Monday, June 27, 2011

Settle in...this is going to take a while - Chris' Birthday Weekend Motorcycle Trip

This past Saturday, June 25th, was Chris’s 38th birthday.  Originally, we’d talked to our friends Jerry and Shane to see if they (and their lovely wives) wanted to come over for a cookout Saturday night and a ride on Sunday.  Not everyone was available, so we decided to make that a week later (that means it’s *this* weekend…yay!) and I said to Chris, “Why don’t we do something – just the two of us – for your birthday?”  Since I’ve never been on many of the “awesome” roads he’s experienced over and over in West Virginia, I suggested that we ride down through PA, MD, and WV into Virginia and take Skyline Drive down to Staunton on Day One, stay overnight, and then worm our way back home on Day Two through WV.  And that’s just what we did!  <-- That’s the Cliff Notes Version.

Now...on with the show! 

Day One – Saturday, June 25, 2011:  With a goal of getting on the road by 9 AM and the philosophy that “earlier is always better,” we hit the road at 8:40 AM, with 12,266 miles on the bike and an outdoor air temperature of 61 degrees.

As with most rides that head south or west, we took Marengo Road from our house to PA 45.  Two llamas from Halfmoon Valley Llamas were out and about as we rode by.

As late as Friday, the weather forecast was for clear skies, sunshine, and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s.  Granted, we got underway before 9 AM, so it hadn’t quite warmed up yet…but what’s with the clouds?!?

There’s the Birthday Boy!

Every now and then, we’d see a few breaks in the clouds and some blue skies.  Here is one of MANY barn pictures I took over the weekend.  Apparently, I have “a thing” for barns?!?  I’ll link to my entire Picasa album at the end of the ride report.  See for yourself.  

We did a spirited ride of PA 994 between PA 26 and 655 (squee!) on our way to our first stretch and bathroom break at the Sheetz in McConnellsburg, PA.  

Out of McConnellsburg, we took US 522 south to PA 655 down to PA 484 where we jumped on I-70/US 522 for the quick trip through Maryland and into West Virginia.  We stayed on US 522 through Berkley Springs (home of Cacapon State Park and the ST.N Winter Meet that Chris goes to every year).  

Eat here in Berkley Springs; it’s Chris and Marty-approved!

Sometime after Berkley Springs, while we were tooling along US 522, Chris said to me (I’m paraphrasing here), “While I was chewing my gum, I felt a little bit of grit, so I isolated it and got rid of it at the Sheetz.  Since we’ve been riding, I felt a bigger piece of grit, so I just spit it into my glove and it’s white.  I think I broke a tooth, so when we stop for gas, I’m going to go into the bathroom and check.”  SO totally NOT what you want to hear coming through your Sena!  I asked him if it hurt and he said no.  So we rocked on to a Liberty Gas Station on US 522 north of Winchester, VA where not only was gas super cheap ($3.55 for premium), but where Chris was able to confirm that yes…he’d broken a tooth.  He turns 38 and starts falling apart…LOL.  

While he was inside assessing the tooth situation, this car pulled into the pump behind us.

Once Chris was back outside with the, “Yup, it’s broken” diagnosis and I countered with, “Well, if it doesn’t hurt now, we’ll see if that’s still true once we stop for lunch,” we pressed on.  After a quick stop for lunch at McDonald’s south of Winchester (no eating/drinking pain…yay!), we hopped on I-81 to I-66 to get to Front Royal and the top of Skyline Drive in a hurry.  

When we merged onto I-81, these guys pulled in behind us.  Six of them.  Each of them either nodded, waved, or smiled at me as they went by.

On our way to Front Royal, I queried Chris about motorcycle police officers and their gear (or lack thereof)…I mean, half-helmets, horse boots, stretchy pants, and dress shirts with bullet-proof vests underneath.  Is it possible motorcycle police officers are just squids with guns?!? 

Anyhoo…we crossed the bridges into Front Royal, past the Town Hall, and along US 340 to the entrance to Skyline Drive.

Now I know some of our motorcycling friends might shudder at the thought of riding along Skyline Drive (I’m thinking specifically of our friend Shane).  But I *love* Skyline Drive and seriously…if you take it at 15 over, it’s not only tolerable, it’s enjoyable!  I mean, you don’t want to be going SO FAST that you miss the scenery.  Or maybe you do.  I don’t; my camera doesn’t focus that quickly!

Saturday happened to be the day of the Rededication Ceremony of Shenandoah National Park – 75 years!  As such, admission was waived for the day.  Happy Birthday, Chris from the National Park Service!  

