Trip to Virginia and back, two lane blacktop
Posted 04 July 2010 - 01:31 AM
TO VIRGINIA AND BACK
Louise, my 1997 VFR
Having driven the cage to North Carolina and back, I was determined to make my long awaited VFR trip from Dallas to Charlottesville by staying to two lane roads, nothing larger than a US highway, and to avoid any yellow blobs on the map. I was headed over to meet my old friend from college days and ride with him in Virginia where we had logged many miles back in those days of college, Corvettes, girl’s schools, and curvy beautiful roads.
Keeping close written contact, we had not actually seen one another for twenty-plus years. We fancied we would tour our old haunts and look for the proverbial mom and pop gas stationS in the hills and back roads.
I took off from Dallas June 14 and arched up through North Texas by way of Paris and crossed briefly into Oklahoma on my way to US70 and Arkansas.
It's not Arkansas without an Armadillo
I jogged over to AR84 and crossed I-40 at Malvern below Little Rock, then went on down through Pine Bluff on US271 to cross the Mississippi at Helena on US49. Gassing in West Helena before crossing to Mississippi, I met two locals on beautiful cruisers who said to pass up the motels in town and shoot on over the bridge to stay at the casino…..good security, excellent food, free drinks, and great rooms for a bargain. Gamble if you want, but they didn’t. Sure enough, anchored on the far shore was the Isle of Capri, which exceeded all expectations. I crashed hot and tired, pulling off the Roadcrafter and armour in a pile
The suit is cool at 75mph, but when you stop…………..
A cold brew and good chow set me right back up, and in the morning a hot clear day was waiting as I re-set the JCW bags on Louise and hooked it onto the straight flat river country roads towards Tennessee.
Lost some early start by wandering good scenic small roads all over Sardis Lake Dam State Park. Finally found the road sign I was looking for as I came back the other direction! Off to Tennessee and up to US64, a really nice way to cross Southern Tennessee, through rolling hills and forests.
Great roads in Tennessee
Me on the rig, taken in abandoned store front window
Gorgeous day with Louise in horse country.
It is a long state across, and as I got close to Chattanooga by late afternoon, I could see I would be late getting to a B+B in Calhoun that I had chosen for my jumping off place for the Cherohala Skyway . Rain showers began to dog me and the light faded, mists and low hanging clouds very dramatic as I railed down from the mountain tops of TN 111, snaking solidly on the VFR, trusting the Pilot Power fronts and PR-2 rear to track like iron, and they did.
Light fading, rain over, miles to go
I wound up creeping down 6 miles of tiny lane in the wet and dark, shady visor tipped up with mosquitos and gnats all over my glasses. Where IS that damn clear shield? I arrived at Pinhook Plantation, a 200 year old B+B at which the owner had waited up for me, wine chilled and a warm welcome given.
Third day dawned clear but with thunderstorms predicted for all day in the southeast. I almost took a layover day, yet started late as it just looked too good from where I stood.
Pinhook B+B driveway
I rolled up to Tellico Plains and onto the Cherohala, puffy white clouds all around and some grayer areas way to the north, seemingly irrelevant. I experienced the Skyway in perfect weather, meeting singles and two-ups at overlooks.
Two-up from Texas on TL1000
Winding my way down to Robbinsville I found out the Dragon had been re-closed due to more hanging rock, so failing a run up 129¸ I diverted to 441 up through the Smoky Mountain National Park, noting a large bruised cloud looming over my left shoulder. I ran for the left turn up 441 at Cherokee, hoping to cut the corner on that cloud, but at that point all of tourist humanity was meandering in front of me in slow motion, so I helplessly watched the storm roll down the mountainside, finally hitting me with sleet, snow, and heavy rain just as I reached the entry to the park road. I ducked into a picnic shelter and let Louise take the hit.
Downpour on 441
441 going through the Smoky Mountain Nat’l Park
Misty forest after the rain
Soon the sky cleared and I re-mounted, able to follow the wet road up to Gatlinburg. I ducked out of the State Fair midway atmosphere there at the first opportunity, reaching Newport TN. I stopped for the night and bunked a few doors down from some of the crew doing the high rock work on the I-40 slide, team mates of the Dragon slide crew. Real men, doing real men’s work. We talked climbing knots and sportbikes and they told me of the war stories they had from hanging in space and dynamiting huge rock slabs.
I got an early start to meet my old buddy in southern Virginia, crossing via tiny roads with hard twisting turns in remote hills on TN91/VA133/VA58.
Choose Non-Venomous for Louise, please
I passed by a junction at 421, the Snake, and went on over to the Blue Ridge Parkway junction at the Meadows of Dan, where we met up and rode the Parkway up to Charlottesville.
Beautiful waysides near Tennessee-Virginia border on VA133.
Quaint roadside stores in little towns
I rested in his civil war era house, enjoying the talk of old friends who seem to take up where they last left off.
