#129 Summer Mountain Ride in West Virginia

Fleeter Log #129
Summer Mountain Ride in West Virginia
2008 June 19-22

The Motorcycle Touring Forum (MTF) organizes a Summer Mountain Ride (SMR) each year. It provides an opportunity for those of us who have conversed on the forum to actually meet face to face and bring another dimension to the friendships created there. The MTF has a number of these type opportunities each year to bring riders together. In July of last year I met some MTF folks in Montana for the Western Mountain Ride. This year's SMR is based in Elkins, West Virginia. There is also the Summer Mountain Rough Road Ride (SMRRR) held at the same time. The RRRiders ride the gravel and dirt roads together. The rest of us either make solo rides or informally end up in small groups if we find ourselves going the same direction about the same time. Then we usually join together for supper to visit and share stories about the day's ride or rides of yore.

Interactive map of this trip can be found here:http://jasonjonas.org/spot/tripViewer.do?id=117
This map is created by a satellite tracking device I carry while riding.
(See Fleeter Log #128
http://fleeterlogs.blogspot.com/2008/07/128-spot-me-as-i-fleeter-about.html for more details.)

Day 1, Thursday
June 19, 2008
289 miles

Walton's Mountain

Since Elkins is less than 200 miles away, I decid to take a detour and visit some VA Grand Tour stops enroute to West Virginia.

My first stop is in Schuyler, VA -- home to Earl Hamner, Jr. He is the author of the book "Spencer's Mountain" on which the TV show "The Walton's" was based. The character of John Boy was based on him and was played by Richard Thomas. The house that he grew up in is still standing though it is currently under renovation. It was recently place on the Virginia Landmark list.

What was surprising to me is that it is located right in the middle of town. Of course "town" consists of a post office, Ike's Market and Deli, the elementary school & museum, a newer B&B and gift shop, and a handful of other homes where three roads come together. So it's not a big place, but I just had the vision from the TV series in my mind of the long walk up the mountain. Even though the house is under renovation, you can clearly see that the size and frame of the house is very similar to the way it was recreated for TV -- the most obvious likeness are the three dormers on the second floor where, if you sit still for a minute, you can easily hear a voice call out "night Mary Ellen."

I bought one of Earl Hamner, Jr's books, "You Can't Get There From Here." Seems like a good book to read in the spirit of fleetering! The original Spencer's Mountain is not a well known place, but known to locals. It's a few miles down the road in Amherst County...if I remember correctly.

Ike's General Store burned down a few years back, but the current Market & Deli is located on the same spot as the original Ike's.

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I follow the Rockfish River Road out of town --- it really does follow the Rockfish River with most every twist and turn. Seems odd to travel in areas where reality and fiction are intertwined in a way that you can easily get confused as to what was real history and what is just memories provided by Hollywood.
This was the Rockfish Post Office that was in operation from 1919 to 1985.
Bridge over the Rockfish River.

Less than 7 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway on hwy 151 I travel through Nellysford, VA. This is where I find a late lunch in the form of a bbq pulled pork sandwich at the Blue Ridge Pig. It's one of those places that I see as I pass by and then I start thinking that I am getting a bit hungry, so about 1/2 a mile past I've talked myself into doing a U-turn for another look.
Not sure how "rustic" and "sophisticated" fit on the same sign...but there it is. The rest of the sign may have explained it, if it were legible.

After riding about 13 miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway, I take hwy 56 to the west toward to Vesuvius, VA. Not sure how it's pronounced... But it sounds like I want to say "Bosepheus is from Vesuvius..." and somehow make a tongue twister out of it.
The roads just kept getting better the further west I go.

Leaving Monterey, VA on US250, I ride into West Virginia and right into the dark threatening clouds of what could be a dangerous storm, especially on these twisty roads. But I guess I'm not meant to get soaked today. The storm moves to the east as I ride north. All I get is a few sprinkles and some water puddles left behind by a heavy shower that must have passed just minutes before I came through.
"Home" for the next three nights will be at the Days Inn in Elkins, West Virginia. This Days Inn is a bit different in that it used to be the local hospital. Some of the subtle differences are a larger lobby, wider halls, elevators large enough for gurneys, extra wide doorways (even into the bathrooms), directories in the common areas directing you to the Doctor's offices. Some of the main floor offices are still actually in use by doctors. My room was a little different as my window opened up into the hallway. I kept my drapes closed. It was an extra large room -- I think it used to be the nurses station and they just closed it in for another room or two. The only real negative of the setup (besides the creepy factor) was the lack of any AC controls in a few of the rooms. After waking up midway through the first night in a sweat from the heat, I stumbled around looking for some sort of controls...none to be found. I stripped the covers off the bed, doused myself with cool water, and went back to sleep. The next day I woke up to find the room a bit on the cool side. I thought maybe I was sharing an AC unit controlled by someone in another room. I found out later, when I inquired at the front desk, that the staff controls the AC settings via a box located in the hallway for the hall and a couple rooms (probably what used to be the nurses station). If they get calls of complaint, they go upstairs and change the setting. Wish I'd known that the first night--I'd saved myself the frustration of searching the room thinking I was just too tired to find the control box.
From the backside of the facility, there is little doubt that I am staying in a hospital building -- some of the emergency room signs are still posted at the entrance into the parking lot. We joked that the in-house steakhouse restaurant located downstairs used to be the morgue, but the staff assured us that this hospital never had a morgue. I don't know...I think the restaurant would have found it useful to have a large freezer...

