Day 2
October 10th, 2003
Tazwell, Virginia

The alarm on my watch sounded off at 6am because I wanted to get on the road early.  Yeah, right, at 6am it was stone dark outside.  What time does the sun come up around here?  I tried to go back to sleep but the trucks on US 19 kept me awake.  All morning the sound of jake brakes flooded my room.

Around 7am light began to filter in, time to get going.  Damn, I should already be on the road, but I'm not riding these mountainous, deer infested roads, in the dark.

I dressed and opened the door to a gray, overcast day.  Patchy fog dominated the hills, but visibility on the roads looked ok.

With no camping gear to roll and pack, and the ST parked right outside the door, packing went quick, and I was pulling out a few minutes before 8am.

My first object of the day will be a side trip to Burkes Garden.  The village was located on a side road, just east of Tazwell.

I followed the highway until I found a sign for CR 623, located nearby was another sign confirming this is where you turn for Burkes Garden.  A fine mist was still hanging in the woods, and the cloudy day contrasted sharply with the fall leaves.

I turned on the narrow, curvy road that quickly went very twisty.  CR 623 is a good road, and I slowly moved along taking great care on the wet surface. Trees decked out in fall colors guarded the road on both sides.  The hills in the distance were covered in a cotton candy like fog.  The sign did not tell me how far the village was.  It only had a arrow pointing like this -Burkes Garden------>  No cars came at me from the opposite direction  Does anyone even live there?  Is everyone still asleep in the valley?  I continued on for several miles working my way up and over a series of hills.  It was still very quiet and I began to think Burkes Garden was only a myth.  A place of imagination along the lines of Atlantis.

"The village was located on a side road, just east of Tazwell."

​CR 623-  Burkes Garden Road
I crested a hill, and then I could see it.  I pulled to the shoulder and with the ST idling, I gazed out at the scene before me.  A quiet, peaceful valley spread out down below.  It was a big place, surrounded by hills and mountains dense in trees.  Long patches of green pastures, occupied by quaint farmhouses with barns and silos stood out in the fields.  The scene was something out of a children's storybook.  Looking out from my vantage point Burkes Garden looked like the kind of place a man could get lost in, never wanting to be found.

I dropped back into gear, and came down out of the hills.  Along the way  wood rail fences closed off the pastures and farmland.  Freshly cut hay bales stood in the fields patiently waiting to be loaded by weary farmers onto rickety trailers.
I thought Burkes Garden would be a small village, but instead I found a valley with a scattering of homes and farms.  The cloudy, misty day made the valley even more surreal.  I pulled in the only store I could find, but the sign on the door said it was closed, so I continued on.

A short ride later I found a small post office and went inside.  A lady with short brown hair was licking stamps and pasting them on small envelopes, the kind you use for thank you notes and wedding invitations.
"morning, m'am"


"do you live in the valley?"

"yes, we moved here from the city about 5 years ago"

She went on tell me she loved living in the valley.  She and her husband bought a small farm because they wanted to raise their kids in a wholesome place.  She had 2 youngsters in the local school, and said, "there is NO better place to raise a family then Burkes Garden.  Everyone knows everyone, and we don't worry about gangs, crime or other such nonsense.  Life is good." "Yes m'am I can tell, its beautiful here."  She smiled, " Southern Living (regional magazine) even did a story about Burkes Garden not long ago."  "I'll have to check it out," I replied.

I got back on the ST and continued across the valley.  I came to a crossroads, and looked at a Christmas tree kind of sign with family names painted on arrows, pointing the way to where they lived.  I wished to follow the small farm road, but figured I better get moving north, and try for Ohio.

Reluctantly, I turned around and doubled back the way I came.  Perhaps one day, I will be able to spend more time in this special land, that uses the hills of the Appalachians, to hide its treasures from the rest of us.

I went back to the highway and returned to SR 16, picking up where I left off yesterday.  I followed the highway into West Virginia.  As soon as I entered the state the route turned even more challenging.  Up and down I went in the hills leaning and carving the ST like crazy.  Little did I know, this was only the beginning of a 300 mile leanfest.

The tight switchbacks and horseshoe curves demanded third and even second gear.  Blind hills kept coming at me, I HAD to keep my speed down.  The road surface was excellent.  It was awesome.

