A Mixed Bag

The Daily Puzzle
The Daily Puzzle

One of the places I definitely wanted to visit during my trip was Breaks Interstate Park. It’s in far southwestern Virginia and actually straddles the Virginia-Kentucky border, hence the “interstate” name. I also wanted to spend some time on WV-52, because I remembered reading that it was a good road.

On Sunday morning, as I drank my coffee, I looked at my various maps — Google and paper — to figure out a route for the day. I THINK I wrote the directions, but can’t remember. I plugged it into Google maps on my phone, too. But it wasn’t a complicated set of instructions. Head southwest on WV-20 then north on US-52. North of Welch at Panther, I’d be turning left to cross the mountains. Easy, right?

The next challenge was repacking the top case in such a way that all my stuff fit. My clothing, toiletries, shoes, and rain/cold weather gear went in the panniers (boxes that hang on the side of the bike).

TBIP_IMG_0696
Pretty weather as I left Princeton.

I hadn’t gone far at all on WV-20 before I realized Hubby and I had ridden there previously. In fact, we’d even been on US-52 all the way to Welch. That was actually the trip — in October 2010 — where we’d heard about Breaks Interstate Park.

I knew we hadn’t been to the town of Welch previously. I was curious to visit, since it is the county seat and should be doing better than surrounding communities in that woefully depressed region.

Along US-52 south of Welch.
Along US-52 south of Welch.

The highway did pass through several smaller towns, all of which had seen better days, but there most of the route was rural.

Waterfall alongside of the highway.
Waterfall alongside of the highway.

 

TBIP_IMG_0187
Welch, West Virginia

For the most part, the town of Welch looked about as I’d expected. There have been efforts at beautification, but there still appear to be lots of vacant storefronts and other buildings in town.

Mural in Downtown Welch
Mural in Downtown Welch

 

TBIP_IMG_0189
Mural in Downtown Welch

 

TBIP_IMG_0699
Downtown Welch

 

TBIP_IMG_0701
Downtown Welch

I did take some video along the way, which I’ll have to edit before posting.

From Welch, I continued North along highway 52. I rode for quite a while before I started thinking I may have missed a turn. I pulled off to the side of the roads to check my maps and confirmed my suspicions.

Near Gilbert, WV, along the Guyandotte River.
Near Gilbert, WV, along the Guyandotte River.

I could have doubled back along the same route, but chose a shortcut through the mountains instead.

I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw.

The towns along the highway looked depressed, but along the back roads it often felt like I was driving through a third world country. The poverty in that area really is extreme. I must have looked like an alien to those people.

On one hand, I wanted to take pictures, to show y’all what I saw. But on the other hand, I couldn’t. I didn’t want those people thinking I was looking down on them. Gawking at their plight. Or even pitying them.

There is a great deal of natural beauty in that region, but there was little beauty to be seen in the houses, mobile homes, and other dwellings scattered along those back roads. There was nothing even remotely pretty or picturesque. Run-down shacks, some of which were still being lived in. Camping trailers older than me serving as people’s homes. Burnt-out buildings, left standing, I assume, because it takes money to tear them down. Cars and other vehicles in various states of disrepair, some no more than empty shells.

People should not live like that in America. Really.

Most of the time I was riding through that area, I had no real clue where I was, or if I was on the right roads, even. But I felt like I was headed in the right direction, so I pushed on. I was never scared or worried. I just kept going, absorbing all that I saw. It was heartbreaking.

I did capture a few general pics along the way, after I’d left the residential areas behind.

TBIP_IMG_0196

 

TBIP_IMG_0197

 

TBIP_IMG_0204

 

TBIP_IMG_0202

 

Road project or surface mining operation?
Road project or surface mining operation?

One thing is for sure, I was REALLY happy to see the sign in the next photo.

TBIP_IMG_0705
Breaks, Virginia

I’d found Breaks, Virginia! My gut had been right about my direction of travel.

I couldn’t find the park entrance initially, and I had no cell signal, so I headed to the closest town where I knew from that previous trip that I’d find a Hardee’s for lunch and, hopefully, a wifi connection.