We stopped at the Dickey Ridge Visitors Center just inside the park so I could pick up a 75th Anniversary walking stick plaque (I collect them from National Parks because I’m a nerd like that).  We did some interpreting while we were there.

Skyline Drive never fails to disappoint on the scenery.  Here are just a few of the photos I took along the way.

Over five hours later and because we were at elevation, it was only 2 degrees warmer than when we left home that morning.  Thankfully, I kept to my “I always wear my liner when it’s below 80” rule so I was comfy!

A whole lot of hullabaloo was taking place at the Big Meadows area at mile marker 51, but we didn’t stop for that.  The main road was blocked off and a large stage was set-up.  Traffic was diverted through the visitor center access roads.  

We stopped at the Hazeltop Overlook for a stretch break.  

There was a turkey down in that grass.

After Hazeltop, there was – not surprisingly – a lot more scenery to enjoy.  One of the highlights of the entire trip, for me, was spotting a Barred Owl in a tree.  Don’t laugh, but initially I thought it was a groundhog in the tree.  It was just big, gray, lumpy, and seemingly furry.  It turns out that it was feathery rather than furry!  Just so, so cool!  I *love* birds, so this was an awesome “spot” for me!

More scenery…

At one point along the road, we came up behind two of our nemeses – the Toyota Prius and bicyclists – at the same time!  Oh, the horror!

Also along the road, the first of five deer that we would spot over the weekend (and the first of three that had the nerve to cross in front of us) sauntered across the road without a care in the world.

Making our way out of the park behind a group of motorcycles – two C14s and four Harleys.  We’d spent some time chatting with them at the Loft Mountain Visitor Center when we stopped for a bathroom break.  Between their two C14s and ours, there was an ’08, ’09, and a ’10.  Naturally, things like aftermarket seats and windshields had to be discussed!

Saturday Night in Staunton, VA: Once out of Shenandoah National Park, we powered over I-64 to I-81 to US 250 to Staunton, VA – our destination for the evening.  Last year on the way to ESTN 2010 in Sparta, NC, we stayed at the Stonewall Jackson, which was really, really nice…but also a wee bit pricey.  It wasn’t SO terrible for a Thursday night in mid-September, so we stayed there.  When I priced it for a Saturday night in June?!?  Well, let’s just say, a few clicks over on Trip Advisor, coupled with the knowledge that Jerry & Leisa, as well as David, stayed there last September with no complaints led me to booking a room at the Howard Johnson in Staunton.  With tax, it was just under $70 for the night for a king-sized bed, N/S room, with free continental breakfast in the morning, an outdoor swimming pool, and it is within walking distance of the shops and restaurants downtown.  Perfect!

Checked in and changed into street clothes, we took a bit of a walk around downtown before dinner to stretch our legs.  Staunton is a neat little town – lots of history, eclectic little shops, and a variety of places to eat. 

Gum Spring Branch runs right under the police station and parking garage.

The Statler Brothers got their start in Staunton, VA in 1955.

The Wharf area has a lot of neat places to eat and shop.

The Depot Grille is based at the old train station and has old train cars surrounding it.

After tooling around the train station (which includes an active Amtrak stop), we walked back toward the “center” of downtown.  Staunton has some really neat buildings!

Poor Lady Justice…she has a crow on her head!

Ooooo, look!  There’s our dinner destination – Baja Bean Co.!

Chris and I had a delicious dinner at Baja Bean Co.  He’d been there once before and told me all about it.  It was too crowded the last time we were in Staunton, so we went elsewhere.  But Saturday night, we hit it at just the right time!  Chris got “the whole enchilada” while I enjoyed the “Popeye burrito.”  We both enjoyed the salsa and chips and my margarita was perfect!

After dinner, we walked around downtown some more before stopping at The Split Banana for a scoop of gelato for the walk back to the hotel.

After a dip in the pool, we came back to the room and wound up watching “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”  Sidebar:  Kevin James is awesome at physical comedy!  Bellies full and bodies weary, we turned in just after 10 PM.  After all, there was another day of adventure ahead of us!

Day Two – Sunday, June 26, 2011:  We woke up just after 6:30 AM, showered, dressed, and headed down to breakfast around 7:25.  Breakfast was your typical continental fare – toaster waffles, muffins, pastries, bagels, toast, cereal, juice, coffee/tea, and hand fruit.  It was good enough and the price was right!  Back in the room, we packed up, suited up, and were on the road at 8:14 AM, having logged 311 miles on Day One.

We headed out of Staunton on US 250 west through part of George Washington National Forest, which was an absolute hoot!  Elevation changes and twisties galore!!!  Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures from this leg of the ride because I was too busy holding on.  We did stop atop Shenandoah Mountain at the Confederate Breast Works and snapped a few pictures.

