’m thirsty. Good thing I have a full Camelback. Too bad it’s tucked in my luggage.

We pull in the garage 30 hours after we left, having covered almost 500 miles. That’s a mere 7 gallons of gas on my bike, about 10 for Scott. We didn’t have a meal over $20, a pretty cheap date. I give this route my highest rating. We’ll do it again.

See our route