Iron Country Getaway

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers

Industry and the Ohio River go hand in hand. Mighty tugboats muscle teams of barges laden to the waterline with raw materials destined for factories and power plants along the banks. Despite the fact that Ohio may not be experiencing the best of times, it is obvious that this area's industrial roots, like its roads, are intricately woven into the fabric of the land.

Riding west across the graceful cable-suspension bridge spanning the river from Huntington, West Virginia, it's quite obvious that this is an industrial area. The river is an artery of commerce; concrete and steel rule the day. This is another province of mankind where nature is allowed to exist only within strict parameters. Dams and locks along the river harness the current for the benefit of industry. Barges both empty and full await transport to their next destination. Piers and pilings in various states of repair dot the muddy shores. Factories and warehouses, brand new to completely abandoned, are inescapable parts of the landscape. Industry and commerce have been at work forging the character of this region for centuries, from the ancient footpaths of the Shawnee to the modern factories on the banks of the Ohio River.

Gets Cold Quick in These Parts
Despite the fact that the Ohio River Valley has been hard hit by the recent economic downturn, there are still plenty of people working. I know this because there is a surprisingly brisk rush hour as I cross into Ohio. I guess I lingered too long in Huntington. That's not hard to do as Huntington is home to Marshall University (The Thundering Herd) and has the robust atmosphere of a typical college town. A multitude of restaurants, shops, and boutiques combine with the usual eclectic mix of collegiate individualists to give the town an enticing buzz of activity. I shouldn't have stayed for coffee because now it's quittin' time and I'm just getting started. Patience is a virtue and this rush hour is not as bad as it initially seems. Traffic begins to thin out and the heat building up behind the fairing begins to dissipate as I head out along the river toward Route 243 and the start of the tour.

The chosen weapon for this tour is the venerable Kawasaki Concours. The Conny's design may be showing its age, but it's still arguably a fine bike for the buck. I'm regretting the full fairing in the warm glow of the fall afternoon, but keep reminding myself that the weatherman uses the term 'crisp fall morning' for a reason. As long as you keep moving, the fairing is fine and with roads like these moving is easy to do. Route 243 has its share of homes, businesses, and traffic, yet the road is typical of southern Ohio: narrow, windy, and challenging. Luckily, there isn't much to see, because taking your eye off the road is not advisable. Picking up Route 141 in Ironton provides no relief and that's a good thing. The curves, swoops, twists, and hills just keep coming. The homes and businesses begin to fade with the sun, leaving me almost in sole possession of the snaky tarmac. A warm fall evening spent exploring the back roads of southern Ohio. I'm not sure, but I think that previous statement can be found in a dictionary of quotations under "life is good."

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2005 back issue.