Saturday, June 15, 2013

A quick ride on familiar roads

After riding 6 days and almost 2000 miles last week, a short, quick ride from our home in Manchester, VT to Mike's parents' home in North Springfield, VT sounded like fun. Plus the sun was shining, the sky bright blue, the temperature in the mid-70's and Mike's mom was making her famous baked beans for dinner. Who wouldn't choose a motorcycle ride on a day like this?

I decided to take a photo of my view on the back of the BMW:  Mike's helmet. Of course I can look to either side, and sometimes I even twist around so I can look behind us. But when I sit still and stare straight ahead, this is what I see. So I leave it up to Mike to pay attention to what is in front of us, and I spend my time looking off to the sides.

Because we've been on these roads hundreds of times, I can plan some of my photos ahead of time, sometimes even asking Mike to slow down so I can capture a special shot.

Bromley ski area
view toward Stratton Mountain
When we're on familiar roads where I've taken lots of photos, I look for something unique and perhaps unexpected. The sun on our ride home was at the perfect angle for this shot.

riding home
Long rides are a wonderful opportunity to explore new areas, be surprised by a waterfall or stunning view as we turn a corner, or to take an unfamiliar road and find out where it leads. Short rides take less planning, and sometimes even no planning at all; we just jump on the bike and enjoy the day.
As we rode northeast today, Mike made the BMW 'dance', carving S-turns as we rode through the sunlight and shadows, views of our mountain home on both sides. Why ride in a car when we can dance on the bike?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dry weather and a detour surprise

Our mud-encrusted BMW, loaded for our last day of travel.

After 10 hours of heavy rain yesterday, we were ready for dry weather today. The forecast was grim:  40-50% chance of rain and thunderstorms over the entire 300 miles between Towanda, PA and southwestern Vermont. We suited up in raingear and hoped for the best, getting encouragement from guys staying in our hotel who are working in the local natural gas industry, building a gas pipeline as part of the hydraulic fracturing in the county. We started out in heavy traffic on 4-lane Route 220, crossing the Susquehanna River in heavy fog.

I'm not a fan of riding on 4-lane roads, but the last day of a trip Mike likes to get home as fast as possible, and after we crossed into New York state onto the Southern Tier Expressway we made really good time. The skies were cloudy and grey but the rain held off, and we  hoped to stay in front of any bad weather as we headed east.

We turned north onto 2-lane NY Route 30, enjoying the sweepers as we rode through the Catskills in Delaware County. Route 30 hugs the shores of the Pepacton Reservoir that supplies 25% of the drinking water to New York City. When NYC purchased the valley in 1942, it destroyed four towns and displaced over 900 people. Small signs mark the location of Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove.

As we rode 15 miles along the curving reservoir, I wondered about the people in those four towns, and how it must feel to be uprooted and forced to move to provide drinking water to people 100 miles away. The next time I'm in NYC, I'll remember the Pepacton Reservoir and the people from these towns when I drink a glass of water.

The landscape opened up into farmland backed by the Catskill mountains, and instead of steep climbs and twisting hairpin turns in West Virginia we found ourselves coasting along sweeping, curving roads that led us toward home.

When we reached Saratoga Springs, NY Mike turned off the GPS as we know this area well. We were cruising along a county road when we came to a detour; the bridge has been completely removed and the road is closed. You know that feeling when you're in a familiar spot, but you don't know exactly where you are? Mike turned the GPS back on, and we followed Camden Valley Road through Shushan, NY as it narrowed and then turned to dirt, and ended in a familiar spot:  the top of the Notch in Sandgate, VT. Once again, we were in familiar territory. The boys had friends who lived in Sandgate, and I deliver Meals on Wheels in this area. The detour gave us the opportunity for one more steep descent, complete with tight hairpin turns as we rode down through the Notch.

