I woke at 5:42, three minutes before the alarm. It was an annoying habit I've never learned to break. I quickly showered and dressed before walking down the block to my nearest Starbucks. The extra caffeine from the grande mocha would come in handy.
Back in my apartment, I slowly sipped my coffee while looking over the printout of my route, wondering how many times I'd have to stop and pull out that list again. I wished for a Garmin. I grabbed my batteries and iPad from my chargers, and headed down into the parking garage where I geared up.
At 7:05, my Scrambler roared to life with all the sound and fury of an overgrown sewing machine. I dropped it into gear, and set off with my first checkpoint clear in my head: get to US-29. I had planned to take the Mount Vernon Parkway for a scenic view of the Potomac River, but I had recently learned that the local toll lanes of the expressway were free to motorcyclists, so I figured I'd try them out. I'd have plenty more scenery throughout the day.
I headed west on 495, the morning sun at my back casting a long shadow in front of me. Alone in my helmet, my shadow became my riding buddy, my companion. We drifted in and out of the traffic, and as the non-lanes came to a standstill, I realized I was wise to follow my shadow onto the toll lanes. A cop had someone pulled over on the other side of the highway, and I began to worry once more about not paying the tolls. But my shadow pressed on, and so did I.
Eventually I made it to 29, and I started thinking about my next checkpoint: US-211. As I hit red light after red light on the surface street, I began to wonder if I would've been better off staying on the super slab. No, I decided. Red lights are part of the adventure, and it's not an adventure if you're not at least a little uncomfortable or annoyed by something stupid. Or if you're stopped by the cops. I pulled over at a gas station, my coffee having made its way through me. A man walking out of the store asked me when Triumph started making motorcycles again, and started telling me of a buddy of his that used to have one in the 70's. at this point I really needed to pee, so I excused myself and attended to business.
Feeling relieved, I hopped back on my bike and finally left urbania. Wide open skies welcomed me to my journey, while the Appalachian Mountains rising in the distance invited me onward.
Just a few hundred feet later, I found myself at an important landmark: The White House! Not quite where I thought it would be, but maybe that's just a security feature.
I soon found myself in the mountains, on a twisty bit of road near Luray, but I wasn't alone. I was fourth in a parade of vehicles following behind a tanker truck, that at times barely managed to get past 15 mph. I found a spot to pull over, where I stopped and stretched for a few moments. By the time I got back on the road, the convoy of vehicles had vanished and I was alone again. Even the faithful friend that was my shadow had left.
The twisty mountain roads dumped me into the valley filled with rolling hills covered in farmland. Through the helmet, I could smell the fresh cut grass, the blooming flowers, and quite frequently: manure.
It should be noted just how unnoteworthy Virginia is to ride through. There's even an entire thread about the subject here
. Just mile after mile of two-lane roads that meander past farm lands and mountains. And while I stopped to take this picture for proof of why Virginia should be avoided at all costs, a cop pulled up behind me. He gets out of the car and approaches, while I wonder what I've done wrong. Nothing, in fact. He simply was checking to see if I had broken down and needed help.
At least now it was officially an adventure!
I passed a sign for the small town of Sweet Chalybeate, and I started singing to myself "Sweet Chalybeate, do-do-do" to the tune of Sweet Caroline. While amusing myself with my amazing singing abilities, I missed the entrance for West By God Virginia. It's only once I started noticing the grand views spread out around me, the I realized I was in another state. The street signs helped too.
I continued onward, darting back and forth along the border of the two states. It was getting later in the afternoon, and I was beginning to grow hungry. The thing about small farming towns is that they appear to be self-sufficient, and don't need restaurants to feed them. I kept riding, hoping to find a city big enough for a McDonalds. Soon enough, I did. And not a moment too soon. The helmet, combined with the balaclava I had on, felt tight on my head and I needed the break.
Feeling refreshed, I continued onward, knowing I was roughly a half hour from the Back of the Dragon.
Found a mural on a building in Tazewell for the "Bikes and Murals" thread. The town itself has a very old-time feel to it. I kinda liked it.
I stopped at a gas station to top off my tank. I screwed back on my fuel cap, and went inside. Returning shortly after, I found I wasn't the only one that had needed to take a leak.
I paused for a moment, concerned. I bent down to smell the liquid dripping from a routed hose. Fuel. Quickly reasoning it was a vent hose, and that I overfilled my fuel tank, I started the bike, and turned it towards the start of the Back of the Dragon, a 30 mile road with a 55mph speed limit and more than enough tight cliff side turns to keep you from reaching it in more than a few places.
Sadly there's not many pictures from here, as there's not many places to stop and shoot from. And from the looks of things, the Dragon was hungry too!
A truly awesome piece of road that took me to my limit. No butt-clinching moments(that'd come later) only moments of joy and smiles as I scraped either the Scrambler's pegs or the soles of my boots against the freshly painted asphalt.
Down from the mountain, I realized I was tired and that it was getting late. I chose to forgo the byways and take the interstate in to my hotel. Boring yes, but I still had over 130 miles to go. Fortunately, the distance would be covered quickly as I-77 was moving fast. The 70mph speed limit didn't stop anyone from doing between 80-90 mph. I know from past experience on the fast moving beltway near where I live, that my bike can easily hit 95mph, and occasionally the full 100. What I didn't know, was that today, with the way I had it loaded, it wouldn't go past 85 without starting to wobble. At first, I thought it was wake turbulence from a truck. But later on, when no one else was near me, it started. And grew. Once my whole bike was shaking, I started thinking "I'm on a straight, smooth piece of interstate, with no one around me, and I'm about to get thrown from my bike at over 80mph!"
I eased off the throttle, afraid of using brakes, else unsettling the bike even more. By the time it fell between 55-60mph, the "death wobble" had vanished.
I continued onwards, mindful of what had happened. Occasionally I'd skirt the 85mph limit again, and feel the oscillations start to build, but I was quick to recognize this time, and slowed to a controllable speed.
I made it to the hotel without incident and checked in. I dropped my gear off in the room, stripped down, and took a nice long hot shower.
It took me 12 and a half hours to travel the roughly 520, miles from DC to Charlotte, by way of West Virginia. But I made it.