Friday, September 21, 2018

Wet and Wonderful West Virginia

Business travel can be a pain.  Get up early. Drive to the airport. Wait around for an hour or so. Cram into a small seat inside a tube. Deal with the person in front of you leaning back into your space. Deal with the person behind you kicking your seat when you try to lean back a bit. Baggage Claim, say no more.  Faced with this scenario I requested and was given the OK to ride the motorcycle from Virginia to St Louis, MO for an upcoming software conference.  Since I would already be halfway across the country my plans were to drop down to north Texas after the conference to visit my folks.  Then it would be an easy 1200 mile day back to Virginia on Sunday.

So to make the ride a bit more interesting I decided that I would capture the West Virginia Tour of Honor stops and get a Saddle Sore 1000 (SS1000-1000 miles in 24 hours) in the process.  In planning the route to capture the seven locations, it was coming out just over 700 miles so I needed to add some distance.  In looking at Ohio next door, it looked like I could grab 5 of the 7 Ohio bonus locations fairly easily and get my mileage up to over 1000 for the day.

Heading out on Saturday morning at 4:00 am, I stopped by the local McDonalds to get my start receipt and a couple of McGriddles.  The sandwiches fit into my jacket front pockets and can be eaten while moving.  The girl at the drive through confided that they don't get many motorcycles at that time of the morning.  Heading out of Fredericksburg I have to take US-17 northbound through some back country but fortunately its a four lane divided road which allows for a bit more viewing space for pre-dawn critters. As I crossed the border I was reminded of a recent article naming West Virginia as the state where motorcyclists were most likely to have a deer strike.  Fortunately, the critters must have already retreated as dawn broke across the West Virginia mountains.

First bonus location was WV5 located at the Seneca Rocks Discovery Center.  Seneca Rocks are a line of rock formations that were uplifted into a vertical layer.  Quite dramatic looking.  I've seen a similar line of rock formation in Stonewall, CO.  This bonus was restricted to daylight only so arriving just after dawn allowed for quick entry and exit. Two pictures were required.

I've traveled this area of West Virginia many times and wished that I could have stayed a while longer.

Next up was a run up to Fairmont, WV to the memorial park there.  This park has been a source for several years worth of bonus locations.  Fortunately, it is right off the Interstate and easy to get to.  This particular bonus shot is worth a couple of points. First is the WV2 bonus but this year there are also bonus for pictures of real UH-1 (Huey) helicopters.  This one in particular actually did fly in Vietnam and was included here in the memorial gardens.

Turning south I followed pretty much the same path run during two earlier rallies this year.  US-19 provides a more direct north-south traverse of the state than the Interstates and my next bonus was located in the small town of Summerville.  As luck would have it, Summerville was hosting its 50th Annual Potato Festival and my bonus location was right in the middle of it. After circling around town a few times I finally located a back way where I could approach the bonus. Since we need to have our motorcycle in the picture, this stop required 2 shots.

Continuing down to Beckley I picked up the WV Turnpike as I headed further south to the town of Princeton.  The WV4 bonus is located on the West Virginia Welcome Center grounds just off the Interstate.  After claiming the bonus, it was time for some lunch. In a rally situation I wouldn't consider a sit down lunch but I knew that I had some extra time to complete the SS1000 so I pulled into the Wendy's nearby.  OMG, this had to be the slowest Wendy's in the world.  It took over 20 minutes to get my "fast food". Grrr.

Turning back north it was back on the WV Turnpike for a dash to Barboursville which is in the far west side of WV near Huntington.  My next two bonuses were daylight only locations so I needed to beat the sunset.  Fortunately, the WV Turnpike between Berkley and Charleston might as well be a public race track as drivers, cars and trucks alike, put the pedal to the metal and roll through on the curvy, mountainous path.

Arriving in Barboursville in the late afternoon, I made my way out to the city park where the bonus was located.  The park was magnificent.  I was truly impressed by how nice it was laid out on the banks of the river.  The bonus itself, WV1, was located next to a small lake and is probably the most touching of all the designs.  I understand that it is one of a series that are being installed across the nation.  It reminds us of what is important in our country and drives home the sacrifice that our military members and their families make to keep us free.  The empty outline is for the service members that make the ultimate sacrifice.  God bless them.

The next West Virginia bonus is nearby in Point Pleasant, however, a small diversion into Ohio will allow me to capture an available bonus.  So across the Ohio River I go and make my way a little further west to South Webster, OH, to location the OH6 bonus.  By now I had finally moved into the rain that would plague me the rest of the ride.

 Now on some back roads of southern Ohio, I was getting a bit concerned about the slower pace.  Heading towards Point Pleasant I passed by the corporate home of Bob Evans of sausage and breakfast restaurant fame. There's a bit of history between my family and Bob Evans Foods.  In 1987, Bob Evans acquired Texas-based Owens Country Sausage which was founded by my great uncle Clifford Owens.  So I get a smile when I roll through nearby knowing that there's still a bit of Owens in the Bob Evans company.

Arriving back in West Virginia at Point Pleasant a notion that was building all day long was reinforced in spades, West Virginia will build a bridge.  If you have a 20 ft wide creek, West Virginia will build an 800 ft long span 100 ft in the sky to cross it.  My goodness, there are a lot of big bridges in that state.  Sandwiched between a couple of big bridges is the Battle of Point Pleasant Monument (WV3).  It's a wonder that it is still standing given that it is on the river side of the massive levee wall just to the right in the photo.

My last West Virginia bonus was just north of Parkersburg but to get there it was better to go back across one of the massive bridges spanning the Ohio River and continue north through Ohio.