As we sped out of the Notch and continued down into Sandgate, we saw a mother deer and an extremely small fawn in the field. The mother ran off into the trees, but the fawn hid in the tall grass.

look closely in the middle of the picture and you'll see the fawn's ears
Mike shut off the motorcycle and we waited quietly for a few minutes, hoping the fawn would stand up so we could see her, but she stayed hidden. Mike is convinced she's only a few days old, about 2' tall and even smaller than the young fawn we surprised on yesterday's ride.
The skies grew dark and the temperature dropped, but the rain held off until we parked the BMW in the garage at home - and then the skies opened up and it poured. Perhaps speeding along on 4-lane highways kept us ahead of the storm, and we even had the opportunity to linger for a few minutes enjoying the quiet of rural Sandgate and a young fawn. We put the empty waterproof duffle on the back porch, letting the rain wash off the mud.
We've been gone for 6 days, traveling 1850 miles from southwestern Vermont through New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to the southwestern border of Kentucky and West Virginia in Hatfield/McCoy country. The initial purpose of the trip was to run a marathon. The joy and memories are of time spent on the motorcycle, watching the countryside and feeling the wind - and rain - as we rode along.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Thank goodness for the GPS

Today was the kind of day when we usually would stay home. The weather forecast was for rain - heavy rain and potentially severe thunderstorms for our entire 420 mile route from Covington, VA in the Alleghany Highlands to Towanda, PA. Since we're on the road home from the Hatfield/McCoy country on the West Virginia/Kentucky border, we had no choice but to put on our raingear and hope for the best.

10 hours on the BMW in good weather is a long day. In heavy rain, it's a slog. It was raining so hard during the entire trip that the only pictures I took were when we stopped for gas or lunch and I was under cover.

We started the day on 220 north, twisting up and down the steep hillsides of the Alleghany Highlands in Virginia, and then skirted along sweeping turns on the ridges in eastern West Virginia. We found ourselves on scenic route 40 in western Maryland, off our planned course but a welcome find as it twisted and curved through the rugged and hilly landscape. Route 40 was originally a turnpike from Baltimore to Cumberland, MD, first built in the mid-1800's and paved around 1910. We periodically could see truck traffic on the interstate nearby, and I was really glad we had hills and twisties instead of tractor-trailers to contend with.

At that point, Mike trusted the GPS to get us to our destination and we turned off onto smaller side roads through farmland, winding our way steadily north and east. When we climbed to the top of a mountain the clouds and mist reached down to surround us, shrinking our visibility to barely 1/4 mile. Then as we wound our way down the mountain the clouds lifted and we could periodically gaze out over the valleys. We surprised several deer, including one mother and one of the smallest fawns we've ever seen. We stopped to let them cross the road, and watched the fawn bounce through the wheat field into the tree line.

Raingear and waterproof gloves kept me dry for the first 3 hours, and by the time we finished the ride my gloves were completely soaked, the inside of my helmet was wet, my shirt (under a motorcycle jacket and raingear) had wicked up water from the cuffs and the collar, and my jeans (under motorcycle pants and raingear) were completely wet.  The only waterproof gear that actually lived up to its name was the Twisted Throttle duffle; everything inside was completely dry although the outside was covered in mud and road grit.

Our hotel room looks like a laundry room with gear hanging from the lamps, tops of the doors, chair and on top of the air conditioning unit. The best we can hope for is dry rain gear and semi-damp motorcycle gear tomorrow - and the weather report is for more rain.

While we would never plan to ride on a rain-drenched day like today, it could have been worse. We rode through beautiful scenery on amazing roads,  talked with friendly people who couldn't believe we were on a motorcycle in today's weather at gas stations and a country diner, and criss-crossed four states:  Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. All without thunderstorms, lightning, or heavy traffic.

Traveling by motorcycle isn't always comfortable, but it always gives us memories and stories to share. Even if I the only photos I have are of grey skies and a soaked landscape.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

On the way home from West Virginia

Saturday the BMW stayed safely in the parking garage across the street from the Mountaineer Hotel in Williamson, West Virginia while I ran the Hatfield/McCoy marathon. It was everything advertised:  friendly organizers, enthusiastic volunteers, beautiful course, a long and really steep climb up to mile 7 (where a semi-trailer truck parked at the top honked its horn to encourage us to keep climbing), and a big street party at the finish. An actual Hatfield and a McCoy high-fived each finisher.

