Motorcycle Riding in West Virginia is Almost Heaven

Highland Scenic Highway in West Virginia

Motorcycle riding in West Virginia wasn’t in our plans, but when rain pelted our original destination, western North Carolina and Tennessee, we refused to chill out. We pulled up the radar app and replotted our route to anywhere that wasn’t wet. Fortunately, anywhere was West Virginia, one of our favorite motorcycle riding playgrounds.

Cheap Cruise Control for the F650GS

We started out thundering west on Rt. 64 from the western suburbs of Richmond, VA. I tested my new cruise control for the BMW F650GS. I went with the pros’ recommendation: the Caterpillar heavy equipment O-ring that slips over the end of the right handle and engages when you roll the ring to the edge of the throttle. This cheap cruise control has its limitations. It is really a throttle control – it holds the throttle steady, which does not equate to holding the speed steady when riding hills. I was thrilled with it anyway, especially for $5.

Motorcycling in the Mountains

If you are looking for a two-day ride with incredible scenery and adventure, this route is it. Rt. 64 rolls past Charlottesville, VA and then starts to climb Afton Mountain. Along the way there are several scenic overlooks that give a glimpse at the stunning views of the valley and blue ridge mountains. Wait to stop until you are heading east though. There is no access to the overlooks from the west-bound side of the highway.

When 64 splits at Rt. 81, we take Rt. 81 North for a few miles to exit 225. While our target, Rt. 250 west, runs straight through Staunton, we have learned the hard way to bypass the center of town. Traffic, lots of stoplights, and the bad memory of a tipover when stopped at a light on a steep hill (oh, the shame) lead us to take the Woodrow Wilson Parkway around town, which meets up with Rt. 250 northwest of the city. I describe our route below beginning with Rt. 250, which whooshes us to the foot of the first of many mountains we will climb in the next 36 hours.

Here’s some perspective on “many.” We covered this terrain from right to left and back:

west virginia motorcycle route terrain

The green squiggley things are mountains. Motorcycle riding in West Virginia is not for beginners. This route is deliberately twisty, so get a few thousand miles under your bottom before you take this ride.

Virginia and West Virginia Motorcycle Road Ratings

There are some good routes for motorcycle riding in West Virginia, as well as some bad ones. Here is how I rate our route west of Staunton in the order we traveled.
250 west  – A+. Twisty heaven.

92 south — B.  Relatively straight and flat. But if you enjoy off-road excursions, take one of the roads marked “Greenbriar River Trail”. We enjoyed a 5-mile ride on a gravel/dirt road to the beautiful Greenbriar river.

greenbriar river trail west virginia

The Greenbriar River from the Greenbriar River Trail off-road excursion

39 west to Marlinton — B.  Great switchbacks, but too much gravel in the corners.

219 north — A.  This would be A+ except for local traffic, and it isn’t fair to call it traffic in West Virginia – more like “presence of a car moving in the same direction as us.”

150 Mountain Scenic Highway — A+, Magna Cum Laude. This road just outside Marlinton was built for motorcycling. No trucks. No buildings. No intersections, no crossroads. Just sharp blue sky and stunning views in all directions, wind whistling over the ridges, and graceful, sweeping curves. Note: Don’t judge the temperature based on how it feels in Marlinton. The Scenic Highway passes over 4,500 feet and it will be at least 10 degrees cooler than in town.

39 west of Marlinton — A. Beautiful pine forests and hardwood canopies on a perfectly maintained road.

20 south — D. Gravel. Gravel trucks. Ambulance entrances to mines. Traffic. Broken down trailers. The only thriving business is in repainting “For Sale” signs.

60 east — C. Gravel plus traffic plus towns, but good road in between.

92 north connecting 60 and 39 — B.  Mostly flat and straight, but no traffic and beautiful farms, valleys and mountains.

39 east — A. Back in Virginia, do not miss the Dan Ingalls scenic overlook at the top of Warm Springs Mountain.

Warm Springs mountain view bath county virginia

Looking east at the mountains of Virginia from Warm Springs Mountain, Bath County, VA

42 north/254 east/262 back to 81 —  C.  Nothing special, just got us back to the highway.

Amenities on the route

Pit stops along this route — plenty

Restaurants with surly waitresses, menus with seven items (hamburger, double hamburger, cheeseburger, double cheeseburger, hotdog – you get the picture), and microwaved instant food (grits, mashed potatoes, spam) — too many

Decrepit towns — ample

Motorcycle-friendly B&B’s — Old Clark Inn in Marlinton. Clean, inexpensive lodging, motorcycle parking with tools and air, rocking chairs in front and picnic tables in back. What more could you ask for?

Stretch Your Legs town — Lewisburg exudes Americana with plenty of shops, respectable restaurants, theaters and street parking.

Good restaurant — Food and Friends Casual Dining in Lewisburg. Homemade everything, with pride. I had lobster and shrimp salad with spinach, avocado and cranberries topped with Pilot House homemade dressing. Scott had the best reuben he has ever had, just as our waitress had promised. Try the key lime brulee’ for dessert.