The only break I had from leaning came when I entered the small mountain hamlets.  The state is so hilly, that most state highways are twisty.

My butt was kind of stiff, so I took a break near War.  How it got that name I don't know.

A state trooper car sat outside and I felt stares when I walked in for a Mountain Dew and candy bar.  The trooper was sitting at a table with a few locals, I was unable to pick up what their conversation was about.  I went outside and sat on a bench and soon one of the old men from inside followed me and sat down next to me.
"so where ya goin?"

"Ohio tonight, but ultimately Maine"

"where ya from?"


"kind of off the beaten path ain't ya?"

"well, yeah, but thats my style"

The man went on to tell me the now closed down mine used to employ 5,000 men.  Soon the ST caused a stir, and locals were gathering around gawking at the ST and me.

Unbelievably, I had a good signal and called my wife at work.

The sun was out, so I switched to leather gloves.

I got back on the road and kept carving.  Traffic was light, but I was unable to make anytime in the hills.  Just too many turns and twists.

Finally, I arrived in Welch.  A dying city in the hills.  The route carried me through the bleak and deserted business district.  Storefront after storefront was boarded up and closed.  When the mine closed this place really took it hard.

Many towns in West Virginia are located on the banks of creeks or in small valleys.  Flat land is so hard to find in this state, that buildings and stores are located right on the highway.  I could literally stick my right hand out and ring door bells as I rode by the houses on Main Street.

When I left Welch I got stuck behind a pulpwood truck.  It crawled along the hilly road for 10 miles.  I never once had a good section of 16 to take it.  Only when it turned off did I escape.

Just north of Mullen I went brain dead.  I was riding along in 4th on the straightest section of road I'd seen in 100 miles (a whole 100 meters). The highway was slightly downhill.  I don't WHAT I was thinking about, I saw the curve ahead but it didn't register.  Suddenly, I found myself in a left hand sweeper, TOO fast.  The guardrail was quickly coming at me, and I got on the brakes, the rear end locked and I knew I had to let up.  I had to think quickly. Do I stay locked and chance I can get stopped before I run out of road and hit the guardrail?  Or do I let off and try to lean the ST around, risking a low side?  I opted for the latter.  My eyes quickly left the rail and went to the curve and where I wanted to go.  I heeled the ST over picking a line close to the shoulder.  This was going to be close.  The loaded bike was slow to respond, and felt wobbly as I leaned.  I looked far into the curve leaning hard, my boot hit the ground but I still needed more lean, I've never been this far on the ST, I'm a pretty conservative rider.  It was really scary.  If a speck of sand had been on the road it would have taken me out.  The road let go, and the ST came back up.  I made it, but it was way too close.

I don't know how I was so careless. Perhaps it was all the curves I'd been in the last 200 miles.  I saw so many maybe I went numb.  I don't know.  I lost concentration and almost paid a heavy price.  Roads like 16 always demand you're full attention, I know that, but I still let it happen.  I was lucky guys, learn from my mistake.
Having just dodged a bullet, I rode on.  I was still counting my good fortune as I came down out of the hills into Beckley, one of the larger cities of West Virginia.

I spotted a McDonalds in front of a shopping center and merged over to the right hand turn lane.  It was lunch time and I was feeling kind of hungry.  I'd been on the road over 4 hours and barely had a hundred miles to show for it. It was really slow going in the mountains.

I entered the red light controlled driveway and started a right hand parking lot turn.  I had a red light and intended to make a right turn after stopping.  A car from the opposite direction was turning left, we entered the intersection at the same time.  He apparently had a arrow.  I pulled almost to stop and checked the car to make sure he saw me, if he made a strong move I was going to let him go and come in the shopping center behind him.  He saw me, stopped, and motioned for me to go ahead.  I did, and before I could turn my head back to the front I caught a blue car moving fast across the parking lot coming out of my right peripheral vision.  He scared the bejeezus out of me, and I jammed both brakes, with the bike canted into a right turn the action promptly dumped the bike.  It went down hard, noway I could save it.  I was still standing when it was all over.  A man in a pest control truck saw what happened and came to help.

I was miffed, but having just missed a major accident 25 miles earlier, I took it in stride.

