Take One: Cold Kentucky Rain
Crossing the border between Virginia and Kentucky creases the worry lines across my forehead. Dark clouds are gathering in the northwest. My mind on replay, I can hear those Elvis refrains about the cold Kentucky rain and all that Weather Channel chatter about the soggy Ohio River Valley. Opening the throttles a tad more, we push for Pikeville before the rain catches us, and this time our luck holds when the bank of clouds lumber away in another direction.
After the requisite coffee stop Daniel and I decide to take only back roads toward Grayson. We spur our bikes through the narrow, winding roads. Coal dust and irregular surfaces challenge our riding style; but it's so much fun, and we succumb wholeheartedly to the sense of freedom released in the run that we get lost somewhere deep in the Kentucky hills. Our extrication is pretty difficult because we can't see the sky. Huge trees with thick branches and countless, dark leaves form an impenetrable tent. We seem to be in a jungle without machetes.
'The expert has lost his way. Oh my, what shall we do?' Daniel moans when he pulls alongside. 'We have no food, no water. We're all going to die!' Quite amused by my brother's melodramatics, Christa and Andrea were cracking up.
'Daniel, you're right,' I reply, straight-faced. 'We probably will die. But let's follow our noses and see where we end.'
A few miles further in the verdant gloom we find a traffic sign to Prestonsburg. The way has been found, but our next surprise doesn't wait very long. A thunderstorm had rumbled through with a downpour that flooded the streets and deterred us from our route. Pulled over, with the map flapping on my tank, I open the floor to debate our options. Fortunately, a friendly truck driver stops by and decides our path to Prestonsburg.
A 'sweet' road with a lot of hairpins thoroughly thrills us on the way. 'What a great recommendation!' I later summarize during our bike and belly fill-ups. It's a fast ride from Prestonsburg toward Paintsville and then we take the last challenge of the day, Hwy 201 to Grayson.
Throttled up, in the warm evening sun, we sweep like birds through the wide curves and enter my version of Nirvana - encountering very little traffic, hauling it over great asphalt, and losing all sense of time and space - that 'endless moment' of motorcycling.
Blue Moon of Kentucky
I can't blame all my fitful sleep that night on the Kentucky bourbon. Most of it was the storm. Rain pelted down the whole night. But when I lifted my head in the morning the sun blinked back behind the blinds. To make sure it wasn't a waking dream, I turned on the Weather Channel. This forecast isn't so great, I thought. We decide to ride south in storm-avoidance mode and turn toward home in Clemmons the next day.
But first we hit the road to the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. On highways 7, 460, 203 and 191, we cruise in the morning light to Burt T. Combs Mountain Parkway. I turn right and the sleepy crowd follows my line. At exit 33 we leave the Parkway, take a left on Hwy 11 South, and a few miles on, roll into the entrance to the park.
It's hot and humid, but somehow Christa and Andrea convince us to hike up to the natural bridge. Daniel and I are not at all gung-ho about this notion. Sure, we're a couple of nice guys who try our best to keep our ladies in good spirits; but let's be fair here: unscheduled, fully-clothed exertions, with the prospect of unseemly by-products like sweat, are not normally part of our holiday agenda. OK, I'll say it - We're lazy. But after struggling through a one-hour hike in our biker boots, we stand triumphant on top of the 65-foot-tall span, the most famous arch in the park. More than 150 natural stone arches, formed over millions of years, loom within five miles of the park. Exhausted and back at the bikes, Daniel and I have to admit we're glad we relented to commune with the women and this natural wonder.