Well, the day had arrived, sunrise, and I heard the starter pistol, man, I was out of the freakin’ blocks like Usain Bolt. Ya see, after much consternation and delay, I was finally departing for Paris. The details and logistics were a little fuzzy, but Monsieur Nix, my traveling companion, riding under the nom de guerre of dljocky, assured me that he not only knew the way, but was also fluent in French. I know a little French myself, but prefer not to use it since fistfights usually are quick to develop. When encountering linguistic difficulties, I’ve found it best to start speaking Spanglish, heck, just about everyone knows that language, so if ya don’t, it ain’t my problemo, amigo, whatever. See what I mean.
Figured I better let dljocky know I was leaving, Paris in my sights, and I caught him on the cell.
“Got the boat all set, see ya there”.
“Yeah, boat, ya know, Paris, gonna meet the captain and load the bike on the boat in 30 minutes”.
“WTF you talkin’ about?”…and the connection was dropped, oh well.
The captain was on time, and I met him in the parking lot, young feller, didn’t look too salty, and I said…
“Where’s the big ass boat you said you had ready to go?”
“Tied to the pier right over there.”
“How’s that boat supposed to get me and the bike to Paris, it’s the size of a freakin’ dingy.”
“Paris, like Paris, France?”
“Is there any other?”
“How the heck do I know, except you be wastin’ my time”, and that’s when dljocky called back, turned out I didn’t need the boat after all. At least I got the captain to take a photo. He made a motion like he was going to chuck my camera out into the saltwater, lucky he was mostly just kidding around.
I had the camera zipped into the tank bag when I said “You sure that ain’t a dingy?”, kicked it in gear, got the heck gone. As for the captain, he must be native Italian, at least he was communicating in Italian sign language. I was watching in the mirrors, paying close attention, now I’m multilingual, easy, didn’t have to pay for those expensive tutorial CDs either.
All news to me, but instead of heading east, now dljocky has me riding northwest to Paris. Hope it all works out, I’d like to try some of them snails, sample the foy grass.
With the route and schedule all topsy-turvy, I was on the road to Paris, Monsieur Nix to follow in a day, camping along the way somewhere, and we were to meet in front of that famous Paris church first thing Friday morning, can’t miss it. Say what, had to be a bunch of churches, and that was my final thought as I drifted off to sleep, wondering where dljocky was camped, heavy rain and hail pounding on the roof.
Friday dawned misty after an inch of rain, sun just might break through any minute, and I expected the arrival of a very soggy dljocky in front of the church at 8AM, but no, he was dry and chipper, camped out on the floor of a flea bag motel just up the road instead. He would have used the bed, but his aversion to bugs prevented it. Dljocky was riding a DR650, yeah, I know, he done switched koolaid flavors and didn’t change the name.
My first thought was, man, this Paris place is way smaller than I thought, and where the heck are all the Parisians?
Dljocky was admiring the church “Gosh darn, Notre Dame de Paris, never thought I’d get a chance to see it”.
Something wasn’t right, the damn sign on the church said Trinity United Methodist Church, and I don’t think there are supposed to be any Methodists in Paris ‘cause I think they’re all still loyal to the old guy with the beanie, ya know, the Pope.
Got to clear this up, and dljocky flagged down this Parisian dude, our first encounter in Paris, and launched into his very best French to no effect, the guy was goofing around like he couldn’t make out a single word.
I yelled over something in Spanglish, the goto language, and surprise surprise, the man didn’t understand the “Span” part, but was fluent in the “glish” part. Ok, now I got it, the guy had to be an American ex-pat living in Paris, although I have to admit that my interest sort of waned when he said he was a Cowboys fan.
After a short conversation in “glish”, he explained in somewhat terse language where our plans had gone wrong, all the time looking like he would like to exit our company on a dead run, dog in tow. He was a little fidgety when we asked him to take our photo, and thank God for image stabilization, the camera was shaking all over the place, don’t know whether he was scared to death or laughing. By that time, he was lookin’ at us like we were 100% freakin’ nuts.
I put my helmet back on real quick to conceal my identity, we were near Washington, DC and well within the blame-game boundary, yup, I intended to blame dljocky for this entire Paris fiasco. It was all his fault, I had nuthin’ to do with it.
Thank goodness we were nothing less than resilient, and although disappointed with Paris, the weather was improving, the bikes were fueled, and we were headed into the mountains, three states included. On the bikes and we were gone down the road, a first taste of gravel only minutes away. Vroooom, vroooom, that was my bike, Monsieur Nix’s DR sounded a little more like putt-putt.
