It’s a Sunday in February. For the first time in weeks, flags are limp and rain is hours distant. Plus, it’s 65 degrees. My motorcycle nags me silently, “let’s ride let’s ride let’s ride.” You have to be a rider to understand how moderate weather plus a lazy day urges you onto your bike.
I want to go somewhere new, somewhere out in the country. I want 600-series roads: two lanes without center lines or shoulders, just the occasional tractor. I consult my 15-year-old map of the county. The 600 roads are frenetic, dashing without sense, forking and dog-legging, sometimes just intertwining like ivy on a trellis. My old map doesn’t help much, but I can pick out one 600 road that goes a good, wiggly distance. That’s my route.
I start by going west on Broad Street, Rt. 250, to Manakin-Sabot. I take a right onto 623 and am greeted by the smell of manure from invisible livestock. Hundred-acre farms with 200+ year histories border the road. I’ve been on my bike for less than five minutes.
623 crosses Pouncy Tract Road at Hylas, marked by a 6 inch by 12 inch sign, three cinder block stores and an overgrown, sagging clapboard barn, its planks blackened and twisted with age. Development is creeping toward Hylas, and I doubt these buildings will be here in five years.
623 curves back and forth modestly, nothing to get excited about but enough to bring a grin. Black rail fences stake out the homesteads. The Farmers’ Market still has a sign up for Christmas trees, but the lot is chained. Just past the market, 623 inevitably forks to the right, but I keep on what has now become 666. Shortly after, I turn left onto Greenwood Church Road. A tiny sign indicates this is 657.
Greenwood Church Road has probably been traveled for several hundred years. The farms are much larger, the fence posts aged, supported by the sagging, rusty, barbed wire. The prisoners – a variety of cows – stop grazing to watch me go by, and when I honk and wave, whole bovine cliques look up. One watches me with a certain intensity, its head swiveling to watch as I approach and depart. I laugh out loud and shout, “Made you look!”
Eventually I see a sign indicating slow turns ahead. Really? 15 MPH? I find out fast. The road dips downward sharply and makes a 70 degree turn. The black band of pavement corkscrews between the silent hardwoods, a healthy dose of sand in the middle of the lane. Obviously the locals took precautions when we had brief spells of wet, freezing stuff earlier this winter. I can picture an old, beat-up pickup trolling slowly up the hill, a teenager wobbling in back with a shovel.
Fortunately, the sandy twist-n-turn is over quickly. Greenwood Church Road intersects Rt. 33 at Montpelier. Patrick Henry’s home isn’t far from here, but I’m going the other way. I turn left onto 33 East, which has painted lines and is 55 MPH, but no shoulders. Last fall here, a vulture alighted from its secret hideout in a deep roadside culvert at precisely the same time as I road past, nearly ending my life. This memory doesn’t frighten me. It is part of the thrill of being on a motorcycle, where I am zero mistakes from death and/or loss of control.
At 611 a few miles later, I bang a right and am immediately alone again, just me and my Teutonic thumper. And a dead possum, spread-eagle in the middle of the road like a drunken college student resting during the walk home.
Were I to stay on 611 for long, I would enter a maze of 600-series roads that go nowhere. Instead, I turn left onto Howard’s Mill Road, Rt. 673. Howards Mill winds up and down, crossing the South Anna river at a low point. The river is running clear and fast, probably a perfect day for fishing. Further on, small houses are scattered along the road, each with at least four cars in the yard, many that appear to have been there for many changes in season. I love the hominess, the lack of pretension and the beauty of old Virginia. I wish I could defend it against the merciless development that spreads north and west from Richmond. All I can do though is to enjoy today’s ride.
Howards Mill Rd. brings me back to Pouncy Tract Road at Hylas, and I can almost smell the malls and big-box stores that crowd Short Pump a few miles from here. I buzz back up 623 toward Broad Street and decide it’s a good idea to get some gas. My bike is a miser, getting between 68 and 74 MPG. Ironically, highway driving gets the low end. I pull into the BP next to a horse trailer and pump a little over 2 gallons. When I fire up the bike again, the horse next door lets out a high-pitched, angry-sounding whinny. It took a second for me to realize the noise wasn’t coming from my engine, but I liked the idea of it.
There are no cars at the stop light where 623 meets Broad Street. This is a problem for motorcycles. My bike is too small to set off the sensor to change the light. While I wait for a car to pull up behind and trigger the sensor, I watch a motorized parachutist a few hundred feet above me, the rectangular rainbow silk puffed up like a down coat and the little motor buzzing, defying gravity. When I finally get a green, I sigh and head back toward highways and traffic.
On Broad Street, I pass a Honda Goldwing and give the traditional motorcycle wave. The Goldwing driver doesn’t see me. He’s probably busy listening to NPR while cruising in his RV on two wheels. It’s a shame to call it a motorcycle when it has so many cup holders, arm rests and stereo speakers. Goldwing riders never get cold for three reasons: 1.) The bike has so much plastic and fiberglass shielding that the rider doesn’t feel the wind; 2.) If the rider did notice the ambient temperature, he has a climate control system to overcome what nature serves up; and 3.) most Goldwings stay in the garage.
It’s been a little over an hour since I left, a very casual 40 miles. This will be a beautiful ride in the spring and fall. This is a good route for beginners with the caveat to watch for “slow curve” signs and sleepy wildlife.
250 West from Richmond
right on 623
left on 657/Greenwood Church Rd
left on 33
right on 611/St. Peters Church Rd
left on 673/Howard’s Mill Rd
left on 271/Pouncy Tract Rd
right on 623
left on 250 East toward Richmond