Gray TN – Newark DE
Sat Sept 26, 2020
I was out the door and rolling at 06:00, I-26 north in the dark to its terminus in Kingsport TN. Here US 23 picks up the route to the Virginia state line. I pulled in to a convenient gas station a few minutes past the border to claim my receipt for the short run through Virginia.
When planning out the route to snag a receipt in the southern tip of Ohio, Basecamp had chosen US 23 (aka “the Country Music Highway“) north through western Kentucky. Wanting to take advantage of being in the Appalachians, I checked the New England Riders website for fun roads in the area would fit along the route. I discovered VA/KY route 160, which I later found out is nicknamed “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” and featured a bonus location in Butt Lite IX that I hadn’t used. It leads from Appalachia VA over Black Mountain at the Kentucky border and down to the city of Cumberland.
It looked amazing on screen, so I added it to the route figuring it would be easy to bail out and just stay on US 23 if conditions or fatigue dictated as much. Luckily, it promised to be a dry day, and I was feeling good today and ready for some curves – could not wait to explore some new fun roads after the last two days of mostly humdrum riding.
US 23 is divided four-lane and 20 miles or so passed quickly to Big Stone Gap. I exited onto US 23-BR through town, then along the pretty Powell River into the smaller village of Appalachia VA right around first light.
I turned onto VA 160, a narrow non-descript lane that began climbing quickly. Still feeling a bit sleepy, without any breakfast, and the curves were tight and technical. This road was a blast, even if I needed to ride it a bit more cautiously than I might have later in the day.I had the road completely to myself and it was a twist-fest, with generally good pavement and not too much scattered debris, probably since trucks aren’t supposed to come here.
When I came out on top of Black Mountain eight miles later, there was a gravel pullout area with a view. I pulled in to watch the sun rising above the low cloudbank, chatting briefly with a couple other early risers there for photos. The sky was crystal clear above, creating a magical scene.
Heading round the next corner, I crossed into Kentucky and began my descent off the mountain, which involved even more low-speed twisties and curves next to cut cliff faces and splashes of autumn color (now that I could see them).
Having avidly watched all seasons of the mediocre TV show Justified while it was on the air, it was kind of neat passing the sign into Harlan County KY, so I pulled over for a photo. Soon after, I passed through the small former coal town of Lynch, which seemed an interesting little place. Besides the small (closed) tourist shack that apparently sells merchandise to passing motorcyclists and promotes the “Dragonslayer” moniker for route 160, I passed by several historical signs and former coal industry sites to explore in the town.
Rolling down into Cumberland, I turned northeast on US 119 (one more road I found listed on the NER website), heading into another section of Jefferson National Forest and soon began climbing a series of curves and hairpins up and over Pine Mountain.
Hogg Overlook provided a safe stopping point on the descent to take in another mystical scene of mountaintops poking up through the cotton-fluffy clouds that filled in the valleys. Then I continued down through another couple nice hairpin turns until arriving in the town of Whitesburg.
I knew I had more twisties ahead and in order to enjoy them to full potential, I needed sustenance. There was a convenient McDonalds right at the corner, so I pulled in to enjoy a coffee and breakfast sandwich with a few minutes off the bike, while I finished waking up. After a quick mileage calculation, I decided to make this my receipt stop for Kentucky as well.
After this satisfying respite, I began gearing back up, minus a layer, as the temperature was starting to rise with the sun wearing through the fog. A couple on motorcycles pulled into the lot on either side of me, and we chatted briefly about our respective plans for the day until I was mounted and ready to head off.
I followed US 119 for a few more miles before turning off onto smaller roads KY 113, KY 805, to KY 317 through the sleepy coal town of Fleming-Neon.
The route continued on the delightfully curvy and wooded route 317 and then KY 7 for many more miles, along to peaceful streams and through a few more coal towns and sleepy crossroads. With breakfast in my belly, I felt more focused on the road and my cornering technique. I was wishing for a second chance back on Trail of the Lonesome Pine!
