I was up early enough to get to McD's for a coffee, poach some Wifi, and still get to Romney Cycle before they opened.
There was some group ride forming up - a cruiser thing, it seemed. I sat on a bench outside the entrance until someone unlocked the front door a few minutes before 9AM. Finally...
Within a few feet of the front door was my new motorcycle, except someone had already bought it.
I talked to George - he answered my many questions about the Super T, model years, buying out of state, etc. Volume allows Romney to sell a brand new bike cheaper than local shops are selling 2-year old leftovers. I shopped all the gear and accessories, I had a complementary donut and coffee, I waited for George to hook me up with service.
The last time I rode home from WV, I lost a stator and was stranded. Having blown oil at highway revs, running a mix of whatever I bought at Dual Sport Touring and Walmart oil, and nearing 4k miles on all of it, a change seemed prudent. I toyed with the idea of jerking around in a parking lot somewhere and decided if they could do it before the Koolwink check-out, they could... and they did.
With fresh oil and filter and having BTDT, I went back to Koolwink to load up the bike and headed home.
Back on the road, I let GPS take me to a few waypoints I'd programmed the night before. I missed a turn and rolled into banjo music country - a very sad collection of mobile homes and a few impoverished-looking residents. I felt grateful for my life.
Before long I was back at the same crossing I'd made last time I left WV. This time I stopped for a pic:
I'd been told somewhere that this bridge had been totally destroyed by high water within the last few months. It didn't seem so as I crossed it. Up around the corner on the other side, a little tin cup on a stick was thrust out the window of the little brick toll house at me. I paid a dollar and got 50 cents change. Welcome to Maryland.
All that remained was a slog home, and it was fairly sloggy. Again GPS earned its stripes and gave me a good mix of highways and back roads, hugging the Mason-Dixon line to all the way to Greencastle, where I passed by Keystone RV from where we'd bought our camper. My only ADV-ish goal on the way home was to ride rt 233 thru Michaux SF. Hilly farm country brought me to a convenience store in Fayetteville where I gassed up and fortified with some M&M's.
Soon I was blipping thru Michaux. Slow traffic in front and development along rt 233 made for a less-than-memorable ride. I routed around a bit before giving in and getting on rt 81 to get east of Harrisburg.
More traffic, buffeting, the terrible road, and the early hour sent me off the slab to bring rt 895 most of the way home.
Having forgotten the bike cover, I'd been stringing up my 3x5 Walmart tarp each night... and each morning it was covered with dew (or worse).
There was a gas station and a McD's across the highway from the hotel, so I got fueled and breakfasted up, then loaded up for my run up the BRP. It was a gray day, and as I climbed into Fancy Gap, I hoped the fog was just local.
Up on the BRP, the fog was thick. I had switched back to the tinted visor in anticipation of daylight. Between the fog, the tint, and the water beading on the shield, I couldn't see. I rode for a while at about 25 mph with 4-way flashers on and my visor open, taking the wet, cold, wind right in the eyes. I hoped it would eventually thin out as I traveled north, or maybe even cook off as the sun got higher. It being an absolutely miserable - and SLOW - journey, I decided to give it 25 miles to improve.
A few intrepid motorcyclists passed me going the southbound - they looked to be having about as much fun as I was.
Finally frustrated with not being able to see, and the fog starting to get pretty heavy and wet, I pulled off to put on rain gear. I donned my new boot covers, changed my shield... and the rain started right on cue.
I rode a while longer in the rain with slightly better visibility, ultimately deciding this was neither enjoyable or expedient enough to continue. I took the next opportunity to get off the BRP and head down into the valley, where I hoped the fog would become a gray sky overhead. I think this was somewhere between Blacksburg and Roanoke.
Sure enough, weather in the valley was gray and intermittently drizzly and rainy, but visibility was good.
With riding in the clouds off the table, and a crappy day, I decided to take as straight a line to Romney, WV, as possible. GPS had been winning my heart back for much of the trip, so I gave it another chance and it didn't disappoint: I was wound thru back roads in VA - I think there may even have been some dirt roads in there. I remember stopping with cold, wet, hands and changing into winter gloves. Besides that, hours of enjoyable riding slightly were slightly mitigated by wet roads and gray skies until I arrived at a small town crossroads with a gas station and tiny grocery store - Monterey, VA. I managed fluids, and had a coffee and a candy bar. I milled around for a long while - it just felt good to be warm, dry, and indoors for a bit. A few other motorcycles happened thru while I was there, I chatted with some of the pilots. Eventually, it was time to roll, and the gas stop in Monterey was my turn - rt 220, about 100 miles from Romney, WV.
