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“Driving’ down the road I get a feelin’ that I should have been home yesterday…”
Truth be told, John Denver never visited West Virginia prior to recording his hit single Take Me Home, Country Roads. But obviously that fact doesn’t matter to the West Virginians who take pride in their state that truly is ‘Almost Heaven.’
I had a feeling this tune would be the theme song for this ride. It started on my first call to the West Virginia Tourism Office. There I was, on hold, with Johnny D. belting out his music on the other end. Take me home, country roads… six days and 1,100 miles later the tune is still rattling around inside my head.
After flying into Charleston, WV, my wife Cindy and I taxied over to Blizzard’s Custom Cycle, where the folks from Victory Motorcycles had arranged for us to pick up one of its Vision Tour models which we planned to explore the great state of West Virginia on.
The Victory, with its long, flowing lines, is a bike that turns a lot of heads. Its unique appearance and considerable size prompts questions from onlookers at every stop. It’s both big and beautiful. Weighing in at 849 pounds on the spec sheet plus our gear and bodies meant we were tipping the scales at about 1300 pounds of black and grey paint and glistening chrome. It’s a bit like riding a cruise ship, a luxury cruise ship, mind you, so for the remainder of the trip we referred to it as the SS Victory.
Country Roads, Take Me Home
Our plan was to ride northeast to the Snowshoe Mountain Resort and home base for the next few days during the Motorcycle USA Snowshoe GNCC. Not ones to favor freeways, we worked our way through a series of backroads to the town of Summerville where we pointed the tourer due east along Highway 39 over to 219.
We didn’t have more than 50 miles under our belt before we discovered two things. One, West Virginia is a beautiful state with loads of quaint, historic townships and, two, the SS Victory takes quite a while to slow down. Coming up on stop signs was a lot like pulling into port – methodical and well planned – but what a cruise.
Highway 39 is a 55-mile stretch of road that cuts through the Monongahela National Forest into Pocahontas County, “West Virginia’s Mountain Playground,” at least that’s what the brochure claims. Just prior to reaching 219 is backroad 150, the Highland Scenic Highway, that cuts north before joining back into the 219. This is one of those side roads we recommend you must ride, (we eventually rode it three times). Climbing close to an elevation of 4,800 feet, the views are spectacular, offering great photo opportunities.
Back en route to Snowshoe Mountain we continued north up 219 to road 66 and the Snowshoe cut-off as the weather began to turn. By the time we reached the peak, fog was so dense visibility was limited to about 15 feet, making it difficult to navigate let alone locate the Allegheny complex at Snowshoe Resort where we planned to dock the SS Victory for the next few days.
The next day provided near perfect weather conditions and an opportunity to explore the top of West Virginia’s second-highest mountain – all 4,848 feet of it. Snowshoe Mountain Resort is West Virginia’s premier skiing destination, and unlike most resorts, which are nestled at the bottom of a massive mountain, Snowshoe is on top – you ski off the top and the lifts bring you back up. In summer, it becomes the playground for a variety of sports and activities.
Mountain biking is big at the resort and we watched some amazing riders that weekend as Snowshoe hosted one of their many downhill bicycling events. We waited for our good friend, Mike Girardi, who lives in Washington, D.C. but has ridden the backroads of West Virginia for a number of years. Mike eagerly volunteered his services as tour guide during our visit of the Mountaineer State. One thing about our buddy – when Mike rolls, Mike rolls big. We almost had all the names of his 14-person entourage memorized after our introductory dinner at the Foxfire Grille. Hey, who wants to ride by themselves when you can bring your friends along?
Misty Taste of Moonshine
There we were the next morning, eight bikes… maybe nine, headed down the mountain for three days of incredible riding!
Highway 219 was the lifeline for each of our daily adventures. Short rides with lots of stops because there is plenty to see. Day one we rode north through Huttonsville, population 215, then up to Elkins where we headed west on Highway 33. The goal was to reach Highway 20, and after lunch in Buckhannon point south on one of the most entertaining roads you’ll ever ride on. Not sure if the SS Victory would be my bike of choice for this stretch of West Virginia, but without question it’s worth riding even if you’re on a pogo stick.
Spotted with numerous farms and small townships (and I mean small) Highway 20 is a collection of tight turns and switchbacks spaced between sections of flatland covered with trees so thick you wonder how anyone could cut a course through them, let alone stage a civil war from it. If it wasn’t for the pavement, the motorcycles and that damn John Denver song clattering inside my cranium, I would have sworn it was 1861 again.
Back to Snowshoe across Highway 15. Great weather, great riding and new friends. What’s better than that?
That evening we rode back down the mountain to 219 again to make our dinner reservation at the Elk River Inn & Restaurant. After about ten miles, we turned and crossed the Elk River, where we parked the SS Victory and proceeded to have one of the finest dinners in the state of West Virginia. Ambiance included live local music from a bluegrass string-trio. Don’t miss this one – contact info is on page 24.
Rocky Mountain High?
The Seneca Rocks, the formation of Tuscarora Sandstone of the Silurian Age, rising over 900 feet it is an amazing sight.