I knew I couldn’t linger long. It was actually late-afternoon and I thought I had many more miles to cover before I would find any decent motel rooms. I thought the lodge and other concessions in the park weren’t open. Imagine my delight when I reached the park and discovered the lodge and restaurant open for the weekend.

Honestly, I was pooped. It had been a long, emotionally draining day. It had been hot that day, too. I was sooooo happy not to have to spend a few more hours in the saddle.

I’ll tell you about the park in my next post.

A Growing Trend

As I continued south and west on day one of my journey, I was continually surprised to see more and more barn quilts. The trend certainly seems to have caught on.

I’d seen several of the barn quilts in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, and know that county has an established quilt trail — map and guide/listing of quilts to draw people to the area — but there were some barn quilts I hadn’t seen. I also had not noticed barn quilts in Greenbrier and Monroe counties the last time I’d ridden through.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia
Pocahontas County, West Virginia #1

That barn quilt in Pocahontas County, along WV-92 north of Green Bank, is one of the first I’d ever seen up close. That was several years ago, but it is still one of my favorites.

Speaking of Green Bank, I did stop for a quick look at the biggest telescope. It’s hard not to marvel at the size. How big? It supposedly could hold two football fields.

Green Bank
Green Bank Telescope

As an aside… I did NOT know that Green Bank Observatory is no longer part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. You’ll have to read the linked article to find out more.

Pocahontas County, West Virginia
Pocahontas County, West Virginia #2

I do remember having seen this one, which is on US-250 near the intersection with WV-92, but it was raining pretty hard when I saw it the first time, so I hadn’t stopped.

And here’s one I had not seen before. I love the pattern in the paint. (Click on image for a larger view.)

Pocahontas County, West Virginia #3
Pocahontas County, West Virginia #3

As I was contemplating my trip, I’d thought about making Princeton, West Virginia my first overnight stop, but as I rode on, I was getting tired. I knew I’d be passing through Marlinton to get to US-219, and considered spending the night there, but it was still pretty early in the day. Once in Marlinton, there didn’t seem to be enough for me to do if I did stop. My fear was that I’d book a room, stop and rest, then get bored and kick myself for not moving further along.

So I just stopped for a snack and a drink, which seemed to be all the refreshment I needed, and continued on.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, US-219 through West Virginia really IS a nice road. It is both scenic and fun, with lots of long, smooth sweeping turns interspersed by hills and twisties (think zig-zags). And not much traffic. Of course, I hadn’t encountered much traffic all day.

The next couple images were captured along US-219 north of Hillsboro, West Virginia. I think the barn is on the property of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Museum. Check out that unique fence. It’s hard to tell if the cross-wise pickets were meant to be decorative elements, or added as an afterthought to close-in the larger openings.

Interesting Fence
Interesting Fence

Here’s a closer look at the barn quilt.

Barn Quilt north of Hillsboro, WV
Barn Quilt north of Hillsboro, WV

Still further south (Monroe County), I was surprised to see barn quilts on some of the businesses in the town of Union, West Virginia.

Monroe County, West Virginia
Monroe County, West Virginia

And then there was this barn, which I just HAD to stop and photograph.

Not a barn quilt.
Not a barn quilt. Sort of an anti-Mail Pouch barn.

It was starting to get cloudy and windy, and I could smell rain. I thought for sure I was going to get caught in a thunderstorm, but I didn’t.

Who can resist a giant chicken?
Who can resist a giant chicken?

The chicken was actually outside of Narrows, Virginia, a little, tiny piece of the state I had to ride through to reach Princeton, West Virginia. I may have just ridden past, but I wanted to check my phone for lodging options in Princeton.

Unfortunately, the signal wasn’t strong enough. So I just rode on into Princeon, figuring I’d take my chances. I’d stayed in Princeton a couple of time previously. It’s off of I-77, so there are lots of hotels, motels, chain restaurants, gas stations, etc. Even a pretty big beef jerky outlet (at least the third one I’d seen that day).

I was headed for a Bojangle’s — I was hungry AND they usually have free wifi — when I turned off the highway and saw this cute little Turnpike Motel. Places like that are great for motorcycle trips because you can park right outside your door, which means you don’t need to make multiple trips to/from your room for purposes of unpacking/packing and readying the bike for a new day of travel.

