Ohio is an amazingly contradictory land. In places, it’s as flat as a Ping-Pong table with arrow-straight swaths of asphalt plowing through endless acres of agriculture. But in the southern part of the state, rugged hills magically rise from nowhere, grab the road, and rumple it into a glorious chaos of curves.
Many moons ago, the late, great Christian Neuhauser called me into his office. He peered at me over the rims of his trademark blue glasses and mischievously declared, “I think for your first RoadRUNNER tour I will have you go to Ohio.” Now, as a native West Virginian, I was a little nonplussed. Ohio is flat. My great uncle Ty had a farm there, a large, flat farm with long, flat, straight roads. Well, master route-smith Christian, knowing the lay of the land, sent me to a happy place nowhere near Uncle Ty’s farm in location or curvature. I had an absolute blast shredding both a set of tires and my preconceived notion that the entire Buckeye State subscribed to the old “a straight line is the shortest distance between two points” theory. Good thing, as I’ve never been big on geometry or being in a hurry to get from point A to point B.
Needless to say, when Florian Neuhauser recently called me into his office (via email—it is 2017, after all) and asked me if I was interested in another Ohio go-round based out of Athens … well, the saddlebags about packed themselves.
Take Me to the River
You gotta love a college town, and Athens certainly fits the bill. Home to Ohio University, the energy downtown is palpable, even on a weekday evening. The trip here on our 2002 Suzuki Bandit has exacted a bit of battered-butt syndrome on copilot Kathy and me, but the groovy vibe we immediately sense dulls the throb and inspires us to “walk it off.”
Day one of our Shamrock excursion dawns bright and balmy, as late summer Midwest mornings are wont to do. A brief jaunt west on Highways 50/32 is just enough to clear the cobwebs in time for our date with State Route 689 and our first bout o’ rounds. Within the first 10 miles, I manage to nearly run off the road and get a quality slap upside the lid from Kathy. Rule number one whilst riding in southern Ohio: the roads rarely do what you think they’re going to do. Somewhere deep in the Ohio civil engineering archives, I’m sure there’s a historical dictum of some sort that instructs designers to throw in sharp, off-camber turns just over gravity-robbing rises. Sure, caution is highly advised, but man, is it fun!
Our bound south is highlighted by a machine gun-like delivery of twists, curves, and near-wheelie-inducing crests that test the aging Bandit’s road-holding prowess and our ability to keep from giggling like schoolgirls. Initial observations include “quiet” and “green.” This is farm country; silos and tractors rule the roost and traffic is laughably light. The small towns dotting the undulating terrain have maintained a Norman Rockwell-like charm. Simply stopping to grab a bottle of water can result in conversations ranging from advice on the area’s best routes to points of interest that visitors might not normally discover.
The delicious recipe of calm and curves across State Routes 775 and 378 come to an abrupt intersection with two major transportation arteries, Highway 52 and the mighty Ohio River. We turn west and run amongst trucks while a massive tugboat muscles a cavalcade of barges downriver. The sudden introduction of traffic is a bit of a shock, but likely only a fraction of what it once was. Numerous shuttered factories and port facilities hint that today’s traffic is likely a drop in the bucket to what it must have been when heavy industry was really humming.
We reengage the rubber-grinding asphalt arcs and head northward on State Route 650 out of Ironton. Speaking of iron, keep an eye open for old furnace ruins like that of the Mt. Olive Charcoal Iron Furnace along State Route 93. Impressive in stature, these structures of enormous stone blocks are from the early to mid-1800s and offer a glimpse into Ohio’s early industrial might.
Motorcycle & Gear
2002 Suzuki Bandit 1200
We turn east on State Route 56, our final leg back to Athens. It’s been a long day of twists, turns, and even a couple of wrong turns. Come on, where’s your sense of adventure? The great thing about a RoadRUNNER Shamrock Tour®—we get to do it all again tomorrow!
Highway, for a Little Way
A brief blast east on 50 once again has us hurtling toward the Ohio River. We turn north on Route 14 in downtown Parkersburg, WV. Back over the big river into Marietta, we happen across the staging area for the Ohio River Stern Wheel Festival. Talk about a pleasant surprise for a couple of history buffs. Founded in 1788, Marietta paints the perfect backdrop for these old-school boats. The town’s tree-lined brick streets, Victorian architecture, and quaint shops make it difficult to keep our anchors aweigh.
How quickly the river’s easy bends are replaced by another bout of boundless blacktop bows as State Route 26 slithers north through Wayne National Forest. Lush, narrow valleys carved over millennia by now quiet streams are dotted with small farms, big cows, towering hardwoods, and charming, crossroads villages, all stitched together by some of the most entertaining roads to be found. Traffic is nonexistent, the tarmac is tidy, and the tires are taking a licking. Do we really need much more than that?