It’s my favorite time of the year. The main season is over, life is a little less hectic, and I have some time to take deep breaths and reflect on an eventful summer. Yes, fall is here. Gone are the humidity and high temperatures. The first trees have started their colorful transformation. And as leaves are falling toward the earth, everything seems to happen in slow motion. There is no better time to get out and ride.
I haven’t seen much of my wife, Sarah, since May. A traveling motorcycle journalist isn’t home very often. Luckily, fall affords ample opportunity to spend quality time together, and what better way to enjoy a four-day getaway than by motorcycle? An East Coast autumn tour is difficult to mess up as long as the weather cooperates. When a window appears, we set off for a Shamrock Tour® based out of Wytheville, VA.
The Back of the Dragon
On our first morning, the air is crisp and fog lingers. By the time we suit up, the blue sky is already shining through. Located in southwestern Virginia, Wytheville is intersected by two interstates and has a lot of truck traffic. But that doesn’t matter to us, because we’re exploring the country roads.
Barely 15 minutes south of town, we’re the only vehicle on the road. Highway 21 isn’t very exciting, but it does set the scene. The rolling Appalachians surround us, covered with brilliant red and yellow trees. In Elk Creek, we turn onto 658 and things start to get interesting. Three-digit county roads are usually a good choice in Virginia, and this one is no different as it twists and turns all the way to Route 16, the main attraction of the day.
Renamed the “Back of the Dragon” in 2012 by the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, Route 16 winds for 32 miles between Marion and Tazewell, VA. The road climbs over three mountains and features more than 260 curves. Best of all? There’s barely any traffic, and the road surface yields excellent grip. It’s one of those stretches that beg to be ridden twice. And so we do. Turning around at the Thompson Valley Market in Tazewell, we ride south to Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, and do it all over again. Why not? The KTM 1190 Adventure is more than willing and able for this type of riding—and Sarah is too. She’s always egging me on to have some fun.
Excitement rushes through my body as we head toward Burke’s Garden, our next stop. We climb a mountainside before descending into “God’s Thumbprint,” a mountain-ringed bowl named for its view from the air. At 10 miles wide, it’s bigger than I anticipated, and we can’t see the entire shape of the rim encircling us; we only know what it looks like because of the aerial shot we saw hanging in a nearby gas station. Beautiful farmland abounds as we make a loop around Burke’s Garden, which sits on the outskirts of Jefferson National Forest.
Motorcycle & Gear
2014 KTM 1190 Adventure
While rolling down nearby 61, I make an impromptu change. Passing 614 on my right, I notice a yellow caution sign telling truckers not to use GPS routing and to stay away from this road. “Perfect,” I tell myself. This always translates to a fun motorcycling road. A quick lean to the right and we’re blasting down 614 with its many tight corners—a great way to end the first day.
Into West Virginia
We stay at the Trinkle Mansion Bed & Breakfast, a Colonial-style inn in the middle of Wytheville, and its delicious breakfast is completely worth our late start the next day. We savor the berries and yogurt, eggs Benedict, and strawberry pizza. Patti, our host, knows how to keep her guests happy.
Just after 10 a.m., we lazily roll out. A few miles on I-77 gives us access to the backroads. Leaving the interstate’s fast-moving traffic behind, we find ourselves engulfed in light green trees illuminated by the sun. I flip up my Shoei, look back, give Sarah a big smile, and say, “This is why we ride.”
To the left and right, hills reach high, a peaceful stream glistens through shrubbery, and not one car is in sight as we lean in the KTM curve after curve. Only in Narrows are we reminded that we are in Virginia, where exceeding the speed limit is not advisable—which is not easy on the 150-horsepower Adventure. Passing a trooper hiding in the bushes, we innocently look the other way and whistle as if to say, “Nothing to see here, just enjoying an autumn jaunt!”
Motoring toward West Virginia, we hit a divided highway with significantly more traffic, but the scenery makes up for the crowd. Keeping below 55 mph, we cruise toward Princeton, WV, an old coal mining town. It’s the busiest place we’ll experience today. Route 20 moves us north, and the farther we go the less traffic we encounter. We cross a bridge under construction, sail past a lake, and come to a dam, which is my cue to look for Route 3 on the left. I’m delighted when it snakes its way up a hill, albeit briefly.
As we travel north, U.S. 19 offers us a great alternative to I-77. Crossing the interstate a few times, it provides a more intimate look into West Virginia. Small and large houses, meadows and farmland abound. What we like most is the mix between pastures and mountains. Near Ghent, we ride around the base of Winterplace Ski Resort, a well-known ski hill and one of the area’s biggest attractions.