Fall in Appalachia: Abundant Turns and Autumn Tones
October is probably my favorite month in general, and it’s definitely my favorite time to ride a motorcycle. As such, Marisa and I were excited to get on the road and had turned in early the previous night. To our dismay, we woke to drizzling rain. Fortunately the temperature was agreeable and we were not upset about departing in the rain, so we donned our rain gear and set off toward Barbourville, KY. Our intent on this trip was to ride as many curvy roads as we could tie together and take in as many fall colors as possible.
The first day consisted of some of our favorite local roads and—despite the drizzle—we mounted our KTM motorcycles and headed for breakfast in hopes of letting the rain pass while we drank our morning coffee. We turned off of Hwy 70S onto Old Woodbury Hwy toward our first stop and one of our favorite places, Readyville Mill, located on Stones River. It’s a hidden gem of Middle Tennessee, a gourmet eatery operating out of a grist mill that’s nearly 220 years old. Most of the original buildings have undergone restorations and Stones River has long since been diverted around the mill, its mechanical workings converted to run on electricity instead of hydropower.
The mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Much of the original machinery is still intact, and it’s a fascinating thing to observe. I love considering the design and manufacture of the two-centuries-old gear and belt drive mechanisms that once tapped into Stones River. Mills use the power of rivers to do many kinds of work, and Readyville Mill is no different. It’s been used for many tasks over the years, such as producing flour and cornmeal, spirits, lumber, and ice. Eventually, it came to generate the first electricity for the small rural town of Readyville.
We thoroughly enjoyed our coffee and expertly prepared breakfast and were elated to be met with a lull in the rain as we exited the old building. From the mill, we made our way back to Hwy 70S, which took us through Woodbury and eventually onto Hwy 56. It’s a twisty local favorite that crosses Center Hill Dam. This highway is close to a perfect motorcycling road—it offers an abundance of well-banked curves, scenic views, and well-kept pavement. We were not able to ride at the pace we normally would due to the wet roads, but still managed to make good time. We followed the Tennessee highways that roughly parallel the I-40, which rendered these older roads nearly obsolete, as we made our way east. After a while, we began heading northeast and rolled along highways that gently curve their way through the Tennessee and Kentucky hills to our destination, Barbourville.
We were provided with no break from the less than ideal riding weather on the second day. Morning greeted us once again with fluffy gray clouds and a perpetual fine mist that stuck to our helmets.
I chuckled to myself as I squeegeed my visor for what felt like the thousandth time since leaving the hotel and thought: “At least my visor is staying clean!”
Clean visors were not the only upside. The gray clouds diffused the light perfectly and the moisture made the fall colors that had become prevalent as we rode north more vibrant. The mixture of greens, yellows, and oranges popped, which made the photography particularly spectacular. We found ourselves wanting to stop every few miles for photos! Eventually, however, we realized that we needed to make up some time.
Recommended Lodging: The Real McCoy Cabins
The Real McCoy Cabins are the perfect basecamp for riding the Hatfield-McCoy trail system. The cabins are immaculate and fully equipped with a fridge, climate control, and full bathrooms. If you call ahead, they’ll even leave you a crockpot in your cabin, filled with a wonderful dinner. Find it at 156 Wood Smoke Way, Pocahontas, VA, (276) 945-3106.
Recommended Lodging: Best Western Wilderness Trail Inn
This Best Western has clean and comfortable rooms, and it serves as the perfect place to get out of the drizzle and dry off. Nothing amazing here, but no surprises either. It’s a good hotel with reasonably priced rooms to rest on your way through town. Find it at 1476 S US Hwy 25E, Barbourville, KY, (606) 546-8500.
As we continued northeast, the green blanket formed by the forest continued to transition to beautiful hues and we were met with fantastic ribbons of asphalt.
A route that was originally intended to take just over six hours ended up taking all day, and we were thankful that we had departed Barbourville early.
The sun began to dip and the temperature went down with it. Our Klim GORE-TEX gear kept us dry as a mist fell and we passed in and out of spotty showers, but riding all day in such moist conditions and the now cooler weather meant we were chilly and hungry by the time we got off the bikes.
Motorcycles & Gear
2005 KTM 950 Adventure
2007 KTM 990 Adventure
Helmets: Scorpion EXO-AT950
Jackets & Pants: Klim Altitude, Klim Carlsbad
Boots: Gaerne Balanced Oiled
Gloves: Klim Dakar
Comm System: Sena 10R
Hydration: USWE Outlander 9
In Pocahontas, VA, we were greeted with a warm welcome by the owners of the Real McCoy Cabins. They asked if we were hungry and informed us that since they weren’t sure when we’d arrive, they’d taken the liberty of preparing us chicken and dumplings, which were waiting for us hot and ready in our cabin.