We stopped in Monterey, VA at “the chicken gas station” for a stretch/bathroom break (I should have never had that second glass of juice!) and as we were de-helmeting, I heard another Concours pull into the lot.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it was a two-up silver Concours and I thought, “Jerry?!?  Leisa?!?”  Alas…it was not Jerry and Leisa…but it was Gary and Lois.  (Close enough?!?)  They were from Huntington, WV and were riding with another couple on a Harley.  We chatted with them for a little bit – again, the guys talked aftermarket seats and windshields while Lois and I talked about gear. 

After bidding our new friends farewell, we continued west on US 250 to WV 28 through the Monongahela National Forest.  We followed WV 28/US 33 up to Seneca Rocks where we stopped at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center.


Um…this can’t be good.

Did you know that the Monongahela National Forest wasn’t really a forest when it became a forest?  Confused?  Read the caption.

Across the street from the Discovery Center is Yokum’s, which quite popular with the two-wheeled crowd!

Back on the road, we proceeded up WV 28 to the infamous Smoke Hole Road.  We ran it at a decidedly sedate pace (thank you, dear!), but it was still an awesome road.  I even managed to take a few pictures when I wasn’t thinking, “Why in the world is the road so skinny through these tight, blind turns?!?”  - OR – “Seriously, deer?  Could you cross the road any slower?!?”

Off of Smoke Hole Road and onto US 220 (which, in and of itself is a really nice road!), we rode up to Petersburg, WV for a gas stop and lunch at McDonald’s.  
WARNING.  Do not, for any reason, go to this McDonald’s on a Sunday afternoon around 12:40 PM.  “The Church Crowd” was in full swing.  Nearly every table was full of elderly lazily gabbing away their Sunday afternoon.  These lovely locals really made no effort to vacate their seats when their meals were done.  Rather, it was as if the thing to do on Sunday afternoon was to sit at this McDonald’s to see and be seen.  I overheard one woman say that she’s routinely sat there until 3 PM on Sunday afternoons just “visiting” with folks as they come through.  Ugh…really?!? 
Anyway, I finally stalked us a table – swooped in like a vulture is more like it – and we enjoyed our lunch and the local “flavah.”  Oy.

Bellies full of burgers and the flying pig full of petrol, we headed north on WV 42 to Patterson Creek Road to US 50.  Patterson Creek Road is a great alternative to US 220 or WV 28; there was barely a soul on it!  

We took US 50 to Romney, WV, where we hopped back on WV 28 to Springfield.  We then took County Route 1 to the Old Town Bridge and crossed into Maryland onto MD 51.  The Old Town Bridge is cool and whatnot…it’s a low-water bridge…it’s wooden (more on that in a minute)…and there’s a lady that sits in the tool booth and reaches out to you with a cup on a stick to collect your quarter toll.  But I have no pictures of said Old Town Bridge because, “EEK, GAD!” they need to replace some lumber on that bridge!!!  I had my camera out, but it quickly went from, “This is cool,” to “Holy crap, I’d better hold on and not make any sudden moves!”  

Once into Maryland, we rode up MD 51 to Cumberland for a stretch/bathroom break at the Sheetz, before hopping on I-68 to get to US 220 north.  Prior to US 220 turning into I-99, I captured a train and few more barn photos.

In the interest of time (and the fact that I’m sure Chris was chomping at the bit to get home to his presents, cake, and ice cream), we continued on US 220 to I-99, although we did hop off at the Tyrone exit and took PA 550 home.

One final picture of the bike display and, if you do the math from the first picture (12899-12266), you get a total mileage for our two-day adventure of 633 miles.  Not too shabby!!!

After an enthusiastic greeting from Oscar, we unpacked, changed clothes, and headed back out (this time in my car) for a quick dinner before coming back home for the aforementioned presents, cake, and ice cream.

Having solicited advice from both David and Jerry, I wound up purchasing a Cox Racing radiator guard for Chris for the Connie.  I also got him a T-shirt and sticker from Aerostitch, the Adam Carolla “In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks” book, and two Nerf M-Strike Maverick Rev-6 guns (so we can stalk and shoot each other throughout the house!). 

Chris’s broken tooth notwithstanding, I have to say it was a fantastic weekend!  I got to ride some roads that I’d heard so much about, Chris got to do what he loves best on his birthday weekend – ride!, and we got to spend time together.  From the minute we rolled out of the garage Saturday morning to the Nerf dart I took to the head, execution-style, Sunday night…Chris’s Birthday Weekend was a resounding success!

And, as promised, here is a link to the entire Picasa gallery...all 296 pictures...if you didn't get enough here!