Trouble was, we were about to vroooom and putt-putt right off the freakin’ maps.
I was all wound up, kinda like the mainspring in one of those old grandpappy clocks, man, we had some roads ahead of us, conditions uncertain, a flat out long way to go and no positive place to stop. It was an example of my flying circus methodology in the realm of routing, a few unplanned Immelmanns, snap roles, and tail slides, acrobatic maneuvers although unchoreographed, optimistic of a safe landing, at least as much as could be guaranteed in these endeavors.
Monsieur Nix was the one thing I’d needn’t worry about, a very experienced rider, likely unfazed by the 101 different road conditions we would encounter, smart and safe on the moto, important ingredients for back roads travel. We had ridden together before, he knew the protocols, no additional words on the subject were necessary. If there was a guy more anxious to get started on a trip than Monsieur Nix, I’d like to meet him. Geeez, between the cartwheels, backflips, hand springs, and such, it looked like an Olympic gymnastics floor exercise. Had to hold him down, or he would have jumped clean out of them riding boots. “Calm down there, buddy, we got places to go”.
We had to get around Winchester, first on the list, don’t want to ride through that city in rush hour, or any city for that matter, and we were speeding west on VA17/50, hoping the popo were into the donuts and wouldn’t pay any attention to a blur of HIVIZ. I wanted to cut through to VA7 along the Shenandoah River, so when I saw the turn onto Mt. Carmel coming up, I downshifted a few times, letting the revs build to 9000, then let the return spring snap the throttle bodies closed. The sound was ZZTop on roids, flames like a freakin’ rocket exhaust and the last little pieces of the cat converter shot out of the pipe and over the road. Man, it was like hitting the “zero” button on a calibrated instrument, the underpinning of the day, sinuses cleared out, body buzzing, stone freakin’ deaf…might have singed dljocky a little, he was right on my tail. Face it, ya got places to go, heck, might as well sound like ya mean it.
Mt. Carmal is paved, although somewhat narrow, and a good twisty warmup to start, but with loose gravel on the surface from the previous night’s rain. Man, it was good to be underway, hearty fall aroma in the air from the hardwood forest. This road takes you past Mountain Lake Campground, commercial, beautiful setting, but so poorly maintained that you could easily mistake it for permanently closed. As dljocky reported, don’t bother.
We had be riding parallel to, but out of sight of the Shenandoah, and the turn onto the Frogtown gravel would take us north where we would eventually intersect with the river.
Two signs, and I’m positive we’ll like this little section of road, unless the meaning is someone’s sinister joke, and that does happen too.
Once through the creek bottom to the east, the road climbs the mountain before dropping back into the river valley beyond. The road in the lower section was in good shape, but washed and rutted on the up and down grades.
Feltner, then a turn onto River, and we’re at the Shenandoah. I’d seen the river a day or two earlier and it was low and bony, now up several feet and running muddy and fast. Private camping spots along the river, some well maintained, others not at all. This guy wanted to make sure his candidate’s signs were safe from Barack Hussein backer vandalism, so he hung them 15’ in the air.
This fella had an armed guard behind iron gates hefty enough to be installed at Camp David, so if ya mess with his signs, ya might hear gunfire. We didn’t linger, or at least I didn’t. When I saw the guy flick the safety, dljocky was still foolin’ around with the camera. Sorry about the roost.
Obama/Biden signs were a little scarce out here, the whole allotment for Virginia must have been used inside the Beltway. If we had seen one, I might have talked dljocky into getting the shot. I’d woulda done it, but damn, don’t want to smoke my camera.
Winchester has become a bedroom community in the DC metro area, generally heavy traffic on the east/west roads, so it wasn’t surprising to find heavy traffic westbound on VA7, not insane, just annoying. We needed a scoot around the north side, and ran hard to the I81 intersection, a quick salute to all my friends at Starbucks, north on I81 for a few minutes, then off at the VA11/37 exit. That’s my idea of riding the superslab, you’re back off the stupid thing before ya kick it into sixth gear.
VA37 takes us to VA522, and northwest, clearing the traffic and sprawl quickly. VA522 to Gainesville, then north on Siler where we would climb up to the north/south mountain ridges, riding a combination of paved and gravel roads. Small creeks cross the road frequently, low water bridges everywhere.
We were into good leaf looking color now, maybe a few days off prime depending on elevation, but still gorgeous riding country. When we rode up on this sign, we would be transitioning back and forth between gravel and pavement for the next 25 miles.
