Roller coaster roads hugging the curves of the landscape like someone rolled out a ribbon of asphalt, cresting hills with merging side streets, off-camber curves left and right—yes, these are the roads of southeastern Ohio. The adrenaline always rides high on these roads, because it’s always a thrill finding out what lies just across that ridge. Will it go straight? How about a sharp left? Maybe even a subtle right? It doesn’t matter, because my heart is beating fast, and I’m ready for any curveball Ohio throws me.
The plan for the tour starts with a call to KTM. Only a couple of hours away in Amherst, just west of Cleveland, Tom has a 990 Supermoto R that is not ready to be auctioned off yet. I can help! Immediately I drive to KTM’s U.S. headquarters (or the Austrian Embassy as I call it) from Columbus to pick up my ride for the next few weeks. On my way back, I ponder where I can have the most fun on this motorcycle. The choice is obvious: southeastern Ohio. Mind-bending curves, check. No traffic, check. Deciduous trees showing off vibrant fall colors, check. Now I only need a second rider. I avoid touring alone for safety reasons, and it’s always more fun if you can share a ride. Fortunately for me, Steve resides in Zanesville, just an hour east. It doesn’t take long to convince him to join me on a three-day jaunt through his favorite riding area. The only stipulation, though, is he can’t take his V-Strom, and surely not his Monster. Instead, he has to ride the 2012 Gold Wing. After all, I need to stow my camera gear and luggage somewhere.
Zanesville to Athens
At first, the 990 SM R and the Wing seem like an odd pairing, but we are glad one of the bikes has a windshield, heated grips, and a heated seat. While Steve enjoys the heat and satellite radio, I’m taking 48 degrees and unusually strong winds head on. I grip the handlebar tightly to prevent the wind sweeping me off like a kite. Thinking ahead, as I always do (yeah, right!), I connect my Gerbing’s heated liner to keep my body at operating temperature.
Leaving Zanesville, State Route 555 takes us on a roller coaster of a ride. After the first couple of blind crests, I turn off the heated liner. My heart is beating faster, and I think I’m sweating a little, too. The nimble SM R throws me from one apex to the next. As much as I try to keep it smooth, the raw power jerks me back and forth. Occasionally, I feel the rear tire lose traction as I minidrift through a curve. But as hard as I ride, Steve is never far behind, and I rarely have to wait long. Of course, Steve is an excellent rider, but the Gold Wing is sprier than it looks.
Motorcycles & Gear
2011 KTM 990 Supermoto R
2012 Honda Gold Wing
The wind is still blowing strong, to my dismay, stripping the colorful leaves off the trees and leaving behind bare branches and sticks. There goes my caption idea: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s got the most colorful orange of them all?” Now it’s definitely the KTM, because the dirty orange leaves in the ditch have lost their luster. Thankfully, another photo opportunity lurks in this part of the country: Mail Pouch barns! The famous barns, depicting the Mail Pouch Tobacco slogan “Treat Yourself to the Best,” are common sights on these backroads. Maybe if we’re lucky we will spot a rare Red Man tobacco barn, too.
We detour into Logan for a hearty lunch and a look at the route for the rest of the day. Steve offers an alternate suggestion, and I’m quick to get out my highlighter. Never turn down road advice from a local rider!
The new route has us heading north on Highway 33 before taking a left on Route 374. With no cars in sight, the road ascends alongside trees the wind hasn’t undressed yet. The Hocking Hills are a popular destination in the area for hunting, vacationing, and honeymooning. I have never seen so many billboards for honeymoon cabins! Old Man’s Cave, Ash Cave, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, and the Cantwell Cliffs are also worth visiting. We stop for coffee in Athens before reaching our digs for the night at Lake Hill Cabins, just east of town. And no, it’s not a honeymoon cabin. It’s for hunters, fishers, hikers, and horseback riders. A manly cabin.
Athens to Marietta
The morning is again cold, but more clouds cover the sky. The KTM roars to life at the push of a button, getting the attention of the nearby deer. Ohio has a massive deer population, and an encounter is always highly possible. We make our way up the gravel driveway and see the first horse trailer and people mounting up their horses.