Day 1: Bodacious Buckeye Backroads
Steve and Sharon Mauk, on their red Suzuki V-Strom, and Karen and I, on the Kawasaki Concours, whoosh west on the I-70 Bridge over the Ohio River. It's a beautiful summer's morning in August and we're ecstatic at the prospect of experiencing some of the most thrilling backroads that the Buckeye State has to offer. Just in case you're wondering, the Buckeye is Ohio's state tree, and it's also the state's nickname. And, of course, there's the Ohio State University Buckeyes, known far and wide in collegiate sports. But our travels today take us well east of both the OSU campus in Columbus and the Buckeye tree, found primarily in western Ohio.
Riders, who are unfamiliar with the serpentine roads in southeast Ohio (south of I-70), are usually a little dubious when I tell them that these roads are some of the most challenging ones to be ridden east of the Mississippi River. Ohio's sedimentary layers of sandstone, shale and limestone were formed when inland seas advanced and receded in this area some 300-600 million years ago. Geologic forces uplifted this land to form a plateau that was eroded later by wind and water to form the steep hills and narrow gorges prevalent here today. Crossing this complex, dissected landscape is a Byzantine network of secondary roads offering a veritable smorgasbord of curves and elevation changes. Heading west on SR 149, we don't have to wait long for the fun to start.
One of the most challenging aspects of riding these roads is not so much negotiating the blind curves, but reading the blind hilltops. Often we crest a hill at speed with little-to-no clue of which direction the pavement will lead on the other side. The constant up, down, and around feels more than a little like a thrill ride at an amusement park. Although these roads are exciting to ride, they also demand constant attention and focus. And if the ride gets too overzealous, it's always advisable to just slow down.
After many miles of smiles, we roll into Barnesville, OH, where we finally find a town large enough to offer an eatery. Lunch at Patrick's Family Restaurant satiates our appetites, and we're soon lusting after more of southeast Ohio's backroads.
The afternoon routes are adorned with more twisty ridge and valley roads. An electrifying ride down the curvaceous SR 556, lands us on the tranquil shore of the Ohio River for a short break in the action. Then, it's a quick left onto SR 148 at Powhatan Point and the twist-a-thon starts all over again, lasting until we're thoroughly exhausted. With endorphins racing through our grey matter, we euphorically glide on to the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling for some quality time in the hotel's hot tub - and then a leisurely dinner.
Day 2: Wild and Wonderful Wanderings
I knew it would happen sooner or later, and not surprisingly, it turns out to be sooner! Sharon and Karen succumb to the spa temptations of the Oglebay Resort, leaving Steve and I to explore some of the most tortuous, wild, and wonderful roads in the area of West Virginia that's squeezed between Pennsylvania and the Ohio River.
This section of West Virginia was subject to the same geological forces as southeast Ohio, and the topography is much the same as what we experienced yesterday. US 250, a well-known route in local motorcycle touring circles, leads around sweeping curves along ridges that overlook rugged, steep valleys. A hard right turn onto Ridge Fork Road transports us to a much smaller backroad with more expansive views of the seemingly endless, lumpy green carpet of hilltops, spreading to the horizon in all directions.
Motorcycles & Gear
We soon find our route descending along a tree-canopied path through tight curves on decidedly rougher tarmac. The road bottoms out at New Bethel, a town that seems lost in time in this remote section of West Virginia. The route up onto Roberts Ridge, out of this little hollow, is even tighter and rougher than the one into town. It's probably not exactly the type of terrain that Kawasaki engineers had in mind when they designed the Concours model.
We follow one narrow road after another, these bearing names rather than numbers. Often we meet tanker trucks moving at a brisk pace and taking their half of the road out of its middle, which forces us to the far edge of the pavement. We finally reach SR 20, where road conditions improve dramatically. The smooth, sweeping curves follow the erratic meanderings of Fishing Creek through a steep-walled gorge. Throttles are opened up and lean angles increased. The Concours's powerful 1400cc motor slingshots me out of one curve and into the next one. This fun is oh, so addictive.