The road followed a small creek, enough leaves still on the trees that the canopy was intact, now we were enveloped in color, pretty cool.
I like to try to capture a frame of these old buildings, dljocky was being patient with some stop and go riding.
Adams to Brush Creek, back on pavement, a little sun, then mist, partly cloudy, you choose, it was all good.
At Packhorse, we climbed up to the ridge on poorly patched pavement, a ragged looking job, and somewhere along here crossed into West Virginia. Many of these roads were still shown as gravel on the maps, the transition to chip and macadam moving forward at a furious pace in some areas.
We were riding a series of roads, mainly CR17, across the ridge with pasture and orchards, ok, there was some redneck hoohaw too. Pick your throne, watch the ballgame.
Down the road there was another junk TV with a coat hanger antenna bent into a very artistic rendition of rabbit ears, shoulda stopped, there had been a pretty literal translation when someone said “Pitcher’s all screwed up, y’all need some of them rabbit ears on that thang”.
Color across the pasture, you can’t just ride on by.
Up on top, middle of nowhere, we found the Troubadour, a combination café, beer joint, dance hall place. There is absolutely nothing else out there for miles in any direction, man, I can only imagine what it’s like around the place on Friday and Saturday nights. Dljocky wanted to hang around since it was Friday, dance the salsa with wild abandon, but I didn’t have all my tactical Kevlar with me…no espadrilles either. Mucho disappointment, I could have practiced Spanglish for the second time today, damn, we had to move on down the road.
Dljocky did get a photo out of the deal, now he can at least claim he’s been there, cross it off the bucket list.
Off the CR17 series, now onto the CR8 roads, and we transitioned to gravel at Posey Hollow, which runs generally north for miles, the first of dljocky’s several favorites.
Well graded, and also well used, although we saw just one vehicle, don’t get caught on the wrong side of the road.
An old riveted iron bridge at the bottom, straight approach from this side, but a curving downhill lefthander from the other, must be some interesting interactions at this one lane bridge from time to time.
We were on CR8 pavement and needed to make a little time riding down to Berkeley Springs. Dropping into the Potomac River valley, it got a little misty again in spots, the weather remained changeable.
CR8 intersected WV9, and we were riding a direct route back west towards WV522. A pair of old service stations at the top of the last hill on the grade down into Berkeley Springs, long in disuse, still some value in the sign in front of one.
Berkeley Springs always seems to have a crowd of visitors and shoppers, same today, and had that dysfunctional flash mob look, a desperate quest for the sublime artisinal foofoo. We could have come straight up 522 and reached this exact spot in less than 30 minutes. Our route was better, way better.
It was obvious that we needed to clear Berkeley Springs both very soon and as quickly as prudent speed would allow. The bikes were already mud splattered, we looked a little scruffy, the whole picture presented a discordant note, outlanders on the loose. We had already been more or less run out of Paris before we could locate our croque monsieurs and crepe chasers, avoided Winchester almost entirely, and now needed to do a flyby here before the free range chicken eggs and organic tomatoes started flying.
Things got serious when we pulled off in a parking lot so I could convince the GPS to do the right thing for a change, a partially mummified elderly lady passing in front with some kind of very tiny designer breed dog on a leash. I had the ear plugs in, so when I said to dljocky “That would look good on my plate medium rare, a splash of Texas Pete, home fries on the side, and a nice spinach salad”, the lady heard it. Damn, I’d mistakenly said it so loud that someone on the other side of the highway coulda heard it.
When she whipped around to see who was talking, I pointed at Monsieur Nix, pure reflex, the meaning obvious…“He done it”. I made a leisurely exit while the old lady was either trying to hit or stab dljocky with her cane, couldn’t tell, but then with a whiff of blue gray smoke rolling off the 705, a shift into second without the clutch, and dljocky was back out on WV522. Man, I got to keep an eye on that boy, antagonizing old ladies like that spells trouble.
North on WV522 towards the Potomac River, dljocky does a big tail wagging stoppie trying to get a photo of the silica plant that has been there forever.
More or less scared the bejesus out of everyone in sight, all the cagers fumbling for their cells, dialing 911, reporting someone on a gypsy bike that looked like…well, they probably weren’t sure exactly what they saw. That was the final straw, now we for sure had to leave West Virginia pronto, dljocky’s erratic behavior had made him persona non grata, and believe me, that says a lot considering the behavior of the general population. Me, I was golden, still had my passport.