"man that guy was hauling ass through the parking lot"

"yeah he scared the crap out of me."

I got the bike up and assessed the damage.  Broken mirror housing, (glass and turn signal still good) deep scratches and scuffs on the right saddlebag.  Both would have to be replaced.  Past experience told me this was a 600 dollar tip over.

In retrospect the car was never that close to me, he just startled me and I over reacted.

Having been here before I calmed down, went to MickeyDs for lunch, and ordered chicken nuggets.

After lunch I got ChrisK on the phone and asked for the number of the dealer he uses in New Hampshire.  He gave it to me, and I ordered a new mirror housing from a dealer in Manchester.  I advised I was coming through next Tuesday, and would pick up the part.  My mirror and signal were still working, but a busted housing bothered me.

After completing all that I got back on the road.

I followed SR 16 north out of Beckley, and just like the morning it was more leaning.  The trees in West Virginia were full of color and the riding was fun.
The riding in West Virginia - some of the best in the country.
 A sampling of SR 16.

The city of Clay is the county seat of like named Clay County.  Like Welch it was it was in poor condition.  Lots of closed down businesses and shops.  I was glad to leave it.

I missed my route change in Maysel and found myself in Ivydale checking the map.  I was parked next to a old bridge when a young mother asked if I needed help.  She was driving some kind of sedan with a youngster tied the back seat in a baby carrier.  She reminded me of Jessica Lynch, pleasant on the eyes.

"need any help sir?"

"nah baby, I think I know where I messed up, thanks anyway."

I went back into Maysel and found SR 36.  Another wire like road with lots of curves.

A lady in a gray van was ahead me giving the highway all she could.  I watched in amazement as she took the vehicle through the paces on the snaky road.  The van wisped over and I feared at any moment the vehicle was going to come up on 2 wheels.  She banked left and right and rolled out of the curves like she was on a Blackbird.  The 2 kids in the back braced up and knitted their seatbelts into rosary beads. This lady was good.  It was all I could do to keep up with her.

I passed through a town with the name Left Hand, and wondered how it got that name.

In Spencer I went to SR 14.  It was getting late, and I knew I wasn't going to make Ohio and SR 555.  I was getting tired.  The constant leaning was beginning to wear me down.  I was worried I might make a another mistake in my fatigue.  Fellas I ain't kidding, the routes today are like riding Deal's Gap for 300 miles.

I rolled up SR 14 to Elizabeth where I took a break, and checked the map.  The sun was slipping behind the hills,  I decided to make it to Parkersburg to find a motel.  I stayed on SR 14 to I-77, and a few miles later I was in Parkersburg looking for a room.

I got lucky and found a Motel 6 without too much trouble.  I checked into a ground floor room, and plopped on the bed.  I was bushed, I had just put down 333 challenging miles.  If you like curves the routes today will lean you 10,000 times.  It was a marathon.

After a short nap I took a shower and walked next door to a Shoney's where I had a small NY strip with fries.  Nothing to write home about, but tasty.

I called home after supper, then went back to the room.  I worked on my journal and watched TV.  I needed to get to Philly tomorrow, so layed in the quickest route.  I wanted to ride SR 555 in Ohio, but I can't ride north, then east, and get to Philly at a decent hour.  I wanted to make sure I was in a good position to ride New England at a leisurely pace, and if I went to Ohio I might not be able to.

I jotted the the next days routes on paper, folded it, and slid it in my map pocket, after that I got out my camera and edited the pictures of the last few days.  Deleting those that didn't work out, and the duplicates I snapped to make sure I got a good picture.  How come the first is almost always the best?

I checked my voice mail and did the same.

Tomorrow I will be at my Uncle Boots for a little R and R.  I've stopped there so many times on trips I feel like I should leave clothes in the drawer for future reference.

West Virginia is a great place to ride. The quality of roads is unmatched.  Lots of challenge and good surfaces.  I would say the equal of Tennessee maybe better because these roads run east,west, north, south, and actually take you somewhere.  Today was a great ride, and not even a tip over could spoil it.

Tired, I turned the lights out about 11pm.

Footnote-The broken mirror cost 97 bucks plus shipping.  The lid for the saddlebag came in at 350 dollars.