I'd been on rt 220 further north on my WV weekend, and remembered it being a nicer mover... it was! This two-laner is sweeper after sweeper north-northeast right up the whole length of the eastern panhandle of WV - and God bless them, West Virginians DRIVE. I covered almost 100 miles of curvy road on a motorcycle and only once or twice had to pull over or pass. The cars go the limit or a few over and traffic controls are few and far between. It's like a super slab without the buffeting, elephant races, and everyone driving a different speed. It passes thru a few towns and a lot of "flavor" between. Zipping along on a nice road in long, narrow, valley made me want to live here... and to top it off, the weather was clearing up!
GPS set for "direct" took me off rt 220 onto rt 6/ 8 which hugs the south branch of the Potomac thru some pretty rural area and dumped me off on rt 50 just outside of town. I'd been on this road before, too - in a fruitless attempt to find a campsite on my first night in WV. It was around 4:30PM. I was concerned Romney Cycle might close at 5PM so bee-lined straight to them, arriving at about 4:45PM. After three tries on my last trip here, I had finally made it INSIDE Romney Cycle!
... 10 minutes before closing time!! #$@%
I decided I wanted more than a few minutes here, so asked about lodging options. I was directed to the Koolwink Motel, with the reassurance, "they keep it REALLY clean." This sounded a lot like asking what a potential blind date looks like and being told "she has a great personality."
I rode back into town and straight for the one place I knew from experience I'd have Wifi: McD's. I tried pricelining and expedia-ing for a hotel, but all takers were an hour or more away. There are two motels in Romney, and I knew one had a great personality.
I found the Koolwink and had to smile at the retro. There was a "drinking bird" on check-in counter. I grabbed one of the two vacant rooms - #43 - and was issued my key. In my room I found that the place wasn't so much "retro" as "original." And it was very clean. Recommended.
I watched some TV, reviewed courses home from Romney, and tried to stay hydrated. Koolwink also has Wifi, so I was able to chat with HQ. I felt of mixture of excitement to be going home, and sadness that my trip was nearly over.
I was up early and breaking camp before sunrise. My plans weren't firm: hit the Mingus Mill, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, head north. Asheville, Hickory, Pachaug, and a few summits were on the list of "possibles."
In Cherokee, I found breakfast at the Pancake House. Across the street is an entrance to the casino. I was very tempted - even HQ was directing me to play - but I hadn't come all this way to sit in a casino and lose a couple hundred bucks: willpower prevailed.
Finances secure, I headed to the Mingus Mill, which was in operation grinding corn. I spoke with the docent a bit about the construction: I was surprised so much wood could serve for so long in contact with water. He explained it away to not painting Poplar, and White Oak being rot-resistant.
I imagined the labor of the millwright, pictured decades of boot travel wearing the stair treads concave, and the comings and goings of wagons filled with grain and piloted by mountain people.
Inside belt-bucket elevators, a 3D puzzle of shuttered grain shafts, and antique chaff-blowing equipment speak to what must have been pretty high-tech. The mill is even powered by a head of water pressure in a penstock over a turbine, not a water wheel. The third floor is not accessible to the public owing the ghost that lives there, apparently.
Back outside the docent was pointing out the ghost to two couples in their 60's. Everyone seemed very engaged looking for the image of the ghost (a pattern of dirt on the window glass, I think) save for one disinterested husband. He turned to me and in a rich, folksy accent, said:
"This reminds me of a story. There was a blacksmith, he was a-making horse shoes. Well, he pulled some iron out of the forge, hammered it into shape, and set it on the stoop to cool.
A feller comes walking by, picks up the shoe... and puts it right back down!!
The blacksmith says, 'that's hot, huh?'
Feller says, 'just don't take me long to look at a horseshoe.'"
With that, he was done pretending to look for a ghost and walked away. Not seeing how that could be argued, I followed him back to the parking lot and mounted up.
