Of all the towns named in honor of Marie Antoinette after the American Revolution, the one in Georgia probably springs to mind first to most of us. But on this tour, we've traveled north and west not south to visit another royal namesake on the banks of the Ohio River. This Marietta, once a crucial cog in the anti-slavery movement and the Underground Railroad, is a part of the south only to the extent that it's in southern Ohio, a beautiful region that welcomed us with bright sunshine, blue skies, and slow-flowing streams.
Quietly I open the curtains on our four hotel windows and watch as the sunlight edges across my wife's nose. After riding hundreds of miles through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia yesterday, waking her is a delicate task. It will not be easy convincing her to sign on for another bike adventure so soon, this early. First things first - the prospect of sitting down for a big leisurely breakfast pleases her and finally brings her around. Our hosts at the Lafayette Hotel serve a delicious meal, and it's the right way to start the day before bracing our knees in the breeze.
On Highway 26 in Washington County, the first big sweepers appear and warm our tires for the more challenging roads ahead. Fast-changing pictures snap past: wide valleys, green hills rolling out of sight, a narrow ride between two hills, the strip of land that provides just enough space for a road beside the Little Muskingum River. And where there is a river, there should be bridges - and indeed Washington County is known for them, especially the covered-bridge variety.
Over 50 covered bridges were once scattered throughout Washington County. Only nine remain. I like the contrasts of the reddish timber and the blue sky, the emerging foliage and the morning dew. Time to break for a photo session.
Our Triumphs take on the crests of the Wayne National Forest next. It's a wild up and down and Christa spurs the Tiger over it like she's hooked to coaster rails. In Bloomfield, I push through a tight right turn onto Highway 260, a smooth road slithering down to the Ohio River. Along the river, we pass some old river villages where the hard times are laid bare like wounds cut to the bone. Depressing, so much poverty - and we're ready for some relief when arriving in Sardis to discover Marv's Place, a wonderful old-fashioned restaurant open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner patrons. Best of all, they serve the finest and most authentic espresso I've ever sipped in the U.S.
In the afternoon, the coaster ride is still going strong with the villages of Jerusalem, Ozark, and Malaga flashing past in the motions. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, the mirror shows my apple green Speed Triple pulling over to stop. Turning back to investigate, I can see that Christa's face has turned as white as the clouds behind her.