It was recently refurbished, had a vacancy, and was cheap. It was within walking distance of Bojangle’s, too. Even better, I got to park under a roof (at the suggestion of the lady at the front desk).

Parking doesn't get any more convenient.
Parking doesn’t get much more convenient.

My door was the one on the left.

After checking in and getting settled, I walked over to grab some dinner. It always feels good to walk a bit after a long day on the bike (it was close to dark by the time I reached Princeton).

That was the end of day one. It was a good day. 🙂

Fall Color Found

treeFall is my favorite time of year. I love the cool, crisp air, but I especially love seeing all of the colorful leaves.

This year, either I am too anxious to see color and it seems like it’s taking FOREVER, or the change is a bit later than usual. I think it’s the latter, but it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that I finally got to see some amazing color on Friday, but I had to work for it.

After being laid off from my job without warning (don’t worry, that’s old news), I suddenly felt like I had lots of free time on my hands. That’s not entirely true, because I had to find a new job, and that takes a lot of work. But working to find a new job didn’t prevent me from daydreaming about taking a motorcycle ride through the mountains. And since I typically work for contract research organizations, and there are several of those in North Carolina, I came up with a plot to schedule things carefully and line-up a bunch of interviews next week in NC.

Sounds like a great plan, right? I thought so. But then I was offered a job with a company in Charlottesville, Virginia. And I start on Monday. That’s tomorrow.

It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, even if it does mean I can’t go to North Carolina. So I planned a trip to West Virginia instead. I was going to go on Thursday and spend the night on the road, but the areas I wanted to see were forecasting rain, which would have been miserable, so I went on Friday. Just for the day.

1_-img_0042
The drive into Dolly Sods on FR75.

I revisited the Dolly Sods, a place Hubby and I had gone to by car from the WV Place in 2010. The Dolly Sods is a wilderness area that sits at an elevation of about 4,000 feet atop the Allegheny Plateau. It is one of many areas of interest in the Monongahela National Forest. The Dolly Sods is significant because of its elevation and what that means to the flora and fauna.

Much of West Virginia is pretty mountainous, but the mountains aren’t very high (the highest peak is only 4,863 feet). It’s been said that many areas of the Dolly Sods are like high-alpine regions in Canada. The snowshoe hare can even be found there.

We’ve ridden our motorcycles near the Dolly Sods many, many times, but never ventured into the actual wilderness area because it is known for its rough, dirt and gravel roads. It is a wilderness, after all. Descriptions of the route into The Sods said something to the effect of “the road climbs the Allegheny Front.”

dolly-sods-terrain
Terrain map showing the Allegheny Front.

In 2010, we entered from the southern end. Yesterday, I entered from the north. The road goes up, and up, and up — five miles from the hard-surface road — before you finally reach the top of the Allegheny Plateau. Hubby’s GPS software plotted a graph showing our elevations at various points on the trip down and back, which clearly shows the extreme elevation change entering and leaving the Dolly Sods.

Hubby's 2010 GPS track of the elevation change.
Hubby’s 2010 GPS track of the elevation change.

In all, it’s just over 18 miles of hard-packed dirt, gravel, and rock (as in boulders embedded in the ground) road. It’s full of some very large potholes, with washboard ruts in many places because it’s a very well-traveled road. The ride up was so bumpy, I bet I stood for about a third of the climb.

It was so worth it, though. Far too many pictures follow as proof.

If you come here mainly to read my words, you may want to stop scrolling now. 🙂

Remember, click on any image for a bigger view.

2_img_0043
The forest along FR75 into Dolly Sods.

 

3_img_8696
Northern entrance at the edge of the plateau.

 

4_img_0045
Looking north from just inside the entrance.

 

5_img_0049
Looking west across the plateau.

 

6_img_0052
A riot of color.

 

7_img_0053
I couldn’t get enough of the color.

 

8_img_0058
The blue sky makes a perfect backdrop.

 

9_img_0061
It’s usually windy, hence the one-sided tree.

 

10_img_8707
Looking east from atop Bear Rocks.