Richmond to Urbanna, VA

April 26th, 2010

Riding motorcycles…

Richmond, VA – Urbanna, VA

180 miles RT

Urbanna, Virginia from the dock

It’s my birthday and I wanna ride. We haven’t been to the water for a while, so we set our sights on Urbanna, a hamlet on the Rappahannock River about 15 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

We decide to take “Old Virginia” roads, the long but scenic way. Our route will take us through Ashland, Central Garage (the crossroads, not the building), St. Stephan’s Church (the crossroads, not the building), King and Queen Courthouse (the crossroads…) and Truhart.

My riding partner knows a shortcut at Hanover Courthouse (…not the building) and we twist our way through a canopy of hardwoods, sun flickering on the road like fluttering confetti.

Rt. 14 is the bomb

Our first surprise is Rt. 14.  It’s flat and much twistier than it looks on the map. It’s also clean, smooth and empty. We plan to take it about two-thirds of the way to West Point and cut over to Rt. 17 at 602, which looks like a wiggling worm on the map.

602, a.k.a. Truhart Rd,  gives us our second surprise. Our helmets tilt sideways as we contemplate the dirt and gravel road at our turn. Really? It probably becomes paved eventually, but we’re hungry and don’t feel like exploring off-road. We bomb down to 603 instead and take it straight into Urbanna.

Burp

Marshall's drug store and lunch counter, Urbanna, Virginia

Urbanna is a mere burp of a town. When we reach the end of the road we ask each other, “Did we miss it?”  A few restaurants, some stores, a bank, a realtor and a coffee shop made up the commercial area.

We have a tip to eat at the lunch counter at Marshall’s Drug store where we  twirl  on the counter stools like kids while they make our sandwiches. I give a thumbs up to the chicken salad, a pucker to the limeade. Chips are 45 cents extra, just help yourself to a bag. Two lunches plus tip: less than $10. I am a cheap date.

No cloister for the oyster

Every year, Urbanna hosts the Oyster Festival. In brief:

Urbanna Oyster Festival parade, Urbanna, Virginia

They idolize the oyster…

 

urbanna virginia oyster festival parade

They salute the oyster…

 

And then they eat the oyster.

If you like mollusks, either slimy or crunchy, you can find out more here. They have corporate sponsors, folks. This is no small pile of shells.

Summer

The best place to be during the Virginia summer is on the water (or in the mountains if you’re on a motorcycle), and Urbanna’s second reason for existing is its ideal location for boating, near the Bay but still relatively protected. Boat people – I mean sailors – love to gather here and tease the oysters before the fall comes around.

Urbanna, Virginia from the water during the summer

The day we’re there, the harbor looks just like this – except for the clouds, gray water and lack of boats. In the summer, I’ll hang out here if I get a boat and want to R – E – L – A – X.

I’ll have an adrenaline espresso, please

However, I prefer espresso. In fact, I’m finishing a latte’ as the first raindrops fall. We have more than an hour riding at don’t-you-dare-blink speed to get home,  so we bail on the back roads. The sky is dark purple to the North but there are flecks of blue showing to the south. We go south. This tactic has worked before. We take Rt. 33 to 64, where we have to head northwest to Richmond.

Miraculously, the rain holds off as we fly. About seven miles from home I notice that the edge of the pavement is wet. A mile later we hit heavy mist and road spray. We ride the last three minutes of highway in rain. But the storm front is flaky, and by the time we get off 64 the roads are dry again.

Despite the rain it was a great ride. Rt. 14 alone was worth it. If I want solitude, I’ll go to Urbanna during the off-season. Otherwise, I’ll revisit the dock in high summer.

 

Credits: Thanks to the following gifted and giving flickr.com photographers for their photos. In order of appearance:

miss_leslie – the dock and Marshalls

jadam – oyster on parade

holly0h7 – shriner/USA/confederate salute

terren – fried food fiesta

wattman75 – harbor in summer

 

The Ashland Quickie

Ashland, VA

Richmond to Ashland, VA ride

April 16, 2010

The other day I rode a beautiful, winding country road from the Richmond suburbs to Ashland, VA to visit a friend. The road was silky smooth and empty. The fields that lick the edges of the road glowed with new growth. Blue sky, butterflies and a ton of pollen (let’s be honest, it is the green snow season here) completed the setting. It took five minutes to get from the Short Pump Mall to pure country roads. There aren’t many major metro areas where you can still say that, and I feel lucky. I’ve made this ride plenty of times and I promise: even on days when the Farmer’s Market is open, there isn’t any traffic.

You can eat well in Ashland. Homemades by Suzanne (breakfast and lunch), the Iron Horse Restaurant (lunch and dinner) and Ashland Coffee and Tea Company (breakfast, live music, lunch, bands, dinner, music) are great choices. All are located along the west side of the tracks.

