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."
Well, all good things must come to an end and today it's the arrival of sunset. Riding on Routes 790, 141, and especially 217 have been at once exhilarating and relaxing yet we all know that warm fall days become cool fall nights all too quickly. The area of the heavily wooded Wayne National Forest I've been riding has added its shade to the conspiracy, sufficiently chilling me into stopping for the evening. Let me tell you, this time of year, when the sun leaves the house, it runs off with the remaining warmth in a doggy bag. I head toward Ironton to seek shelter but once there, when two separate people advise me to skip the motel in town and travel on to Ashland, Kentucky, I get the picture and suffer riding just a while longer in the cold.
This Morning's Weather: Sunny and "Fairing"
Did I mention it's fall? All that 'frost on the pumpkin' guff is for the birds. It's cold this morning and I'm not happy. Oh, and for all of you out there who like to talk about how wonderful the onset of winter is, you can all kiss my assemblage of cold weather gear. I never have liked it, I never will. Riding in the cold is a dirty job but somebody has to do it. I give a little reverential pat to the full fairing as I head out into a 'crisp fall morning' that is beautiful and bright and I know the mercury will begin rising soon.
The journey resumes with a northward trek on Route 93. A right on Route 193 leads to the one of the most desolate roads of the tour. The pavement gets narrower as the miles tick away. Unfortunately, the scars from recent logging put a damper on the scenery, but the solitude of the road yields all sorts of critter sightings. Numerous deer, turkey, a fox, and countless varieties of birds add to the joy of the ride. The temperature has made an admirable recovery and the day is spectacular.
Routes 233 and 279 prove to be relaxing roads perfectly suited to the Concours. Not too curvy, not too straight, just right. The small towns and villages along the way accent the stress-free riding environment Ohio provides. Oak Hill, South Webster, Otway, and Blue Creek are just a few of the waypoints on the route back to a rendezvous with the Ohio River.