 

13_img_0064
I took lots of pictures.

 

11_img_8708
One of the most-photographed rocks.

 

14_img_0066
Looking north and east.

 

12_img_8709
Not a bad spot for my picnic lunch, eh?

 

16_img_0074
I couldn’t have picked a prettier day.

 

15_img_0071
The red bushes are blueberries and/or cranberries.

 

17_img_0075
Very large conglomerate rocks.

 

18_img_0085
Rocks and color.

 

19_img_0089
One-sided tree (from the wind).

 

20_img_0090
I really couldn’t get enough of the reds, greens, and blues interspersed with rocks.

 

21_img_0096
Yes, I realize this is repetitive.

 

22_img_0097
This is one of my favorites, I think.

I DID warn you there were lots of pictures, right? I’m not done sharing yet. LOL.

25_img_0110
Seriously, isn’t the color amazing?

 

26_img_0113
See my bike? I bet the place was mobbed on Saturday.

 

27_img_0114
The colors just made me so happy!

 

28_img_0120
Quaking Aspens! In West Virginia!

 

29_img_0119
Yet another color shot.

 

30_img_0130
The clouds were pretty cool, too.

 

31_img_0135
Trail into the forest.

 

32_img_0137
Trees and cotton-top flowers (or something like that).

 

33_img_0139
The scenery was just breathtaking.

 

34_img_0141
More Color

 

35_img_0144
Cotton-top flowers (or something like that).

 

img_0146
Beaver Pond

 

img_0149
Same pond, slightly different angle.

 

img_0155
Looking North

 

img_0156
Looking South from the Same Spot

 

img_0159
More Color

 

img_0162
The reds were really vibrant.

 

img_0167
Straight out of the camera.

 

img_0180
The yellows were pretty bright, too.

 

img_0177
Pretty, right?

 

img_0179
Pretty Yellow Tree

 

img_8727
RED!

It was darn pretty atop that plateau, but it was nice on the way down, too. The next pics were captured along the road at the south end.

img_8735
Headed down FR19.

 

img_8728
Tunnel of Color

 

img_0205
Colorful Forest

 

img_0233
Maple!

 

img_0187
I love being in the woods.

 

img_0176
The tunnel of color continued for miles.

 

img_0184
Pretty Foliage

 

img_0220
I slid to a halt when I saw that multi-colored tree.

 

img_0225
The view as a whole wasn’t bad either.

 

img_0219
Looking east from near that multi-colored tree.

 

img_0191
And on the tunnel continued…

That’s it for the Dolly Sods pics. But here’s one last capture from not far south along US-220/WV-28…

img_0235
Champe Rocks, just north of Seneca Rocks.

Even in West Virginia, the color is still spotty at lower elevations. But it’s slowly, but surely, getting more and more colorful closer to home.

Bumbles Bounce!

bumbleIt’s official. A mere eight days after being laid off completely out of the blue — knocked off a cliff, so to speak — I was offered an even cooler job. I start on Monday, October 17.

It’s crazy how things work, no? I was confident I’d find a job relatively quickly, but even I didn’t think I’d bounce back THAT fast. I mean, really. The interview and hiring process usually takes longer than that. And, no, I hadn’t been looking before being laid off.

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason. I am very excited. So excited, in fact, that I’m going to go out on a limb and say this will be my last employer EVER. I’ll retire from this company.

The last couple of weeks have really been like a roller coaster ride. So I am taking off to find some Fall color today and enjoy my last full day of unemployment.

If you want to follow along, CLICK HERE.

Amazing Roads and Opportunistic LOVE

This past weekend Hubby and I enjoyed a fabulous three-day ride south and west of our home in Virginia. We covered 850 miles on wonderful motorcycle roads in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and even parts of West Virginia.

I plotted the route using the Microsoft Streets & Trips software, but used my America Rides Maps (Virginia Mountains Set) to select many of the roads.

The Map
The Map

I’d been wanting to really put those maps to the test. And guess what? They passed with flying colors. Really. We spent three days riding a series of really awesome motorcycle roads. It was tons of fun. We were having so much fun, in fact, that I didn’t even think about taking a picture until late in the day on Friday, after we’d already been on the road for many hours. You know I’m having fun when I don’t think about pictures, right?