Three blocks of downtown Williamson were blocked off for the marathon finish plus vendors, musicians, and an elephant. Mike skipped the elephant ride, but enjoyed feeding her while he waited for me to finish running. We spent the afternoon enjoying the friendly atmosphere and the sunshine, relaxing before we head home.

The Coal House, a building built entirely of local coal, was the center of activity during the Hatfield/McCoy reunion weekend.

Today we rode 200 miles to Covington, Virginia in the Alleghany Highlands. The trip had a little bit of everything that motorcycle riders crave: 

tight twisting hair-pin curves on West Virginia 52, with grades up to 11%;

sweeping turns along rivers and streams through the Appalachian Mountains;

riding alongside trains filled with coal under misty clouds that reach down below the mountains;

open fields and countryside backed by mountains as we scooted along the border between Virginia and West Virginia, heading east on route 3 and north on route 311 to Covington.

We had a perfect motorcycle day with warm sunshine and roads with almost no traffic. Tomorrow looks to be another rainy, stormy day as we continue northeast toward Vermont.

Friday, June 7, 2013

We made it to Hatfield/McCoy country!

Hatfield/McCoy country straddles Kentucky and West Virginia, separated by the Tug River.  We rode about 4 hours today through intermittent rainshowers and arrived just after noon. Today we followed the GPS, avoiding highways, U-turns and toll roads which meant that we started off on WV Route 4 and then quickly turned off onto small, paved side roads. Since we've been riding in West Virginia I wondered what those side roads were like, and today we found out:  narrow, winding, and really, really steep.

We hadn't gone far before a sign warned that the road was going to narrow - as if it wasn't already only one lane wide? Our driveway is wider than these roads, and it was fun to curve our way through the woods. We ended up back on route 4, following the winding Elk River, until we rode through
Charleston, the capitol and largest city in West Virginia.

Once through Charleston we took route 119, a 4-lane, limited access highway that crosses the rugged Appalachian Mountains that cover almost all of West Virginia. Periodically the rain stopped, the mist lifted and we gazed across the forested valleys and mountains.

Williamson is a small city with friendly people who say hello as they pass by on the street. The marathon ends near our hotel, the Mountaineer Hotel, built in 1926 and on the National Historic Register.

Many of the rooms are named for famous people who stayed here. We're in the Smiley Burnette room, named for the actor/comedian who starred in several Westerns with Gene Autry and had a recurring role in Petticoat Junction.

Tomorrow is the marathon and time to experience other local activities in the Hatfield/McCoy reunion weekend. We're ready for a rest day (of sorts, since I'll be running 26.2 miles) and then Sunday we head back home.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rain doesn't damper our enthusiasm for twisty roads

When the weather report states a 90% chance of rain for our entire trip today from Bloomsburg, PA to Sutton, WV, we put on rain gear before we leave the hotel. The first two hours were overcast and gray, but the rain didn't start until 10:30am and we enjoyed riding southwest through the Pennsylvania countryside.

We crossed the Potomac River and then crossed briefly into Maryland before reaching West Virginia.

The rain didn't dampen our enthusiasm for climbing up and down the hairpin turns and 6-9% grades on West Virgina routes 9 and 29. Route 9 is part of the 136 mile George Washington Heritage Trail through West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. Misty clouds hung down over the tops of the mountains, and when we crested the highest points of the road we were enveloped in fog and clouds. At one point I counted 21 wind turbines on a ridge line, and over the next hour we saw several more wind turbines through the mist.

We stopped for lunch at the Mt. Top Cafe on Route 50 in Romney, WV. I grew up going to the Oasis truck stop in Westville, IN, and the Mt. Top had the same atmosphere and  menu, complete with a lunch buffet. People in the South are always friendly, and several talked with us about riding motorcycles in the rain.

We continued west on Route 50 and then south on 219, riding through the Monongahela National Forest and some of the highest elevations in West Virginia, up to 4863' above sea level. The countryside and road remind me of Vermont, with steep forested mountains and green valleys, cows grazing on the hillsides, and fields of hay and corn.

