For no apparent reason whatsoever, my eyes snapped open at 4 AM Sunday morning (9/6/15). I shouldn’t say for no reason, it’s without a doubt excitement about one of the longest motorcycle rides I’ll take all year. Certainly, the goal was to reach Stecoah, NC, before sundown, but the truth was that the road was the true destination.
Some riders are planners, other fly by the seat of their pants; I admit, I want to be the latter, but I’m quite obviously the former. Spending 8 days on the motorcycle, including the 400 mile trip down, I wrote out an extensive packing list for everything I would need for the trip. A couple good buddies of mine were putting me up for the week, so fortunately the tent could stay home, but after being waterlogged at last year’s rally, as I’m writing this I, realize I over packed a bit (I may write some “lessons learned” later).
In the wee morning hours I began loading the bike with all of my farkles and gear. My Saddlemen BR3400 Sissy Bar Bag would really earn its stripes in the following days; loaded for bear, including an extensive tool kit, I was glad I got up early after I realized how difficult it was going to be to mount such a heavy load on the pillion seat. I’m known to put the tail bag on the bike for longer day-trips; it’s convenient to have ample space to put things, and it pays off to have a good backrest. That being said, normally I don’t bother using the side straps that go under the pillion seat, but for this trip, it was necessary to keep from overtaxing the sissy bar strap.
Finally loaded up, I headed over to pick up my Dad who was joining me for the first few legs of the trip, and then down toward Lebanon to meet my riding buddy Jon who was joining me for the long haul. September can be an interesting time to ride in southern Ohio, this particular Sunday morning was not unlike others where the day began at a foggy 60 degrees, but the temperatures would climb to over 80 before day’s end. Sweeping through some local twisties on OH-123 I snapped a few photos as the Sun began burning the fog off the southern Ohio pastures.
I spent several afternoons this summer planning this route, knowing that September would eventually arrive. As always, the trick is hitting all the sights and twisty roads while still reaching the destination before sundown. That challenge unfortunately forced me to remove a few sections from southern Ohio (I.e. OH-763), leaving me to take US-68 to the Ohio River. Crossing the suspension bridge near Aberdeen, it was quick jaunt through Maysville, KY, over to KY-11. From KY-11 it was virtually the identical route I mentioned earlier this summer; KY-11 to KY-1106, bypassing Mt. Sterling, then to KY-36 down to US-460 in Frenchburg. In Frenchburg I said bye to my Dad as he headed over to see my Grandmother as Jon and I headed further south the Red River Gorge. Taking US-460 east for just a few miles I was reminded that “progress” typically means taking beautiful, twisty, two-lane roads and expanding them to straight four-lane highways. Fortunately, we arrived at KY-77, one of the big “destination” roads I’ve been chomping at the bit to ride for months now. KY-77 runs from US-460 to KY-11 near Slade, KY, including large sections of Daniel Boone National Forest. Almost from go, KY-77 sweeps tightly through eastern Kentucky farms. 77 is one of several roads on this route that just beg you to lean hard and pin the throttle, but with gravel driveways and blind curves hidden by crests in the hills, you need have some throttle discipline to keep the shiny side up.
Approaching the Red River, we turned east on KY-715, twisting through Red River Gorge toward Sky Bridge. Sky Bridge has been somewhat of an annual destination for me the past few years, considering we were already headed south toward 11, there was no way I was going to pass up a few photos. If I hadn’t mentioned previously, there are a myriad of good motorcycle roads in and around Red River Gorge; moreover, Natural Bridge is also another must-see destination. While Natural Bridge probably has better scenery, it requires a one-mile mountain hike, or an $11 ski lift ride to see, neither of which are typically conducive to motorcyclists on a schedule (or dressed for a 400 mile ride expecting rain). That being the case, Sky Bridge is probably five miles, as a crow flies, from Natural Bridge, and you get a twisty ride up KY-715, so that’s a win-win. Parking in the lot at the Sky Bridge overlook, it’s about a 350 yard walk to another natural arch carved into the limestone cliffs of Red River Gorge.
With a long ride still ahead of us, I snapped a few photos of the gorge, then headed back down the mountain the way we came on KY-715. Back at KY-77, we headed south through the Nada Tunnel. Like Sky Bridge, Nada Tunnel is another significant destination in the gorge. Sometimes referred to the “Gateway to Red River Gorge”, the Nada Tunnel is a one-lane tunnel blasted through a limestone cliff of the gorge for rail traffic by loggers back in 1911. Subsequently open to pedestrian and automobile traffic, this 900 foot, unlit, tunnel offers a shortcut through the gorge cliff faces. A word to the wise motorcyclist, it’s easier to see traffic when headed south through the tunnel. Waiting at the yield sign, one can see through the tunnel for traffic headed your way when looking south, however traffic on the south side of the tunnel has to creep up and look past the tunnel walls, and subsequently back up if traffic is headed through. Thus, turn your high-beams on, and be liberal with horn use as necessary when passing through the tunnel on a motorcycle.