My friend’s home in the Brown house, circa 1870, Proffit, VA, home of a freedman.
One day we did his local favorites into the Madison and Jefferson laden areas of the Old Dominion. Family farms and grand estates intermingled with the history of old country. Riding the roads in tandem with an old friend was a rare treat, enjoyed even more in these rolling green hills, meadows, and forests.
My friend and his 840cc XS Yamaha, the Silver Bullet
Another day we rode over to Lexington where we had met so many years before at Washington and Lee University. Nostalgia is especially powerful in the hundreds of year old environment of that university town, where so little had seemed to change except us.
The unchanged and the changed
Washington & Lee University colonnade, circa 1800.
I got some shots of the area, including the church where I had married my college lover on graduation day, now just forty-five anniversaries past.
Hitching post 1965
Soon we rode out of town, the VFR making its familiar turbine sound as the gear drive spun up to climb the hills.
After several days of good times I saddled up and headed back back by a different route.
Packed bags on Louise
Zippin' the 'Stich again
Facing a front hitting West Virginia that morning, I deviated and went directly down to the Virginia-Tennnessee border to hopefully duck under the weather as the front stalled on the mountains at the border.
Along the way down the Shenandoah Valley one is treated to all manner of scenery, some pretty vistas, some the unique.
You'd have thought maybe coffee???
Blue Ridge Parkway crossing over
Mostly the plan worked as I could see ominous weather signs behind the mountains as I ran quickly as I could. At Radford I was pasted in a frog strangler where I hunkered behind the Zero Gravity and clicked on turn signals so as not to be run down, yet kept plowing on at 40 mph, dodging cars with their flashers on. Thank Aerostich for the suit and the elkskin ropers with the thumb wiper—it all really worked. Getting to clear air in a couple of miles I knew that had been the correct plan, for behind me the wall of rain continued to pound down and few cars had emerged, so I pretty much had the road to myself for awhile. I got one more good hit, then for the rest of the day stayed in the clear.
Veteran's Memorial near Cumberland Gap
Eastern Kentucky hayfields
I took the Lee Highway and crossed the Cumberland gap, where I met Magnet Man. While tanking up in a small country station an old man in a gimme cap strolled up and began to chat. He had a strange collar and vest on and soon was telling me how he was treating his arthritis with magnets and how he was doing great now. He proceeded to attach his pocket knife to his back, his hips, and his neck just to demo how well magnetized he was. Like almost everyone who stops to talk, he too had been a rider back in the day.
Right beside him was a young man in a rocker tee who wanted to know if my ‘Stich was good in riding. I said “yeah, it’s cooler than leathers, but just as armored”. He turned out to be a local R-1 racer and his older friend piped up that he himself had a Darien two piece that he wore on his R1200. Bikers everywhere!!
Stopping at the Cumberland Gap in Williamsburg KY , I lucked into the Cumberland Inn, a convention center for the local college, that is open to travelers. It was upscale and spiffy, and nearly the only decent place in town. A bad nutritional comment was there was nothing but 6 fast food eateries in the whole town.
Next day was into the Boone National Forest by Hwy92. Dark shady glades and remarkably good roads allowed good time to be made, ramping up speed and rolling off with just a touch of brake for the turns with good vision ahead. One of my hard and fast rules throughout is that you can only drive what road you can see. I’m all for a good hard edged over turn, but too often there really WAS a roadkill, a farm tractor pulling a manure trailer, a broken pavement, or a gravelly driveway. It was not about me and whether I could technically rail the turn, but whether or not one could see enough of the road to assess it. I heartily endorse this plan for all who plan to hit the unfamiliar two lanes.
I broke out into country with small farms all along the way, hilly and small by ConAgra scale, but gratifying to see with well-kept farmhouses built many decades ago, usually with the really old barn holding just hay and a well painted newer barn nearer to the house holding the shiny John Deere. Robust and healthy looking places embedded in head high cornfields gave me a refreshed confidence in the workaday places in America that are our bedrock.
Farmhouse on tiny road in Kentucky
Photo stop, Kentucky
There's a whole photo album of these out there.
Moving on westward I smelled toasted wheat straw lying in the sun, passed by side roads that inevitably led to homes and farms down the lanes, and began to dodge afternoon buildups.
A road to someone's place...
Fresh threshed wheat
Here it comes again.
Miraculously the road wound between two cells, then I got pounded by the third one. Again I pressed on with the collar tight and the turn signal flashing, emerging on the sunny side and heading into the Land Between the Lakes area. Huge bridges flew me over the lakes and I banked down into Tennessee, holding up at Union City for the next morning’s brief stretch of Tennessee leading over the Mississippi to Missouri at the Hayti crossing on Hwy 412.
Little lanes all to yourself , KY464.
KY464 to Mayfield, the family hay barn
Friday I left early and crossed over the green steel truss bridge that connected the equally flat fields of Tennessee to those of Missouri.
