I joined the MSTA in 2014 and had aimed to attend the annual Fall Colors Rally every year since. Family commitments, bike problems, and – all too often – lack of funds at the end of the riding season made me put off attending the Lewisburg, W.Va., event each fall.
This year, I finally managed to have the time and money to go. And the Oct. 1-3 event ended up being the great time I’d hoping it would be.
The ride to the rally didn’t go exactly as planned but included a stint on my favorite interstate and my first ride across the New River valley. I got out of the house later than I wanted to on Friday, Oct. 1. I rolled out of my driveway about 10 minutes to 10 a.m. and was delayed shortly after leaving due to a problem with the LiveTrack app on my Garmin Zumo 396.
Once the app was working, I continued riding south through Akron and Canton on Ohio State Route 8 and Interstate 77. I continued on I-77 to the West Virginia border and stopped at the West Virginia welcome center to check if my planned lunch stop’s dining room (Taco John’s in Athens, Ohio) was open. I was feeling a little hungry and fatigued, but decided I wanted to at least start heading toward Athens.
I got off I-77 at the exit for U.S. Route 50 at Parkersburg, W.Va., and followed the freeway alignment of U.S. 50 around the south and west sides of Parkersburg. When I stopped for fuel a short time later, I was really hungry and it just so happened that the station was home to a Subway. I had a Subway gift card stowed in my tank bag, so I decided to just have lunch there to save some time. After devouring a steak and cheese sub, I got back on the bike and decided to explore a short section of Ohio State Route 7 before getting back on I-77 — as well as avoid having to take a left across the four-lane U.S. 50 highway.
I turned right out of the parking lot and followed U.S. 50 west to U.S. Route 33 — a road I know well from my years living in Columbus. It’s the fastest route between the Interstate 270 outerbelt and I-77, which I used at least several times a year for trips to points south and southeast of central Ohio.
The section of U.S. 33 from its interchange with SR 7 to the Ohio River is a two-lane road that is primed to have two additional lanes added to the right of way. And the route’s bridge over the Ohio River offers a neat view of the barge traffic below. It’s a short stint on West Virginia State Route 2 to access the interchange with I-77, and I had a good time riding the rolling terrain and sweepers on I-77 to Charleston.
I made a quick detour through downtown Charleston to get a picture of my motorcycle next to a sign on the city’s convention center for my Johnny Cash riding project, then got back on I-77 and headed toward one of my favorite interstates — the West Virginia Turnpike. Though the first few miles of the turnpike are mostly flat as the highway traces the southern bank of the Kanawha River, the fun begins as the road makes a sharp right (by interstate standards) and ascends the valley wall toward the state’s central highlands. The first of three toll plazas on the turnpike’s mainline is at the crest of the hill, and it’s about 20 miles of uninterrupted, fast, dual-lane sweepers with continuous elevation changes and scenic mountainscapes before the next toll plaza.
I’ve traveled the turnpike’s twists and turns many times on a motorcycle, but had always continued south past its interchange with Interstate 64. That day, I took the road I’d never traveled before and began exploring the about 50-mile stretch to Lewisburg. Though it was engineered to be less technical than the turnpike, I-64 offered some fun riding as it traverses the New River valley. I arrived at the Quality Inn in Lewisburg at about 5:30 p.m.
I didn’t see any familiar faces Friday evening, so I got a fast food dinner and settled into my hotel room for the remainder of the evening. Saturday morning, I spotted MSTA Vice President Norm Kern and another member — Nate Davis — in the breakfast room and had good chats with them before heading back to my room to gear up.
The route I had planned for the day included a revisitation of the first truly twisty road I encountered as a motorcyclist. West Virginia’s Midland Trail (signed U.S. Route 60) is a toll-free alternative I’d used on my first multi-day motorcycle tour in 2009 — which was a precursor to my first cross-country tour in 2010. Though U.S. 60 looked fun when I planned the 2009 route, the reality was so much better than I’d expected. I hadn’t ridden U.S. 60 since then, and was eager for my second run on it.
As I reviewed the route on Google Maps before heading out, I devised a few shorter alternatives in case I got behind schedule. I took my time getting geared up to give the sun a chance to warm things up a little – and give the ibuprofen I’d taken time to get my SI joint pain under control.