You guessed it, day two had us cruising north up 219 again, back toward Elkins where we turned east en route to Seneca Rocks, where mother nature placed an outcropping of Tuscarora Sandstone that rises above the North Fork River valley some 900 feet. Seneca is home to the most experienced mountain climbing school in West Virginia. Climbers arrive from around the world to challenge the cliffs and face of Seneca Rocks. Fortunately most of them return home safely… keyword being “most.”
From Seneca we took 28 south to 17 then 220 through Pendleton County, crossing into Virginia then back into West Virginia via Highway 250. It’s all beautiful and so is the SS Victory. Long winding roads, especially the ones where you can carry high speeds, is exactly what the Vision is made for. This is cruising at its best, riding alongside farms and pastures with miles of serpentine roads.
Back on Highway 28, headed south again, this time storming Snowshoe Mountain from the east. Before we wrapped up the day’s ride we stopped at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, home to the Green Banks Telescope (GBT), the largest telescope in the world. The stop, including the tour, takes about an hour and a half and is well worth it. This telescope is 485 feet tall and weighs over 17 million pounds… and is moveable! The GBT is a radio wave telescope capable of receiving signals from space a billion miles away. Its purpose is to learn about stars, galaxies, black holes and other objects in the universe by collecting radio waves. Also great for listening-in on those old Honeymooner episodes.
You can’t miss it while riding down the road – definitely an abnormal site in an unexpected area. You just know the government is talking to ET somewhere or, worse yet, listening to what’s going on in your bedroom. At least the music in my head shifted from John Denver to John Williams.
Back at Snowshoe and time for dinner. Mike has outdone himself this time. Tonight we are dining at Snowshoe’s Backcountry Hut, which means we’re putting on crash helmets and driving off-road buggies to dinner. Yes, buggies! Two-seaters, just like the ones in Baja – only smaller. On the one-to-ten scale of fun, this is a solid twelve.
Eating dinner at the Backcountry Hut means you’ll most likely be driving off-road buggies to dinner.
Our group has now grown to about 16 – Mike makes friends fast. That means eight buggies. The trip to the hut is only a few miles away but those are real fun miles. There’s no shortage of racing and ramming and by the time you get there you can’t wait to hit the bar, especially if you’re the passenger. The dinner, the view, the ambiance – it’s all great – the ride back is even better. Fortunately each buggy must have a designated driver. That means an alcohol-free designated driver. Since Cindy was my passenger all day, it was only fair to let her be the driver. The trip in was one adventure, but the ride back out was one I won’t soon forget. My wife is nuts! Eight buggies went out and only seven made it back. Fortunately we were one of them.
In The Morning Hour She Calls Me
Mike has done a great job so far and today will be no exception. Up early and back north on Highway 219, then west across 15 and south on 55. It’s all good and the SS Victory is now starting to feel more like PT 101. The roads in West Virginia are in exceptionally great condition. Occasionally you’d come across some debris that fell from either a mining or logging truck, but potholes were at a minimum and the pavement provided all the confidence you needed to push it in and out of the corners.
Highway 55 eventually brought us around to a familiar road. Riding the same stretch two or three times in the same week provided more opportunity to take in the sights. This time we stopped off at Cranberry Glades Botanical, a 750-acre garden encompassing five bogs, with a half-mile boardwalk constructed through two of the bogs, providing a close-up look at both flora and fauna.
Crossing the Highland Scenic Highway again was even better the second time. From there we went through Marlinton, then Hunterville and Minnehaha Springs. Minnehaha… it’s just fun to say, but don’t expect to see much except for a small store, a post office and two churches. Minnehaha junctions at Highway 92 which takes you north to Dunsmore then left on 66 to Cass and on up to Snowshoe.
Cass is a great place to stop and get a snack and, if you are lucky, the locomotive will be in town. Due to seasonal changes, the locomotive operates from May through October. There are a variety of runs available and you can even rent out the caboose for parties. Cass also has several forms of accommodations including cottages, cabins and RV/camping facilities. See the information page (24) for contact info.
Mike’s group was scheduled to head back to Washington, D.C. the following morning, so after Cass we went back at Snowshoe for an early dinner and an early night. We were also scheduled to move on that next morning, so the good-byes were short and sweet and we all agreed to do it again someday.
Teardrops In My Eyes
Endless miles of country roads, river crossings and historic sights make West Virginia a great riding destination.
By now, I damn-near have every word to the song figured out, though I’m not sure what “Mountain Momma” John was referring to. It was time to leave, work our way back to Charleston and return the SS Victory to the nice folks at Blizzard’s Custom Cycle. We couldn’t help but go over the Highland Scenic Highway one last time. From there we took as many country roads as we could find.
Other than a few showers we lucked out with the weather. The roads were fantastic to ride and the people we met were loads of fun. The state’s former slogan was “Wild Wonderful West Virginia.” It is wild. It is wonderful. And it’s fantastic for bikers. Put this on your bucket list. Go, have fun, enjoy the riding. After all, it’s ‘Almost Heaven.’