The rain stopped and the temperature climbed into the 70's when we turned west onto Route 33, a busier divided  highway. I much prefer the less-traveled local roads but the wind and intermittent sunshine of the last hour's ride helped dry out our raingear.

We're spending the night in Sutton, the geographical center of West Virginia. We rode through three states today, along high ridge lines and up and down mountains, and along river valleys.

We traveled 380 miles today, and have another 180 to go tomorrow until we reach Williamson, WV and the Hatfield/McCoy marathon. Instead of planning our route in advance, we're going to trust the Garmin tomorrow to take us on more motorcycle-friendly roads.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Destination: Kentucky

Last winter Mike suggested we ride the motorcycle to my next marathon. I've run marathons in all the New England states, so Kentucky became our destination.

We started out a bit before 7am this morning on the first day of our trip to the Hatfield/McCoy marathon in East Pike County, KY. It was 48 degrees when we left, which meant I wore all of the liners to both my motorcycle pants and jacket, along with my warmest mittens and my favorite neckwarmer from our Ireland trip with Celtic Rider. At least the sun was shining as we rode west through Vermont into upstate New York.

Once we got through the greater Albany, NY area, we had NY route 7 almost to ourselves as we followed the curving, twisting highway southwest through forests and farmland.

The ride became mesmerizing as we passed through several small towns named for Algonquin and Iroquois Native Americans:  Oneonta, Unadilla, Otsego. As we crossed from New York state into Pennsylvania, we shadowed the the Susquehanna River, catching glimpses through the trees and periodically seeing the full width.

Most of the day we traveled small roads where we watched hawks circle on the updrafts, deer slowly walking through the fields, a cat quickly running across the road in front of us, and ducks lazily gliding through ponds. The quiet countryside turned into a loud city as we wound our way through Scranton, PA, grateful for our GPS system to get us through the traffic.

We're spending tonight in Bloomsburg, PA in the middle of the state, with plans to continue southwest through the Appalachian Mountains through the narrow sliver of western Maryland and then dropping down into West Virginia. We traveled 330 miles today, and want to get 400 more under our tires tomorrow.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

What were we thinking?

It sounded like a good idea:  ride north on curvy, little-traveled Vermont Route 30 to Middlebury, eat lunch, wind our way west into New York and then turn south toward home.

We purchased a sandwich in Middlebury at Noonie's Deli located in the historic Marbleworks area and sat outside at a picnic table watching canoeists brave the churning Otter Creek Falls.

Sunshine, temperatures just right for a leisurely outdoor lunch, and the afternoon in front of us; our grand plan for the day was working out just as we expected.

Until we crossed into New York. Not that there's anything wrong with upstate New York; in fact, it's one of our favorite places to ride. The great idea soured as the skies turned dark and grey just as we crossed the Lake Champlain bridge that was completed in 2011.

The blue sky and puffy white clouds look friendly enough, but soon after we turned south on to NY Route 9, everything turned black and raindrops started to spatter against my helmet. The temperature was in the high 80's, and the rain actually felt good. Until it started to rain really hard and the temperature dropped below 70 in less than 10 minutes. That's what our trusty Frogg Togg raingear is for, right? We stopped and put on the jackets, anticipating we'd soon ride out of the rain.

We were completely wrong. The ride started to unravel as we saw lightning and heard thunder. Motorcycles can be hit by lightning and we weren't taking any chances. We happened to be in Whitehall and Mike turned into a boat repair business, parked, and we ran inside the shop. We watched the rain pour from the sky as the lightning flashed and thunder rumbled for over 30 minutes.

When the lightning and thunder receeded into the distance, we set off for the final hour ride home. Mike used the GPS to take short-cuts which led us on back roads through Washington County into Granville, just a quick run outside Manchester and home.

As we pulled into our garage and started peeling off the Frogg Toggs, the sky lit up with lightning, thunder roared, and it rained so hard a small river roared off the roof onto the porch.

We have two days to dry out our motorcycle gear before we head for West Virginia and the Hatfield/McCoy marathon on Wednesday. Let's hope this great idea - to ride the BMW to West Virginia, run a marathon, and ride back home within a week - turns out as planned.