When it was time to roll out, I fueled up and headed south on U.S. Route 219 toward downtown Lewisburg. I turned right onto U.S. 60 west and got stuck behind slow traffic as I left town. I slowed way down a few times to get room to carry speed through the rolling terrain for the route’s first few miles — and almost missing my chance to pass three trikes with trailers ahead of me when the road widened out to two lanes. Other than almost out-braking myself into one particularly tight corner, I made quick work of the trikes and enthusiastically rode a pretty steep uphill section that hadn’t been part of my 2009 ride.
The remainder of the twisty bits from Sam Black Church, W.Va., to the Gauley River Bridge just as good as I remembered them from 2009 — maybe even a little more technical. I’d forgotten about a boring stretch in the miles before and after the U.S. Route 19 junction, but the fun factor climbs right back up to 10/10 near Hawk’s Nest State Park.
A few miles after U.S. 60 finishes its descent from the mountains to the northern bank of the New River, there’s a nice pull off just before the Gauley River Bridge. I stopped to snap some photos of my bike with the scenic river/mountains backdrop and enjoyed riding along the peaceful river scene the rest of the way to Charleston. I stopped for lunch at a Taco Bell/Subway in Smithers, W.Va., and later took I-77 through downtown Charleston to Interstate 79 north to reach Amma, W.Va.
My stop in Amma was brief, as I wanted to check out a site I’d investigated during my years working in the environmental due diligence industry. The site was vacant land when I had visited it, and it’s since been flattened out for use as a parking area by a utility company.
After backtracking one exit on I-79, it was onto the many curves of U.S. Route 119 — through slow traffic hampered my pace. But for the traffic, the road from I-79 to Spencer was even more fun than I remembered. When I reached Spencer I turned right to follow U.S. 119 and its overlap with West Virginia State Route 16. I stayed on SR 16 where it splits off from U.S. 119 at Arnoldsburg and had a great time riding SR 16’s sweepers and twisty bits back to I-79.
I headed north on I-79 and had more fun than I had expected while navigating the interstate’s fast and hard sweepers. It was more of the same when I got off I-79 and started my trek south on U.S. Route 19. I stopped at a scenic overview on U.S. 19 south of Birch River, W.Va., and snapped some neat photos of the mountainscape to the north.
When I reached Summerville, W.Va., I followed West Virginia State Route 39 to head toward U.S. Route 219. Google Maps deceived me a little bit with this route selection. The tight, twisty series of corners are all downhill when heading eastbound. I made the most of it and got lots of downhill braking practice in — though it was hard to judge how much grip I had on the stretches of fresh pavement.
The portion of SR 39 and West Virginia State Route 55 east of Richwood, W.Va., is part of the Highlands Scenic Highway and Appalachian Waters Scenic Byway. The road seemed like a near-never-ending set of sweepers that snakes along the course of the Cherry River. The leaves were just starting to change color, which added to the route’s charm. The pavement was a tad rough in some spots, but the bumps in the road didn’t diminish the riding experience much.
When I reached U.S. 219, I figured it was going to be a flat, boring ride back to the hotel. I was wrong. SR 39 ends at the bottom of a set of switchbacks on U.S. 219, shortly after which I was greeted with a splendid view of the mountains as I crossed the Greenbrier River valley floor. As the route took me over those mountains, I rode through a couple sets of really fun twisties interspersed among the otherwise nondescript highway. The first set of twisties rivaled some of what I’d ridden on U.S. 60 earlier in the day. I had to make a quick stop when my GPS tried telling me U.S. 219 was closed ahead and got surprised when a local’s dog started rubbing his snout against the back of my left knee.
The final stage of the ride was a bit unnerving, as I had to navigate a set of downhill twisties with small amounts of gravel dropped in the middle of every curve. After tip-toeing my way to flatter terrain, I made it back to the hotel at about 6:30 p.m. I had a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant and spotted Ohio MSTA director Doug McPeek in the hotel parking lot on my way back to my room. There was a group of riders diagnosing a potential clutch problem on Doug’s Yamaha FJ-09, but the consensus was it wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. I caught up with Doug about the goings-on of the central Ohio group — which I miss having Sunday breakfast with each month — and met the MSTA’s northeast Ohio director, Mr. Steve Grabowski.
After getting a good night’s sleep, I had an uneventful ride home to Cleveland. I considered stopping to visit some points of interest in the New River valley that my former co-worker at Iron Pony Motorsports, Bill Wilson, had told me about. However, I got another late start and wanted to get back to Cleveland — as my parents were dog-sitting for my girlfriend and myself.
Overall, I had a great time at the event — though the positive experience made me lament not having attended the rally sooner.