Day 2 Friday
June 20, 2008
292 miles

The Lunatic Asylum

Today I head west on US119 to Weston in search of the possible place of nurse Ratchet's day job.
It may have been officially known as the Weston State Hospital from 1913 until it was closed in 1994, but in its earlier years it was known as the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The government sold the hospital by auction in 2007 for $1.5 million. The new private owner has change the name back to Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Just has a nice ring to it, doncha think?

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When the hospital was first opened for patients in 1864, it was presented as a high end resort-type facility located in the beautiful Allegheny Mountains...a place to go to rest, relax, and recuperate. It probably wasn't near as easy to get out as getting in...once you were assigned a bed! The facility was originally designed to hold only 250 patients in relative comfortable solitude. By the 1950s the facility was grossly overcrowded with over 2,400 patients housed in conditions with poor sanitation.

If you could get beyond the willies of never being able to get out...you see that the place has beautiful architecture. Just try to look past the iron bars on the windows. This main building is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The architect, Richard Snowden Andrews, designed the building in Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles. His other works include the Maryland Governor's residence in Annapolis and the south wing of the US Treasury building in Washington, D.C.
The hospital's main building is one of the largest hand-cut stone masonry buildings in the United States. Skilled stonemasons were brought in from Germany and Ireland to work on the project. Most of the unskilled labor was provided by prison labor.
The facility has several huge buildings on the sprawling 307 acres of grounds though at it's largest it was over 650 acres.
Hard to see beyond the bars, chains, and fences... but hear tell there are stories of what lurk inside those walls.

The Atlantic Paranormal Activity group (TAPS) has been called in to investigate claims of "spirited" activities that have been reported over the years.

I leave Weston and the Lunatic Asylum behind, glad to be free to roam the roads... and continue west southwest on US119. This road shows me small towns, old barns, enough twisties to keep it interesting, and the smooth pavement makes all the better.

In one of those very small towns, I find that Chloe General Merchandise carries most anything you might need to care for your animals, feed the family, throw a party, plant a garden, etc. After taking what I thought was a good photo of the store from across the street it struck me that it would be better if I were sitting on the porch. But how to get the shot? About then a couple fellas pulled in making a beer run (at 10:30am ?!). I asked one of them if he would stand right "here" and "push" this button. Just give me enough time to get up on the porch and relaxed looking in that swing. So he did. And here it is...
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I take a break to enjoy a "little" coke while sitting on the porch swing and watching the hummingbirds and gold finches at the feeders.
My main destination for the day ... Clay, West Virginia. All roads leading to Clay are twisty roads!

Using the RT as a tripod, I get the shot of the Clay post office with me in the picture and the RT in the reflection.
Gauley Bridge over the Gauley River in Gauley Bridge, WV just before the Gauley River joins the New River. "Gauley Gee" it was a nice place!

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I don't know how I managed to resist stopping to see the "unbelievable mystery hole" ...but somehow I resisted. Maybe next time I will succumb to the need to know and stop to see what it's all about.
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US60 offers some nice views and a couple good twists between Gauley Bridge and Hawks Nest State Park. The sport bike riders seem familiar with the road... a few of them pass by me while out "working the twisties"!

View of the New River from Hawks Nest.

I finish the day by connecting back to US250 and completing my loop back to Elkins.

For supper, I join over 30 MTF friends in the non-morgue steakhouse in the basement of the Days Inn. No matter the location...the food was good and the service was excellent. After our meal, some of us find ourselves at the emergency entrance back patio to "gather around the ice chest" and continue to tell tales until close to midnight.

Day 3, Saturday
June 21, 2008
155 miles

Spruce Knob

During supper last night while chatting with Greg and Pat, we realize that we are planning to ride the same roads today ... so we made plans to meet in the parking lot this morning. Before we pulled out of the parking lot, we grew by two more bikes. Our group today will include the RT, a yellow Goldwing and two VStroms.
Not sure how, but I was nominated to lead our little group along the twists and turns of the WV byways this fine day.
Our first stop today is a close up look at what T. Boone Pickens sees as The Great Answer.

The next time our wheels ped was to enjoy the views at Blackwater Falls State Park near Davis, WV. http://www.blackwaterfalls.com/
Meet Pat and Greg from Kentucky. I have been fortunate to see them at a number of MTF gatherings.

Davis is a cute little mountain tourist town.

Seneca Rocks is next in our sights. Here you see the mammoth rock rising up straight ahead.

If you have really good eyesight, you can see people climbing the face of the rock. We used binoculars. They're there -- lots of them. Like little ants ...Me, Pat, Greg, and Rick with Seneca Rocks in the background.

