As summer ends and autumn approaches, the days get shorter. While we get ready for winter by cleaning out the garage and servicing our motorcycles, trees use up the last of their food supply in a way that attracts millions of tourists. And what better way to see nature’s beautiful fall foliage than by rolling through on two wheels.
Every fall has a different leaf peep show, and it all depends on temperature and moisture. We’re on a hunt to see nature’s spectacle that is scattered around the byways and mountains of Roanoke, VA.
Glimpse of Autumn
After a long and hearty breakfast at the Hotel Roanoke, we roll our autumn assault machines onto the highway to get out of town. Roanoke is conveniently situated close to the Blue Ridge Parkway and numerous never-ending country byways. Today’s route leads us northwest of our home base through several national forests. Only a few exits off the interstate, we turn right onto 311 North. It immediately climbs a mountain ridge with mouthwatering sweepers that just beg us to twist the throttle. I’m riding the Kawasaki Concours 14, which sticks to its line like a freight train, and Christa is on the nimble Honda CB1000R. As I navigate up the mountain I see that fall hasn’t been everywhere yet, but we’re confident we’ll find some colorful spots. Making a left onto Upper Craig Creek Road, the dirt throws us into what can only be described as a fairy tale setting. We pass an old barn at rest in a meadow to the left and take a narrow bridge over sparkling water as the most beautiful yellow, orange, and bright green leaves line our path. Of course, the low morning sun illuminates the vegetation like a ‘70s lampshade. Even though this road isn’t leading us anywhere, it’s the perfect wrong turn for the start. Back on track, we follow 311 to New Castle where we turn left onto 42. I glance at my GPS screen and smile. It’s about to get curvy.
We shift into second, take the open switchbacks, and use all of the rubber Bridgestone and Michelin supply on the edge. The Honda zips through without effort, but I’m working the Connie hard. It takes a certain riding style, and I haven’t gotten down the tight curves yet. Luckily, I’ll have plenty of opportunities.
State Route 658 doesn’t need a center dividing line. Not much traffic here. As we snake our way across valleys and over mountains, each turn brings about another view of changing leaves. The pavement isn’t the best, so we take it easy and enjoy the scenery.
The slow pace doesn’t last long. One of my favorite rides in the area is 311 leading to Paint Bank. We’ve ridden through here during a Touring Weekend, so I know it well. Without a car in sight, we attack the mountain from the preferred south side, and I think I set a new personal best time (not that anybody is keeping track). Ditching the familiar for something new, we take 18 out of Paint Bank. It follows a river, and the rhythmic curves meander alongside it.
Motorcycle & Gear
2012 Honda CB1000R, 2012 Kawasaki Concours 14
After a quick lunch in Covington, we are back on state routes again. It’s narrow, curvy, and has some very technical switchbacks. The people who paved here must have used this as a practice stretch! In lieu of engineering, they simply slapped some asphalt on the ground regardless of the twists and bends.
A Virginia Byways sign looks promising on 615. Although the tarmac looks good, it doesn’t help much if the entire road is littered with loose gravel. As I accelerate out of a curve, the Connie’s rear tire breaks traction and I buckle. Time to turn the traction control back on. A short while later, Christa is breaking into a curve, and the Honda pushes into the other lane. This is treacherous. Even though we’re missing out on the curves, the setting makes up for our slower pace.
This tour is designed for leaf watching, so we take mostly state routes with no traffic and world-class scenery.
Time of our Lives
Last night we talked to Catherine from the Roanoke CVB, and she told us something that was both shocking and enlightening. Dirty Dancing was partly filmed just north of Blacksburg at Mountain Lake Lodge Why was this shocking to us? When we first moved to America, we would take lots of weekend trips around North Carolina exploring our new home. My dad always would tell us how Dirty Dancing was filmed at Lake Lure. Nobody argued with him. Of course, it also turned into a joke whenever Lake Lure was brought up. “Lake Lure? Did you know they filmed Dirty Dancing there?” Now we find out that the majority was actually filmed at Mountain Lake Lodge (the real Kellerman’s). Good memories, though, wherever this classic was filmed.
Leaving the same way as yesterday, we turn left onto 758 away from 311. The route is mostly straight following the valley. We pass lots of farms, and it’s amazing how many horses are in the area. Last time I saw this many was in Kentucky. The GPS shows a purple route that looks too good to be true. And it is. The road should be where I am looking at a field. (Un)fortunately, the gate at the field entrance is closed, so we take 758 all the way to Blacksburg, Virginia Tech Hokey country. It’s still early, and the air is crisp. As the sun slowly warms things up, we travel on Highway 460 out of town and pass one bus stop after the next with college kids ready for class.