Have you ever been somewhere that seems to speak to you? You know, a special place that feels so comfortable and so right that you can't help but feel you belong there. Staying away is impossible and with each return the mystical region's sweet refrains strengthen and swell. Again and again, the grip tightens, drawing you in like an age-old siren song.
Traveling north on Virginia's Route 29, I have to keep reminding myself that the state police are fond of evaluating vehicular velocity on this particular stretch of road. Meandering across the state's Piedmont region, ol' 29 tempts the Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Nomad with a tasty blend of rolling hills and smooth, sweeping turns. The big V-twin's quiet, staccato thump effectively belies the bike's mellow facade, constantly urging the speedo needle toward the pink copy zone. Lingering memories of having made a couple of small town lawyers' boat payments keep me locked in a constant struggle to stay close to the four-lane's unconscionably low double nickels.
Gliding through Nelson County, not too far from the tour's genesis in Charlottesville, tinges of familiarity hit like clockwork. Sure, I've traveled this road a blue-million times, but this is an awareness that goes much deeper than knowing where to find the coldest sodas. The low clouds enshrouding the tops of the suddenly more rugged mountains extend a mysterious welcome. There are few places more beguiling than the Blue Ridge Mountains. Like the early morning mist, haunting memories of history, both good and bad, roll through these ancient hills along with some of the finest roads in the country. Maybe it's this great riding and the friendly people that keep me coming back, or maybe it's something deeper. Every time I visit I feel an inexplicable connection with the surroundings and a little tug on my ankle when it's time to leave.
G'Night John Boy
My original plan to find a room and explore Charlottesville gets scrapped, not surprisingly, by the lure of the road. A late start has me behind schedule and the thought of diving into the city's rush hour has an early evening back-road spin sounding pretty darned good. I swing right on Route 6 and head east. A thick overhang of trees quickly re-places the openness of the four-lane. The fall tints add much-needed color, splashes of yellow and gold, to the low, gray clouds that haven't budged all day long. A quick right on Route 800 has me heading down a tiny, twisting road. Destination: the real-life Walton's Mountain. After a quick few miles, I find myself in the unassuming little hamlet of Schuyler. This is the hometown of author Earl Hamner, best known as the creator of the hit tele-vision series "The Waltons." The events and characters of this iconic 70s program were based on Hamner's experiences of growing up right here in the Virginia mountains. The former Schuyler Elementary School has been turned into a Waltons museum that any real fan of the show shouldn't miss.
Getting back underway, I somehow find the tiny Route 715 marked by an even tinier sign. When traveling in this part of Virginia, keep in mind that the roads are well marked, but the signs are rather unobtrusive. This is one short stretch I'm glad I found. The narrow road gracefully winds its way through some of the area's beautiful horse farms. Motoring between fence lines, both rough hewn and whitewashed, the Vulcan and I draw curious stares from the field's equine residents. We're quickly sized up and subsequently dismissed with nonchalant swishes of tails. Another mouthful of grass holds more appeal than a solitary iron horse and jockey.
Joining Route 20, I'm heading back north toward Charlottesville. Once in town, a peek at the map indicates that my purposely-bucolic route may be leading me further from a convenient room than I'd like to be. That, coupled with the roving deer factor, has me opting to go ahead and park it for the night.
The Wild Blue and Grey Yonder
Initially the new morning's cloud-choked sky seems to dovetail with the weatherman's ominous prediction of showers overtaking the region. Because of this, lingering in town to absorb some of the local history is somewhat enticing. Monticello, home of the nation's third President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, is just outside of town, as is Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe. Sites significant to both the American Revolution and the Civil War also abound in Charlottesville. Another interesting piece of local history is the campus of the University of Virginia. Mr. Jefferson not only planned and designed the university; he supervised its construction and the hiring of faculty. The interwoven legacies of the great historical figures that called this city home are simply too numerous to mention. Regardless, time exploring Charlottesville is time well spent.