While at Seneca Rocks, we decide a stop to eat was in order so Rick takes the lead and we follow to the Gateway Cafe in Riverton, WV.
Be aware that Timing the Weather is a very complicated skill. We pull into the Cafe's parking lot just as it starts to rain. We sit inside watching through the windows as the rain pours down. A second wave of heavy weather hits just as our plates were cleared...so obviously, this means... Time for Dessert! So I ordered home-made PIE! When we are done with dessert, the rain stops. Such good timing!

At this juncture, Greg & Pat split off and go in search of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank. Rick, Rob, and I head up the mountain to Spruce Knob about 12 miles away. The road starts out nicely paved, but about halfway up it turns to dirt. Now don't forget all that rain that fell while we ate pie...

This photo shows the gravel/red dirt road with water-filled pot holes. I was safely cradled between two VStroms. I say safe...meaning that if I did dump the RT, I had two VStrom riders to help me pick it up! They kept a close eye on me, but I managed to make it to the top and back down again while keeping the RT upright on two wheels the whole way. Even when it started raining again on the way back down, the dirt/gravel road really wasn't bad. It's just the red dirt that you have to be careful with when it gets wet -- "red slime" I think is what Rob called it. Closer to the top there are some washboard sections that can give you a good rattle, but all in all, the view is worth the ride up. Just be careful if it's wet.

The parking lot at the top is mostly paved with a bit of paved road leading into it.

The walking path to the Spruce Knob observation tower.The observation tower at Spruce Knob. You can see by the dark, looming clouds that the storms are still in the area.
We all jumped when the thunder cracked around us. The storm felt like it was coming in real close--so close it was hard to tell what way is was moving. It just seemed to be around us. Rob suggested that it is time for us to get off this Observation Tower, matter fact, time to get off this mountain. Rob speaks the truth. We quickly take these photos and then scuttle back to the bikes.

Rick and Rob on the top of Spruce Knob -- the highest point in West Virginia at 4,863 feet. And just that much closer to the storm...

I snapped this photo while riding on the short bit of smooth pavement at the top of Spruce Knob.
Rob riding into the storm on his VStrom. This is my favorite photo of the day.
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Where the pavement ends, and the dirt begins... Sounds like George singing in my ear.
The RT cradled between two VStroms. Just as am taking these pictures, it starts raining again. Since we haven't reached the paved section on the lower part of the mountain, we make quick order of saddling up and getting a move on!

Heading back to Elkins.
Rob in front of me...

Rick behind me... Hi Rick.
Tonight we head down the road to try out another restaurant. Some had a hankering for seafood and found this small mom & pop operation that serves food out of an old converted house.

Group shot of those of us that went for seafood. The two women in the front left were from the restaurant. I think we were the largest group they had ever served. (photo by Kent)

Day 4, Sunday
June 22, 2008
237 miles

Turbines, Chapel, and Mail Office

Most all the other MTF folks had already cleared the city limits Sunday morning by the time I leisurely make my way through downtown Elkins as I head for home. Here is the old Elkins Train Depot...still selling tickets for a ride on the train.

The Seneca Trail --The Great Indian Warpath -- led from Upstate New York to Georgia. In this area of West Virginia, the Path is known as the Seneca Trail and follows US219 along this section on the Allegheny Mountains.
Riding north on US219 between Parsons and Thomas, you can't help but to see the turbine farm strewn along an Allegheny ridge.
T. Boone Pickens is putting 10 billion dollars into finding the answer in the wind.
When I shut off the RT and listen, even with my helmet still on, I can hear the swoosh of the blades as they turn. The sound is huge, but still a white noise.
Sugarlands Road runs off US219 near the turbines.

Still running up US219, I come across the smallest church in 48 states. The church building was built in 1958 by the children of Mr. & Mrs. P.L.Milkint in memory of their parents.
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This small mailing office is located just behind the church building.
Silver Lake, WV is less than a mile from the Maryland state line.
I cross the state line into Maryland and soon turn eastward onto US50. My venture across the State of Maryland lasts all of 10 miles. This is the southern tip of the arm that reaches out as if to give WV a one-armed hug. But during my short visit into Maryland, I travel across the road with the highest elevation point of all the MD state roads. This is on Backbone Mountain -- elevation of 3,095 feet.

Not sure what the story is behind this. But I'm sure I had crossed back into West Virginia when I came across it.
By 2:30pm I was getting hungry and riding into dark clouds. I found the Mt. Top Restaurant near Romney, WV. It rained while I had lunch -- remember that Timing the Weather is a very tricky skill. Sometime we get it right, sometimes not. Today was a good day and I got it right.
Less than an hour later, I'm riding through Old Towne in Winchester, VA. Though I've never ridden on the narrow cobble streets of Europe, this was what I was thinking about as I rode through this section of Winchester.

Winchester Cold Storage Co.

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Below is the route of this four day ride.
Total trip miles: 973
Total trip time: 4 days
Money spent on fuel : $70.22
States fleetered in this trip: 3

Interactive map of this trip can be found here:
This map is created by a satellite tracking device (SPOT) that I carry while riding.

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