Here’s my route from the intersection of Broad Street and Pump Rd./Pouncy Tract Rd.

Route:

Pouncy Tract Rd north

Nuckols Rd west

623 (Ashland Rd) east

Stay on Ashland Rd when 623 forks to the right

Bear right onto 657 (Ashcake Rd)

Cross the railroad tracks and turn left

You are in Ashland!

Montebello

Another motorcycle ride:

Richmond – Buena Vista – Blue Ridge Parkway – Montebello

September 12, 2009

Buena Vista, Virginia

Buena Vista up close

The trip to Buena Vista is a straight shot from Richmond on Rt. 60. On the way I pass over Long Mountain which has a nice wayside/picnic area at the top. The temperature drops dramatically on the descent. I shiver on the next climb to the Blue Ridge Parkway and turn the heat on for the slow, tight turns down to BV.

The town is surrounded by mountains and is much more appealing from a distance. However, there is a restaurant called Captain Tim’s, run by a captain named Tim. He serves fresh fish, Po Boys and other fishy stuff. He has his fishing connections that let him get fish to the mountains while they’re still flopping. Good t-shirts too.

Blue Ridge Parkway near Buena Vista Virginia

Typical view from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

When I asked a fellow rider where she put the dogs while riding, she answered “Exactly where they are now.” She drove by later and  wasn’t kidding.

Harley motorcycle rider with dogs

Harley riders are soooo tough

The road to Montebello is a motorcyclist’s dream, a trucker’s nightmare.

Sign for twisties near Montebello, Virginia

I could smell burning brakes in the parking lot of the country store/gas station/volunteer fire department/post office/cafe.

Montebello, Virginia

Downtown Montebello

From here it’s a tight twisty climb to the summit and a steep, blind curve descent past Crabtree Falls into the valley. Don’t look down. There is no shoulder or guardrail – not unless you call trees a guardrail – and you will die if you pull over.

Once in the valley I attempted a shortcut on 699 to 680. This looked like it would save many miles on 151. But surprise: 699 was washboard gravel. After about 100 yards I did a rooster tail turn and opted for the long way. When I passed the intersection of 680 and 151 it was still gravel. Hmmm. Lesson learned about 600 series roads: don’t take pavement for granted.

151 passes through Wintergreen and imposes a 45 mph limit for what seems like 300 years. By this point I’m hungry and eat some peanut M and Ms while riding. My rule is that both hands stay on the bars over 55. Under that is OK to eat as long as the food can fit under my helmet. Kids, I’m just joking, don’t try this at home, although I believe this is less dangerous than riding with two dogs.

No more M and Ms when I turn onto Rt 6, the cutover to 29. The locals must like the escape from the ridiculously slow 151 because everyone is going about 70 in a 55 zone, still 2 lanes. On 29 the limit goes up to 60 (a.k.a. 75 mph) and once on 64 it gets up to highway speed (80+ and still getting passed). Time to get home. This is a fabulous ride and I’ll do it again.

Route:

522 south

60 west to Buena Vista (Captain Tim’s is on the right as you enter town)

backtrack 3 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway north

56 east to/through Montebello and past Crabtree Falls

151 north

6 east

29 north

64 east

Total distance: 285 miles

The All over Tour

Motorcycle ride – Richmond, Scottsville, VA and beyond

July 2, 2009

Richmond to Scottsville via Rt. 6. Henrico County rolled out a red carpet for us all the way to the Goochland County line.

Wildflowers in VA

Wildflowers in VA

Scottsville, circa 1744, doesn’t have much crime. We leave our things hanging on the  bike while we walk.

Downtown Scottsville

Downtown Scottsville

History repeats itself when the James River unleashes its fury. The marks on this downtown building show the water level from various floods since the 1800’s.

High water mark

High water mark

The James looks pretty tame today though.

This is the James we love.

This is the James we love.

“You’ve never smelled nothin’ till you’ve smelled Pee Wee’s pits!” says the sign in front of Pee Wee’s Pit Barbeque. Home-made everything in Walmart-sized servings.

Pee Wee's Pits

Yes, the pig is holding - not chasing - the balloons.

The damn 600-series roads on the map don’t exactly match what you find on the road, and many aren’t even on the map. GPS? Ha. That’s why we ride dual-purpose bikes. This farm is on 626 near Charlottesville.

Somewhere in Albemarle County

Somewhere in Albemarle County

The Tyson chicken wardens have no idea why their chickens were squawking so loudly that day. Maybe it was the visit from the alien?

Who's chicken?

Who is chicken?

Our route, roughly:

From northern Henrico/Goochland line

South on 522

Patterson Avenue/Rt 6 west past Scottsville

South on 626

West on 602

South on 722

East on 647 (awesome roller coaster-like road, hard to get to but worth it)

East/south on 56

East on 60

North on 15

East on 610

South on 690

North on 45

East on 6

North on 522