I planned to get a photo or two of the river from the bridge deck, but when we approached the state line into Maryland at near civil aviation speed, I lost that opportunity. When I let go of the throttle at the Maryland sign on the bridge span, the staccato exhaust overrun scared a swooping flock of bridge pigeons which promptly pooped all over the southbound cars, 75 extra decibels shifts events towards unusual consequences. We needed to take a break, hide somewhere until all the excitement died down, and we were off MD522 at the Hancock exit, a little jog through town, glad we did because I needed a reminder to get tickets…
The landing at the C&O canal looked like a good hideout…
so we ducked in there, hid behind the trees.
We were the only ones there, the river mirror flat, hardly a riffle.
A young lady pulled in while we were having a drink and a granola bar, a bicycle girl, one of those $3000 mountain bikes on the rack. Monsieur Nix was quick on the trigger, checked out her assets, but then just as quickly, he was back to scanning the river. Not to be unkind, but this girl had no assets, nope, chicken bone features don’t count, and lips that looked like freakin’ bolt cutters. Yeeeoooow, ouch! To be fair, she might have a 180 IQ, and we’ll see her as the Secretary of State some day, lack of assets doesn’t seem to matter much there.
Mounting up, with a wave to our bicycle honey, still a long way to go, possible muddy roads ahead, and we were riding southwest on the Berm Road along the canal.
Dljocky was ahead, but stopped when I wanted a photo of one of the old arched stone culverts.
I was lining up another shot when I had the sense of someone behind me, and when I turned around, there was a squad car at my elbow, a young HGH puffed officer giving me the flinty eye stare.
Sorry officer, those stares don’t much work with a man three times your age, best stick with the schoolboys. He was asking some questions, but I had the bike running, helmet on, and the earplugs were in, the perfect excuse to ignore whatever he was saying, so I just held up the camera and pointed. When he left, I thought he was going to try the stare down on Monsieur Nix, but he must have given up, no sense going down 0-2. Apparently, the APB on dljocky never made it over the state line, good thing, I had gas money, no bail money.
The turn on Locher begins a long climb to MD144, an old silo marking the bottom.
Old National Pike runs roughly parallel to I68, and you can see that road occasionally as you climb generally west on MD144/40. The Pike is a wide open road, and shows the commercial remnants of it being the main road west through here before the I system was completed. It was colorful, no traffic, but mainly a transit road for us as we jumped west for a few miles on our route.
South on Swain Hollow, paved, but more in our element on this less traveled road, some creek crossings here too.
The weather still hadn’t cleared completely, sun and clouds, but in some of the areas where we were able to get a good look in the direction of travel, the skies looked promising. The road broke out of a solidly wooded stretch, now in pasture and small row crop acreage along the ridge, beautiful country.
Below Norris, the road changes to Stotlemeyer, and we were on fresh chip seal, the road shows as gravel, and probably was until a month ago. Wonderful color, and we were on the gas, the bikes sliding around some on the marbles.
Cliff Road angles off to the southwest, and it’s an easy to miss turn, looking more like a two track farm lane.
You always wonder about a road that shows little use, might be some unfavorable or impassable conditions ahead, the backtrack very time consuming. Naturally, we jumped right in.
Cliff is only a little rough in sections, and forms a small section of boundary for the Green Ridge State Forest, some 25,000 acres, originally the unlikely site of a huge orchard.
We got a look at Sideling Creek to the east for about a quarter mile, then climbed a moderately washed surface along the road’s namesake, an impressive chunk of rock.
Cliff ends at High Germany, and we literally popped back up on pavement, wary at this awkward little intersection. This road takes us back southwest towards the Potomac, and we could get a glimpse here and there, but only one spot open enough for a photo from this elevated vantage point.
I took a few photos, happened to look in the mirror, surprise, there’s Monsieur Nix’s DR flopped in the middle of the road, WTF. He had wanted a little better photo from up the road, but when he turned around, the bike fell over, a 0mph wreck. The damage assessment was a small handguard scratch on the DR, a tweaked back on the dljocky. Could have been worse, the bike was at a spot in the road that was blind from both directions. The real calamity, not a single flop photo for the archives.
Down the hill, we were back to another landing on the Potomac River, still perfectly flat, hard to envision that we could be standing in settlers’ footprints on this exact location from the year 1612, a full 400 years previous.
Through the tunnel, and we found ourselves in metropolitan Orleans, a welcome break, we had been riding hard all day.
But more importantly…we had been invited to dine with the Mayor. The Mayor happened to be one very busy gentleman, and his offer was nothing if not extremely gracious.