Missississippi River crossing.
Only a little Missouri there separates Arkansas, so soon I was refueling in Paragould,Arkansas.
Once again gas pumps and bikes attract attention. There were two guys in work uniforms on the other side of the pump that told me they had dreams of riding together down into Mexico on their cruisers. As they walked back to their truck one of them turned to me and said, “Mister, you are one lucky guy”. I’ll have to say that I knew that already.
Once I reached I-40 at Russellville I was in the southern half of the state and getting to the mountain areas with good bike roads. As I wandered mildly lost in Ruselllville, I happened upon the most amazing conglomeration of pop art and architecture that I think was a local bodega. It would put LA funkiness to shame.
The Amazing Bodega
Actually it turned out to be on Bridge Road that led me up and over the Arkansas River, so my wandering had been to good effect.
Hitting AR 154 I crossed through Petit Jean State Park and past high vistas of Mount Magazine in the distance. I caught AR27 into lonlier country, that as the afternoon shadows began to cross the road, connected to AR28 on down towards Mena at the end of the day. Fewer marked properties gave way to forest glades and treelines right up by the road.
Arkansas27 on the way to Mena
Needless to say, Bambi watch put me on high alert and I knocked off 10-15 mph. All was well and I got to Mena in time for a great sun drop from behind a towering cloud.
Sun drop walking to dinner, Mena AR
Lots of good lodging there, and good food, as Mena is a popular touring stop in the mountains there.
Last morning on the road trip was bright and sunny within sight of a storm track to the west beyond the mountains I was to approach.
Last morning, climb to the Talamina skyline..
Storms moving away from me.
The weather channel had promised that the storms were going due north and away from my route, so the last best stretch was up and over the Talamina Skyline Drive, very akin to the Blue Ridge Parkway, just shorter, but hardly less beautiful.
Skyline Drive to Oklahoma
There was mostly clear sky, but rain moisture lay on several sections, showing the trace of last night’s storms. One giant anvil cloud rose to the north, as predicted, yet I was in the clear all the way across Arkansas 1.
All to yourself
Cool custom 1984 Nighthawk S on the Talamina Drive
Finally there was the descent in Oklahoma, down to the flats of Texas across the Red River. The land took on a clearly different look as the trees stood much further back across grassy plains now. I wound on down on more and more familiar Farm to Market Texas lanes that were my Sunday morning ride fare, till at last I hit the suburban landscape of the Metroplex. Humanity swarmed about in masses of cars that had been curiously and pleasantly absent these past twelve days. I blended into the flow and put up my guard while beginning to cook off to near boiling inside the Roadcrafter at the now mandatory stoplights. Now I recall why I dedicated my trip to two lanes and small towns despite the added distance. All told I had covered 3500 miles, enough to cross the country side to side and then some, but entirely satisfying and rewarding in its reassuring panoply of the heartland.
Home in Dallas
Home was cool and welcoming, back in the loving arms of a beautiful woman and licked to death by Jake the dog.
Louise cooled, ticking in the driveway, unburdened a last time of her cases, faithful and precise, trouble-free the whole way. What a wonderful magic carpet of a machine. Thank you Soichiro Honda for the gift.
Thank you Louise, thank you Mr. Honda
Tom Hampton, Dallas, June 2010
Louise, my 97, has custom paint by me, front end with RaceTech .90 springs in 5wt oil, forks up 9mm, and GenMar risers. Shock a Fox twin-clicker with remote reservoir, 800 lb spring. SS brake lines, EBC HH pads. Bobbed fender, and now a custom high pipe to the re-packed D+D. Tapered head bearings. Finned R+R with muffin fan. Heated grips, voltmeter and charging monitor LED. VFRness by Tightwad. TwoWheels Pazzo look-alike levers. EVO-star shifter kit. Plugs for heated vest controller, 12v accessory. Heated grips. Rear safety LED strobes. Kissan brake lamp modulator. Buns are Pilot Road 3's now.
Posted 04 July 2010 - 02:09 AM
Posted 04 July 2010 - 02:14 AM
We strongly recommend that you use only genuine Honda accessories that have been specifically designed and tested for your motorcycle. We strongly advise you not to remove any original equipment or modify your motorcycle in any way that would change its design or operation. Such changes could seriously impair your motorcycle’s handling, stability and braking, making it unsafe to ride.
Posted 04 July 2010 - 02:47 AM
hopefully it will inspire someone who is un-decided to just go.
This is a big reason why we have these bikes.
Can I convince you to paint it flat black?
Just when we thought the Early VFR section was safe...
Posted 04 July 2010 - 05:02 AM
SOLD: Marauder, Buell, KLR650, FLHRC
Posted 04 July 2010 - 08:41 AM
Posted 04 July 2010 - 08:46 AM
"Mister, you are one lucky guy."
Who thought they would be selling fish froma coffee pot shaped building?
Posted 04 July 2010 - 09:44 AM