Minutes down the road is the southern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Seconds after entering, I was stuck behind a slow class A RV pulling a toad. I crossed the DY to pass, feeling a bit guilty and reckless. I hoped this wasn't foreshadowing the BRP.
Early on a random weekday between the start of school and leaf changing season, the BRP was pretty empty. I settled in for a nice, uninterrupted cruise 5 mph over the limit, which felt fast enough. A nice rhythm of sweepers carries you along the Blue Ridge, and ample pull-outs afford amazing views which after a few days start to lose some of their sizzle. Still:
I rode until I started seeing signs for Asheville and pulled over to re-set. I wondered how far I was from Biltmore Estate. GPS said 4 miles. It's hard to argue with the universe, so I exited the BRP and sat in bumper-to-bumper metro traffic for a few miles until I got to Biltmore.
The property is entered thru a large gate house complex after which you pass thru massive gardens for what seems like a mile. A ticket building sits off to the side of the main admission plaza, so I entered for tickets. A docent explained that the estate was a massive complex to which you paid general admission. The main residence was a self-guided tour, and only one of several things to do/see. They close at 5 or maybe 5:30, but it was already nearly 4PM. General admission was $59. I could not see spending $60 to have an hour to walk around a rich family's house before being shooed away. I watched the film loop and contacted HQ, who again begged me to do something on my vacation besides ride around all day.
I decided to see Hickory, which might allow the option of overnighting in Asheville and having another crack at Biltmore the following day. As there was nothing but riding left to do, I plotted a course to Hickory via Mt. Mitchell on the BRP. I was starting to settle on the idea of riding the BRP all the way to Front Royal, VA - the entire route end to end.
Another pleasant GPS surprise: I was directed out of Asheville via Twin Mountain Rd, which twists its way back up towards the BRP. A heartening parade of sport and touring bikes was coming the other direction. An hour later I was exiting the BRP for Mt. Mitchell SP.
Climbing Mt. Mitchell I passed the SP entrance, then a fairly elaborate restaurant, a ranger station, a campground (maybe I could camp here?) and eventually a sign that said "Summit, 2 miles." There's only this one road to Mt. Mitchell, and you can only get to it from the BRP, and yet it seemed crowded with POI's.
On top, an expansive parking lot is abutted by a snack bar, gift shop, and museum. The museum is actually pretty interesting, focused on the geology and formation of the mountains and Mitchell, for whom the peak is named. I spent far too much time loitering around. Outside the museum, a sign beckons something like, "summit, 200 yards". A wide path of pavers leads into the trees. You don't ride all the way to the top and not walk the last 200 yards, so...
The path was steep and tested my lungs. Others were stopped on the hill catching their breath. At the top, the clouds were hugging one side of the range, seemingly incapable of making the last big push over the top. The peak was wooded; there was no krummholz as on Mt. Washington, despite the higher elevation. Apparently latitude trumps altitude. I took it all in, chatted with some people, and left when I'd had my fill.
I remember being impressed with the NC parks administration, and with how friendly the North Carolinians I'd met up in the clouds were.
I didn't want to be riding in the dark, so I got back down to the BRP, exiting at rt 80. The road switches back a number of times and felt every bit of "the Dragon" in some stretches. Motorcycling is just a whole different deal down South.
Near dusk, I arrived in Hickory. I zigged and zagged and took it in. It felt familiar - much like home. There are clearly more expensive and less expensive parts of town. Some businesses seem to be thriving; some industrial sites looked vacant. They have a big highway interchange, a hospital, and a "Robert Street, South St. Paul." As much as one can get a sense of a place by randoming zig-zagging around it on a motorcycle in fading daylight, I did. I'd live there.
Nearly out of day, I stopped at a CC's and checked in with HQ. I decided to ditch Asheville and take the BRP as far north as possible. That meant better positioning, so I calculated "Fancy Gap, VA" as a good spot to overnight. I switched faceshields and hit the slab in the dark for another 100 or so miles. I would miss a section of BRP between rt 80 and Fancy Gap, but still be able to cover all of Virginia riding the ridge which was paralleled me days ago coming down I-81. I stopped at the VA welcome center - which was closed - and recovered the text from HQ with hotel arrangements in Hillsville, VA.