Western Kentucky certainly seems an underrated riding destination in my book. It turned out to be an absolutely spectacular morning on the motorcycle. I cannot wait for a chance to come back here and spend a few days exploring the roads and topography of this area.
I finally emerged from the mountain twisties onto KY 80 in Garrett, a more populated thoroughfare which I followed several miles back to rejoin US 23 at last. The good riding wasn’t over however. Even though it is a divided four lane, route 23 was mostly wooded, with some scenic sweepers and rock cutaways against the increasing splashes of fall color as I worked my way north. I would certainly recommend this highway for a pleasant and decently quick north-south route through western Kentucky, as alternative to interstates.
Picking up I-64 for a few miles, I immediately crossed into West Virginia, then exited in Huntington on US 52 to cross the Ohio River into the state of Ohio.
Turning east on OH 7, I rode through Chesapeake to the small river town of Proctorville to document my foray into Ohio.
As I was fueling up, I became aware of someone standing nearby and trying to get my attention. It appeared to be a local patron and I couldn’t hear him, so I removed helmet and an ear plug. There was nothing amiss, he was just a fellow motorcycle enthusiast who wanted to chat. He recognized my long distance riding setup, but identified himself as a former dirt racer and dual-sport enthusiast. He’d never rode around the US, but had done some extensive off-season riding in South America and other far-flung locales. He was a nice fellow and interesting conversation while I fueled up (and a little bit longer – he was a talker), about his adventures and his family, before he finally bid me safe journey. It was another one of those nice encounters unique to rolling through a strange town on two wheels.
I crossed back over the river on the very cool-looking East Huntington suspension bridge, back into Huntington WV and got back out to I-64.
I began to get traffic warnings through my Zumo 595 for a 25+ minute delay some 30 miles ahead, so I kept an eye on it. When I saw DOT traffic signs warning of the same construction delays after Teays Valley, I brought up Waze and pointed it at the city of Charleston, beyond the trouble spot.
The app very handily got me past a four mile standstill delay by exiting in Scott Depot and riding a county road parallel to the interstate (along with several other vehicles – probably fellow Wazers) for a few miles before re-entering the interstate at the end of the construction zone just before the bridge crossing the Kanawha River. Only lost five minutes so I considered it a win for the combined Garmin/Google traffic technology.
It really seems true that there are no real bad roads in West Virginia, as even the interstates have enough curves and/or scenery (especially with autumn color) to keep things interesting. I picked up I-79 northbound in Charleston, enjoying the high-speed sweeping curves through the endless mountains for many miles. After nabbing my documentation receipt in Bridgeport, the colors began to get even better and my riding high from this morning continued on into the afternoon as I took in scene after scene of colorful mountainsides and valleys, through the remainder of West Virginia and halfway across Maryland.
Once I’d crossed over I-81 and secured my Maryland receipt in Hagerstown, the riding became much more crowded and businesslike. I made the long run down through Frederick to the Baltimore area, focused mainly on blending safely with traffic once again, keeping my head on a swivel as cars sometimes shot by going 95+ mph. I was able to use a few of these as rabbits and made good time.
I took the I-695 loop north around Baltimore and traffic began to lighten up a bit once I joined I-95 on the far side. Crossing the Susquehanna River almost always makes me want to grab a photo and this was no exception.
Crossing into Delaware, I soon exited in Newark to fuel up and document my 39th state of the journey. A few miles further and I was pulling into my chosen hotel, a large but rather dumpy and outdated Quality Inn by the interstate. It was just before sunset, but I was looking forward to catching up on some sleep before my final day’s run up through New England to the finish.
The room smelled like smoke but by the time I’d hauled in my gear, I was ready to just shower and settle in rather than make a fuss. There really wasn’t anything open within walking distance so I ordered a pizza from a local place called Marino’s, which turned out to be fairly good. With no more hotels to book and my route locked in for tomorrow, I relaxed and ate some pizza watching a movie before setting the alarm and hitting the hay.