At the Williamstown Welcome Center is a memorial to Fallen Highway Workers and is the WV7 bonus.  This completed my tour of West Virginia but I still needed a couple of hundred miles to complete my SS1000.  Under the Tour of Honor rules, if you capture 4 of the bonus locations within a state while on a SS1000 run, it counts as a Tour of Honor SS1000 and you get a special certificate. If you capture all 7 bonus locations, then you qualify for the Tour of Honor Extreme SS1000.  Over the years that I've been doing the Tour of Honor, I believe that this will be my 13th or 14th Extreme.

Reentering Ohio at Marietta I made my way to Lowell as the sun is starting to set.  Arriving at the bonus I noticed a small yellow rock on the monument.  I don't know the whole story behind it but apparently some veteran riders have been leaving small, yellow numbered rocks at the locations that they visit as an additional honor to those who had fallen.  You can see the rock at the base of the 'V' just below the winged artwork.

The rain was picking up as I looked over my route to the next bonus located north of me.  I needed to get back to Interstate 77.  The two Garmins said to take Cat Creek Rd so I followed the magenta line.  When will I ever learn.  It was 7 miles back to the interstate and I watched as the counter steadily reduced its value.  Not 3 miles in the pavement disappears and I'm on wet hard packed gravel.  Garmin got me again. The next 3.5 miles were done at about 15 mph as the wet surface had just enough mud on top to make it interesting.  I believe that if I didn't have the car tire on the back of the Trophy that I would have never made it out.  It was dark by the time I reached pavement again and made my way to the on ramp of the interstate.  This about drained all my energy that I had counted on to finish the run.  However, getting back up on the highway allowed the stress to fade despite the increasing rain.

In a good way I'm glad that the Garmins saw fit to route me up I-77 to I-70 eastbound as I needed to pick up a bonus on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border town of Bellaire.  Now pitch black outside in a driving rain storm, I took the exit for Bellaire and proceeded to head towards downtown.  Little did I know at the time the Garmins had done me in again.  If the Garmin GPS doesn't have a speed limit in their database for the road, it assumes that it is 55 mph.  This often results in a route that it calculates as faster but it is not even remotely the optimal route.  In this case, I could have traveled 2 miles further down the interstate to the next exit and traveled on main thoroughfares to my stop.  But Noooo, Garmin sends me in the back door of the town where a treacherous set of switchbacks drop you down into the river basin.  It would be bad enough in the daytime.  And dry.  But now in the dark and driving rain, it was a nightmare.  Fortunately, I made it to the downtown park and snapped my photo of the OH6 bonus.

Now a bit wiser I followed the overview map provided by Copilot GPS on my iPad to quickly get me back out to I-70 where I would head back west.  The rain was coming down pretty hard and it was forcing me to keep my speed down a bit.  This was going to take longer than I wanted.  Now back to I-77 I took a quick exit and proceeded into downtown Cambridge for my next bonus, OH2.  This one was not very well lighted so apologies for the fuzzy picture.

One more stop to finish up for the night.  Heading back out to I-70 I made for Columbus, OH where I would turn north on I-71 to make my way to Sunbury for the OH7 bonus.  Arriving around midnight at the bonus location, I'm met with the job dropping visual of hundreds of lighted crosses in a field representing the fallen in the War on Terrorism.  As I approach the memorial to capture my photo, I notice a person with a rifle paying honor and respect to those that had fallen by marching to and fro in the same manner done in Washington, DC at the Tomb of the Unknowns.  I just had to stop, place my hand my hand over my heart, and shed a tear to the beauty and dedication of this man's effort to honor the fallen.  It's pouring buckets at this time. It's cold.  And he is taking his time in the middle of the night to honor and protect this memorial.  Thank you, sir.

By now I have my 1000 miles under my belt but I need to stage for tomorrow's ride so I make plans to overnight a bit further north. Booking on I located a Country Inn & Suites in Mansfield for the right price and make the reservation.  Needing a finish receipt, I headed out to a gas station to get the receipt and stop the clock.  Final tally,  1053 miles in 20 hrs and 40 minutes.  Pitifully slow by rally standards but I certainly did not ride this at rally pace given the really poor weather conditions.

 Here's the final route:

To wrap up I searched my Garmin for the Country Inn & Suites in Mansfield and it popped right up.  So course laid in I made my way up the road.  Pulling in to the hotel, it has a nice veranda to shield me from the pouring rain so I park and start taking off my rain gear so as to not drip all over the lobby.  I make my way in to check in and the hostess can't find my reservation.  I confirmed that I was in the Country Inn & Suites and she said yes. I asked if there was another one nearby and she said no, not that she was aware of.  Tired, wet and not in a good mood I asked for a room anyway.

Little did I know, and her as well, Country Inn had just purchased a Quality Inn one exit further down the road and this was the one was looking at.  Long story short, I paid for 2 rooms that night.  I collapsed in bed about 1:30 am.

 I had planned on getting up and being ready to rock by 6am the next morning.  I was going to continue up to I-80 and capture the final two Ohio bonus locations before making my way to St Louis, MO for my conference.  This would be about an 850 mile day.  Waking up to the sound of rain hitting the window brought the immediate reply of "f*k it" and I rolled back over in the bed.  Getting up at 8am I had breakfast and got loaded up for the straight 460 mile run to St Louis.  It was still raining but fortunately it stopped about 50 miles west of Columbus.

Arriving in St Louis I ended up with a bit over 1500 miles for the two days (just outside of a BB claim).  The plans for riding down to Texas for a few days and another SS1000 back to Virginia were squashed by work recalling me back to deal with Hurricane Florence.  So Wednesday was the 850 mile run back home with just a smattering of rain along the way.  Turned out the hurricane was a non-event for us in central Virginia. 

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