IMG_3168
Along Indian Valley Road in Floyd County, Virginia.

We ended up staying in Hillsville, Virginia Friday night.

IMG_3173
Sunset from Hillsville, VA.

Lucky for us, there was a Bojangle’s about 15 minutes from our hotel, so we both enjoyed a nice breakfast on Saturday.

IMG_3175
Hubby and Me

It wasn’t even hard to convince Hubby to pose for a goofy selfie with me.

From there, we rode into downtown Galax, looking for LOVE. (Since it was along the way, I figured we ought to stop.)

IMG_3179
Galax, VA LOVEwork

Fortunately, the LOVEwork was right where it was supposed to be.

For the record, I saw the LOVEwork in Christiansburg, but it was hot, there was rush hour traffic, and it was on the opposite side of a busy street, so I opted not to stop for a photo. But I saw it. That counts in my book.

IMG_3178
My Real Love

After a brief break, we continued south into North Carolina and then west and north to Mountain City, Tennessee.

four_states
Four States in Three Days

Why Mountain City? That’s where The Snake begins. 🙂

IMG_0290
Hubby at the NC/TN border.

I missed The Snake on my solo trip earlier this year, so I figured it would be a good destination road that both of us could enjoy.

IMG_3196
The Snake totally lives up to all the hype.

And enjoy it we did. Seriously, it’s a FUN road. That road alone was worth the trip.

2_IMG_3193
The Snake

 

IMG_3192
Shady Valley Country Store, about midway on The Snake.

From there, we headed north into Virginia, to Abingdon then East on 58 through the Jefferson National Forest. A repeat road for me that I really, REALLY enjoyed during my solo trip. We then followed 16 into Marion where we stopped for lunch before continuing north on the Back of the Dragon.

IMG_3207
Marion, Virginia

 

IMG_3205
My not-so-observant Hubby.

We chose Macados for lunch after discovering that the BBQ place we’d really headed for was closed.

After we were seated, I said to Mike, “Did you see the giant dinosaur head on the wall?”

His response? “What dinosaur?” Sigh…

We continued making our way north and east toward Paint Bank, Virginia, where I’d reserved a room at the quaint Depot Lodge. En route, we stopped at the Wolf Creek Indian Village near Bastian for some more LOVE.

IMG_3208
Bastian LOVEwork

 

IMG_3204
Yet another lovely road.

Hubby enjoyed the ride just as much as I did. The weather verged on hot at times, but was very pleasant for the most part.

IMG_3231
The Depot Lodge in Paint Bank, Virginia

 

IMG_3214
Lobby at The Depot Lodge

 

IMG_3215
Paint Bank General Store

 

IMG_3223
View of the store from our second floor porch.

 

IMG_3224
Chillaxin’ on the porch.

 

IMG_0305
Our room at The Depot Lodge

 

IMG_0300
Sadly, the caboose was already booked.

 

IMG_0298
Outbuilding at The Depot Lodge

 

IMG_3222
View of the lodge from the rear lawn.

Sunday, we had to hurry home to get the dogs from the kennel and so I could get ready to head off to Rockville, MD for work.

IMG_0310
Humpback Bridge near Covington, Virginia.

I’d read about the bridge in a pamphlet at the hotel. A pamphlet which did NOT clue me in on a special bonus we’d also find at that location.

IMG_0306
Humback Bridge (notice anything odd?)

 

IMG_3236
We’d accidentally found another LOVEwork. How cool is that?

 

IMG_0309
Covington LOVEwork

 

IMG_3244
Hubby, reflecting inside the bridge.

 

IMG_0317
A bit further north, we stopped at this Falling Springs overlook.

 

IMG_0312
This may be the largest waterfall in Virginia.

That waterfall was easily visible from the overlook along 220 north of Covington, yet another AMAZING stretch of road.

IMG_0316
Road south of the overlook.

We continued north on 220, all the way to Franklin, West Virginia. It was a beautiful, scenic ride alternating between mountains and valleys. Spectacular, really.

