Can’t See the Forest for the Roads

It always amuses me when, after a motorcycle trip, people ask, “Where did you go?” It’s not the asking, it’s the look I get when I answer with something like, “Nowhere, really.” Or, as in the case with our last trip, “Just west and south through Virginia and into West Virginia.”

DSCN3271It’s non-riders I speak of. Riders, who’ve heard tales of the roads and terrain in those areas, get it. Most non-riders don’t.

Sometimes I do use the bike to get from point A to point B. But usually I ride just for the sake of riding.

Most trip planning involves a bit of research. And maps, definitely maps. I also use Web sites — Motorcycle Roads is one of my favorites — blogs, magazine articles,, and even my memory.

Some roads are magnets for motorcyclists. They’re infamous among the riding community, having gained such a reputation over the years that most motorcyclists have either been there already or want to go there. Like the Beartooth Highway that traverses the Montana/Wyoming border, just northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Or Deal’s Gap aka “The Dragon,” an 11-mile stretch of road with 318 curves at the Tennessee/North Carolina border.

Neither of those are close to Central Virginia. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are pretty famous, but I find those roads, particularly the strictly enforced, low speed limits and crowds, tiresome at times. Especially when the foothills are criss-crossed by roads that are just as sweet and curvy, but FAR less populated with cars, trucks, RVs, SUVs, and even big-ass pokey motorcycles.

For our latest adventure, I wanted to go to the mountains. I thought about heading up and into western West Virginia to see Prabhupada‘s Palace of Gold, but I knew Hubby would be less than thrilled by the place and wouldn’t want to linger as I would have. Plus, I knew our ride time on Friday evening would be limited. So I started looking west. Then I realized we’d been on many of those roads before. Why do repeat roads when there are so many new routes to discover?

That’s when I remembered the Back of the Dragon. I’d read about Virginia’s version of that more-distant, infamous Dragon several times. I found it on the map, noted the vast mountainous terrain between it and our home, then plotted the routes.

Home to Staunton
Friday Evening: Home to Staunton, VA

That route may not look all that exciting, but it took us west on US-211 and across Thornton Gap and the New Market Gap. Originally, I’d planned on using US-11 for the last leg of the trip. But, since we started out much later than anticipated thanks to work commitments, we got on I-81 at New Market instead to shave-off some time, and made it safely to Staunton, Virginia around 9:00 PM. Since we were both tired and famished, we opted for a quick fast-food dinner and then went to bed.

Downtown Staunton, Virginia
Downtown Staunton, Virginia

Saturday morning dawned cool, bright, and clear. After a quick Hardee’s breakfast, and a re-check of the map, we were on our way.

Saturday: Staunton, VA to Princeton, WV
Saturday: Staunton, VA to Princeton, WV

As you can see on my map, we didn’t take the direct route. Instead, I’d chosen some promising-looking back roads through parts of the George Washington National Forest and Jefferson National Forest.

I picked well.

VA-42 / Blue Grass Trail, near Newport, Virginia


Pit Stop for Potty Break & Refreshments


A Happy Hubby


Virginia 42 made for a fabulous ride. We did encounter some stretches of gravel, thanks to recent road work, which is always annoying, but the good pieces made the gravel bits worth it.

We emerged from the forest around Bland, Virginia. Hubby, who was leading, consulted his GPS and found a hilltop restaurant. Or what once used to be a restaurant, as we discovered upon arrival. But the parking lot had a few oddities and a nice-enough view and I wasn’t complaining.

Big Walker Motel Overlook


Hubby waiting patiently for my photo session to end.


There was a very busy Dairy Queen at the base of the hill. It was just off of I-77, which I guess was the reason for the crowds.

After lunch, we continued on VA-42 briefly then hopped onto a VERY sweet stretch of US-52. Curvy, hilly, smooth, and newly-resurfaced. It doesn’t get much better. Except there’s a popular overlook, which we avoided since it was crawling with people and bikes, so traffic was the heaviest we’d encountered up to that point. Not heavy by urban standards, just more cars than we liked to see.

The final leg over and down to US-11 and Marion was uneventful. Although I must say, we saw a higher concentration of mobile home communities than either of us had EVER seen before!

Finally, we made it to VA-16, aka the Back of the Dragon.

Back of the Dragon

The Web site describes it as a “two lane ribbon over the three mountains between Tazewell and Marion, Virginia.”

Is it worth the hype? Absolutely.

All told, the route is about 30 miles long.

The Back of the Dragon is almost three times longer than its southern cousin, and the curves aren’t as densely packed, but it is a great road. It hasn’t quite caught on among motorcyclists yet, which is fine by me. There was very little traffic of any sort. We didn’t see one law enforcement vehicle either.

I shot a video, but it needs to be edited down before sharing. The raw footage is about 30 minutes long. Or more.

We were both feeling tired by that point, but still had about 35 miles to cover between Tazewell, VA, where we’d stopped for a break, and our hotel. We were both getting hungry. And, if I’m being honest, I REALLY wanted a margarita. So we pushed on.

As much as I hate chain restaurants, the last thing we wanted to do after a long day in the saddle was get back on the bikes to ride for dinner. We opted instead for Applebee’s, one of several chains within walking distance that easily won out over Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel since neither of those serve alcohol. I told you I wanted a margarita.

All in all, it was a fabulous day.

Sunset from Days Inn hotel near Princeton, WV

I’ll try to get that video edited soon.

8 Replies to “Can’t See the Forest for the Roads”

  1. Non riders might not understand our concept of riding. A German saying fits: Der Weg ist das Ziel – The reward is in the journey. It is not about getting there, it’s about the trip, the road, the scenery, the food, the people you meet.
    Looks like you had an awesome trip and lots of twisties.

    1. “Der Weg ist das Ziel”… love it!

      Yes, it was lovely. Our mountains aren’t nearly as lovely as those bordering Germany, but they make for some fine riding. I’d so love to host a moto-blogger meet-up here. But we are spread very far apart. One day, maybe. When we are all old and retired with much more time and disposable income on our hands.

    1. Brandy, the traffic was light where it counted. 🙂 And it was a fabulous twistie weekend. We’ve had such strange weather this summer. Yesterday, in the foothills, it was sunny and in the mid-70s. On Skyline Drive, with average elevations in the mid-3000-foot range, it was about 16 degrees cooler. And sometimes, we were riding through clouds. Cool and awesome at the same time. Of course, maybe it was the being cool that made it awesome. Although my riding companion, who is easily chilled and forgot her wind liner, may not agree.

  2. Motorcycle Roads? Got it bookmarked! Can’t wait to give it a shot out here in my section of the world.

    Also: the Palace of Gold? Looks awesome. I wish I’d known about it when I still lived out there because I would *love* to go there. Maybe if it’s still open when I visit in December…

    1. Shannon, that would be a fun diversion for us, even if we do have to go by car. Maybe you should pack your helmet just in case. You’d have to ride pillion, though. Or we could rent you a bike for a day or two. Will have to explore that one, depending on the weather of course. December in the Appalachians can be a bit chilly.

  3. In many ways i think motorcyclists are wanderers. The ride is the thing. It can be hard for people to comprehend not having a plan with a set result. Many of us are little ants toiling away with specific tasks. Being able to float… that’s more grasshopper style.

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