Shamrock Tour® - Wheeling, West Virginia

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Karen Parks, Steve Mauk

"West Virginia, almost heaven ...
Country Roads, take me home,
To the place I belong:
West Virginia, mountain momma,
Take me home, country roads."
- Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver

The western foothills of the Appalachian Plateau may not possess the purple mountain majesty of the Rockies in the west, but they do offer motorcyclists some of America's most challenging and scenic country roads. Over the next four days, we'll venture forth into an intriguing rural American landscape.

Day 1: Bodacious Buckeye Backroads

Steve and Sharon Mauk, on their red Suzuki V-Strom, and Karen and I, on the Kawasaki Concours, whoosh west on the I-70 Bridge over the Ohio River. It's a beautiful summer's morning in August and we're ecstatic at the prospect of experiencing some of the most thrilling backroads that the Buckeye State has to offer. Just in case you're wondering, the Buckeye is Ohio's state tree, and it's also the state's nickname. And, of course, there's the Ohio State University Buckeyes, known far and wide in collegiate sports. But our travels today take us well east of both the OSU campus in Columbus and the Buckeye tree, found primarily in western Ohio.

Riders, who are unfamiliar with the serpentine roads in southeast Ohio (south of I-70), are usually a little dubious when I tell them that these roads are some of the most challenging ones to be ridden east of the Mississippi River. Ohio's sedimentary layers of sandstone, shale and limestone were formed when inland seas advanced and receded in this area some 300-600 million years ago. Geologic forces uplifted this land to form a plateau that was eroded later by wind and water to form the steep hills and narrow gorges prevalent here today. Crossing this complex, dissected landscape is a Byzantine network of secondary roads offering a veritable smorgasbord of curves and elevation changes. Heading west on SR 149, we don't have to wait long for the fun to start.

One of the most challenging aspects of riding these roads is not so much negotiating the blind curves, but reading the blind hilltops. Often we crest a hill at speed with little-to-no clue of which direction the pavement will lead on the other side. The constant up, down, and around feels more than a little like a thrill ride at an amusement park. Although these roads are exciting to ride, they also demand constant attention and focus. And if the ride gets too overzealous, it's always advisable to just slow down.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the March/April 2010 back issue.