IMG_0319
Feanklin, WV

From there, we headed east on US-33 — one of Hubby’s favorite roads — north and east through the Shenandoah Valley, and then, at New Market, east on US-211 to Warrenton.

It may sound repetitive, but that particular series of roads we covered overed three days was probably the best series of roads we’d ever ridden together. Except for maybe in the Italian/Swiss/Austrian Alps. Really. It’s a route we WILL be revisiting.

 

Here’s a link to my Spotwalla tracker map with a couple little caveats. I forgot to start the app on my phone, so it looks like we started in Elkton, Virginia. Also, my phone battery died just east of Luray, so it appears that we never made it home.

I hope you enjoyed the recap. Now, I have to get to work.

West Virginia Revisited

My friend, Dottie, who just got her motorcycle license earlier this year, has been itching to go for a ride with me. Since my usual riding partner was otherwise engaged with chores, Sunday seemed like a good day to do just that.

IMG_9574Why not take her along on Saturday? Not only did she have other plans, she hasn’t been riding for long, tires easily, and is quite sensitive to cold. So I knew the trek I had in mind on Saturday might just do her in.

Sunday’s weather wasn’t nearly as nice as it was on Saturday. Mainly because it was really windy. But it was still pretty.

I thought the temperature was just right, but Dottie was freezing. She still hasn’t figured out her proper gear combination. It takes experience for a person to know what to wear in different conditions to keep oneself comfortable. But she toughed it out, and we had a pleasant day.

When it came time to plan the route, I figured I’d take her outside of her usual riding zone and head over into West Virginia. I hadn’t been over there on my bike since early May. And even that was just a brief visit. I miss my old haunts.

We didn’t go far into West Virginia, but I did enjoy seeing that little corner of the George Washington National Forest again. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Wardensville, West Virginia was our first stop.

IMG_9573
Star Mercantile

 

There’s a funky little country restaurant there — the Star Mercantile — that I like and thought Dottie might enjoy.

IMG_9563

 

It’s cute, kitschy, and their food is decent. The waitress can be sorta grumpy, but that’s part of the charm.

I was excited to see some new artsy additions in town. Like this giant rooster, across the street from the restaurant.

IMG_9571
Giant Rooster

 

And this interesting “mural” a couple blocks west of the Star Mercantile. Upon closer inspection, I was delighted to see it was made out of old bottle-caps.

IMG_9569
Bottle-cap Art

 

I didn’t know what the heck it was supposed to be — honestly, I thought from afar that it was a pig — but found out later from Dottie’s daughter, Ashley, that it mimics The Son of Man, a famous Rene Magritte painting.

Wardensville getting artsy? Huh.

After a nice, long lunch so Dottie could warm up, we ventured into the George Washington National Forest via Trout Run Road.

Trout Pond
Trout Pond

 

We stopped for a quick peek at Trout Pond, which was still a bit colorful.

And then we continued through the forest. My memory isn’t as good as I thought. We did a bit of circling before we finally made it to Wolf Gap. But at least they were scenic circles.

DSCN0441
Near Lost River, West Virginia

 

DSCN0440
Near Lost River, West Virginia

 

DSCN0442
Near Lost River, West Virginia

 

Dottie didn’t enjoy the forest roads nearly as much as I did. They are narrow, have no shoulders or no shoulders (drop-offs), were a bit covered with fallen leaves, and the bright sun through the trees made it hard to see.

 

DSCN0444
Wolf Gap

 

In addition to being where the West Virginia/Virginia borders meet, there’s an overlook, which I have never visited, where you can see a mountain named Big Schloss.

After that, we headed home.

I did stop outside of Flint Hill, VA, on Ben Venue Road, to capture this image of the old slave quarters, rare because they are made of brick.

 

IMG_9583
Former slave quarters on Ben Venue Road.

 

What felt like a brief ride to me — I logged 175-miles — may have been Dottie’s first 200+-mile day. She lives about 20 miles from me and we met at my house, so she covered a few more miles than I did.

It was nice being back in West Virginia, but it has left me itching for more. Hopefully, Hubby and I will get a chance to head out that way before winter really settles in. Fingers crossed…